The term bullying typically refers to direct, confrontational attacks on another person. Social aggression, however, typically lacks direct confrontation and is often done covertly. It takes the form of spreading rumors, gossip, excluding one person from a group, verbal attacks, and cyberbullying. Studies have found that those who are socially aggressive typically use this form of bullying to protect their place among peers or place themselves above their peers.
In the U.S. alone, over 100,000 students miss school every day due to indirect bullying. This type of bullying is often attributed solely to adolescents, though it is common among college students, in suburban neighborhoods, and workplaces. In adulthood, the most common form of this type of aggression is usually gossiping, spreading rumors, and exclusion. In general, the smaller the community, the more this issue occurs.
Relational aggression can have damaging effects on victims.
Adolescents who have been subjected to these types of attacks are more likely to develop depression and eating disorders. Relational aggression may also be responsible for a drop in academic performance and almost always harms a young adult’s social life. Among adults, this aggression can cause stress related physical disorders, limit job productivity, and greatly reduce self esteem.
The effects of social aggression often depend on the amount of support a victim has outside of school or work. Children with supportive parents, caregivers, other adult figures, or friends tend to handle this type of bullying better than those without this foundation. In severe cases, indirect bullying can be a catalyst for suicidal thoughts or actions; in some cases, it causes a victim to take his or her own life.
Due to the potential damaging and life altering affects of social aggression, especially for young adults, many schools have adopted zero tolerance policies for bullying. Teachers and parents are taught to recognize signs of social aggression in both the perpetrator and the victim. Abusers are typically punished and in extreme cases, may be suspended or expelled from school.
In the adult world, social aggression can be a form of entertainment for a personality disordered individual in a position of power over their target.
Once the crude schoolyard bully, they have become skilled at undercover ‘baiting and bashing’ tactics and avoiding accountability. Targets for abuse, chosen because of their personality traits and vulnerabilities, may find themselves subject to a smear campaign and marginalized, gratifying the sadistic pleasure of a bully to no fault of their own.