Resources to help stop bullying

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 09/08/2012 - 22:23
This is a collection of references that deal with bullying of and by senior citizens: what it is, how it emerges, how to control and extinguish it, and how to create a better environment.

Resources on bullying

My Better Nursing Home, Senior Bullying Series: Guest Post[s] by Robin Bonifas, PhD, MSW, and Marsha Frankel,LICSW

Comments on a series of articles by Robin Bonifas, PhD, MSW, and Marsha Frankel,LICSW

Although we (Jerry & Bonny) have some reservations and criticisms, these are important articles with much useful information, and should be studied for ideas. B&F seem focused on situations which have trained social workers and other professionals on site. The senior living situations we are familiar with have little or no professional staff, and poorly trained and motivated managers who are rarely present on site.

bullying—aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated, and involving an imbalance of power or strength. The bully wants power and control.

Our concept of bullying is simple—inappropriate social control.

Bonifas and Frankel (B&F) write that not every unpleasant social interaction is bullying. A number of behaviors can create emotional distress that is much the same as caused by bullying, and it is important to note the differences from bullying.

Bonifas and Frankel seek to show that some people become victims because they are ideal targets—they are overly passive and thus unable to defend themselves, or may be annoying. Persons with disease such as dementia or schizophrenia may bully or be bullied.

In our view, this can not justify the bullying, nor should we blame the victim who may benefit from additional support and guidance. The more an individual differs from the cultural norms of the building, the greater the chances that the person will have a problem. Differences of social class, ethnicity, and education are possible targets. Bullying is inappropriate and must be stopped by an authority figure who is professionally trained and qualified and who can impose sanctions.

B&F note that staff members may be bullied by their clients.

In our experience, managers and staff themselves tend to use bullying and to allow or even actively support bullying by residents, as a means of maintaining control over residents.

B&F have developed strategies for intervention aimed at the organization, the bullies, and the residents. Their three-step program seems to fit a nursing home or assisted living residence which is staffed by on-site professionals.

The first step is to have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.
The second step is to set limits on bullying.

However, their examples of bullying seem more like inconsiderate behavior than serious bullying. In our experience, bullies feel they are doing rightous work in controlling others to make their community fit their own concepts. They exclude people from common areas, they spread malicious gossip, and they seek to manipulate management to further their control. They threaten and intimidate. They disrespect a person but when they have gone too far, they claim they love the victim. They seem unable to recognize when their behavior is inappropriate, it is always the victim's fault. One bully proclaimed her mission was to control the residents just like she used to control prisoners when she was a prison guard. Another, after having been taken to court by a resident seeking protection from being harassed and threatened, offered to "bury the hatchet" if the target would withdraw the complaint and say they had overreacted. There was no recognition by the bully that they might have done anything wrong.

Step three. B&F present strategies for helping the targets of bullying. Their main solution is assertiveness training.

While this is a wonderful idea in theory, in our experience this does not suffice to extinguish bullying behavior. In our experience, telling a bully, "I am uncomfortable when you make fun of the way I talk," will just give them a weapon to use again.

Nevertheless, despite our reservations, anyone concerned with understanding and stopping bullying should study the articles by Bonifas and Frankel. Their basic concepts can surely be adapted to different contexts. See: My Better Nursing Home, Senior Bullying Series: Guest Post[s] by Robin Bonifas, PhD, MSW, and Marsha Frankel,LICSW

Articles on bullying

No Age Limit On Bullying
The MetroWest Daily News: Framingham Housing Authority… Bonny's Comment: A very familiar story. Read the comments—they're interesting, too.

Senior Bullying in Lynn, MA…

Mean Old Girls… Bonny's Comment: Although this is about assisted living/nursing home bullying, it's cited all the time.

Comment on Mean Old Girls by a mental health person…

Bullying in a senior apartment in NJ (by the same blogger):…… Bonny's Comment: Edna's experience is similar to ours.

Here's a blog post asking teens to be aware that there are senior citizens who bully other seniors:

Bullying in Senior apartment in Atlanta: 87 year old bullies 71 year old…

Another blog post by someone familiar with managing a senior citizen building, about bullying:…

Here's a blog entry from a retired principal, on senior citizen bullying:…

Another blog entry on senior bullying, written by a volunteer:…

Article on a Pioneer Valley (MA) roundtable about senior citizen bullying:… Bonny's Comment: about 2/3 of the way through the article, see this comment: "... when you don't speak-up, you are just as culpable as the bully."

We (Bonny and Jerry) have reviewed and commented on the articles from the perspective of elders living in apartment residences where bullying is all too common. Please contact us with additional references so we can expand this resource.

More on the topic, Stop Bullying