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Can a Friend be Bullying Me?

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Friends will sometimes have bad days. Friends will sometimes disagree. Friends will sometimes hurt each other's feelings, have an argument, or simply need time away from one another. This is normal and can happen in any friendship, no matter how close. If you are experiencing treatment from a friend that hurts you and you have asked that friend to stop, but it still continues, then that is not friendship. That behavior could be bullying. Friendship behaviors do not include hurting someone on purpose or continually being mean even when asked to stop. A friend will change or be remorseful for her behavior if she finds out she's hurting you. If you aren't certain if what is happening is part of a normal friendship or if it is bullying, talk to an adult you trust and get help sorting out the relationship. And yes, it is okay (and the right thing to do) to ask for help.

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Is it possible that someone we call a friend, or even a best friend, is the very person that treats us the worst? How can the person with whom we share jokes, snacks, and secrets be someone who hurts us?

With relationships, it’s natural to have conflict as we learn how to be friends and communicate. Sometimes we make mistakes with friends, hurt their feelings, apologize for what we’ve done, and move on. Through making mistakes in our relationships, we learn what to do with the people around us — as well as what not to do. It’s normal to have conflicts or disagreements with friends as we grow up; that’s how we learn to be better friends and communicators.

What’s not okay — and is never deserved — is when someone we are close to decides to threaten us, to hurt our feelings intentionally, misuse our trust, or make us feel less than who we are. If someone we call a friend repeatedly uses bullying behavior — such as belittling who we are, trying to control us, or attempting to tell us who we can be friends with — that’s no longer a friend. That type of behavior is outside of friendship in every way and has to be called what it is: bullying.

This is a painful and sometimes unacknowledged type of bullying that is hard to understand and even harder to endure. Here’s how to recognize when those we are close to are bullying us, even though we call them “friends.”

Below are some examples to help recognize if bullying is happening in your relationships:

  • You are made fun of, called names, or teased for your appearance or what you wear
  • You are mocked or mimicked for what you say or how you act
  • You are laughed at when people know you’re hurting from being teased or physically abused
  • You are told who you can be friends with or what you can and can’t do
  • You are purposefully excluded from events or get-togethers in which other friends are invited
  • You have told your friends to stop the negative behavior and they continue anyway
  • You are made to feel that you don’t live up to the standards of the friend group

If you or someone you care about is being bullied by a “friend,” please find an adult you trust and tell them what’s going on as soon as possible. Bullying like this often does not stop without intervention. Bullying like this doesn’t go away if you ignore it either. This type of situation will need assistance and advice on making a plan for what to do.

You’ll also need allies, people around you at school or in your neighborhood who will actively support you and have your back. An ally will stand up for you if she feels safe, or be a witness to what’s going on and be able to tell an adult what she saw happen. An ally can help you feel less alone, too, which is a very good thing.

Don’t hesitate for too long when someone you call a friend is repeatedly disrespectful to you and causes you pain when you’ve asked them to stop. If you find you’re always nervous and anxious around a friend because you’re worried about what they might say or do to you, talk to an adult and work out what’s happening. Sometimes it will be a normal consequence of learning to be friends, and sometimes it will be bullying. If it’s bullying, that’s not friendship and it probably never will be. You have the right to be around people who treat you like a friend, and that you can respect and trust.