Psychological Factors Related to Bullying Victimization in Schools

Schoolyard bully

Variations in Reactions of Victims to Bullying

TB Hansen, et al. highlighted the complexity of the effects and potential precursors to a painful phenomenon affecting an estimated 5.3-50% of school age children: bullying. TB Hansen, et al. aimed to better understand the variations in reactions and mental health outcomes among children and adolescents who have been victims of bullying and have, therefore, identified five variables to better evaluate potential risk and protective factors: “Coping, social support, attachment, negative affectivity/neuroticism, and somatization.” To analyze the aforementioned variables, TB Hansen et al. reviewed recent articles and data published about school bullying and complied an analysis demonstrating a direct relationship between the aforementioned variables and victims of bullying. 


The Link Between Relationships and Bullying

TB Hansen et al. reported a relationship between attachment patterns and bullying, citing studies that show secure childhood attachments can often lead to positive peer attachments; this indicates that children with insecure parental attachments can be at a higher risk for peer bullying.  Additionally, studies are also cited that childhood teasing can cause a lasting disruption in future attachment patterns, most often resulting in insecure intimate relationships in adulthood.


State of Negative Affectivity as Both Risk Factor and Reaction

The second variable considered is “negative affectivity,” which refers to an individual’s tendency for negative emotional reactions, both towards others and toward oneself. TB Hansen is careful to define negative affectivity as a state and not a character trait, though it can be characterized by certain traits such as low-self esteem and introspection. Children in a state of negative affectivity are typically more nervous, angry, worried and agitated and can, therefore, experience more difficulty socially due to their heightened emotional state. Negative affectivity was identified as both a potential risk factor for and a reaction to bullying.



Additionally, TB Hansen et al. report that children who are bullied are more likely to report somatic symptoms with no known physical etiology than children who are not bullied. Somatization is the experience of physical symptoms, such as stomachache, headache, etc, that could be manifestations of a state of duress induced largely by mental health obstacles.  Children who are victims of bullying could experience somatization as a form of avoidant coping, wherein the manifestation of physical symptoms excuses them from school or other identified events of concern. 


Importance of Social Support

TB Hansen et al. cite that children who are bullied often lack adaptive coping strategies.  One such identified coping strategy, the seeking of social support, also appears as a variable to predict outcomes for victims. Studies are cited that indicate low levels of social support often result in higher incidents of reported suicidal ideation.  It is also reported that victims, themselves, place significant expressed value on social support; interestingly, corresponding studies indicate that victims are often reluctant to seek out this support. 




Hansen, T.B., Steenberg, L. M., Palic, S., & Elklit, A. (2012). A review of psychological factors related to bullying victimization in schools. Aggression and violent behavior, 3, 39-43.



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