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Intimidation is designed to make a victim feel powerless, while at the same time funneling their sense of autonomy and powerlessness through the person doing the intimidating. It sends the message: “I have the power to disrupt your life in any manner I please, therefore you have no control over what happens to you. Your life doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to me, and I shall do with it as I please with little regard for your welfare.” It’s a bully’s way of telling the victim: I own you. You’re a slave to my every whim.

Intimidation bullying is sometimes about nothing more than the pleasure a bully gets from feeling powerful. He or she may not have anything specifically against the victim, but loves the feelings of power and control they receive through intimidating others. This type of bully tends to relentlessly intimidate multiple victims – anyone they feel they can gain power over. This form of bullying may also develop into an extortion racket, so that a bully uses intimidation to extort money (give me $5 and I’ll be nice for a week), favors (do my homework), property (intimidating a child into “giving” the bully his or her personal possessions), or personal amusement (go pull Jenny’s hair and I won’t beat you up after school).

Other times intimidation occurs as an added dimension that a bully will use alongside other types of bullying. Almost all cases of bullying involve intimidation in one form or another, with some instances being more overt than others.

Examples of different types of intimidation

Bullying through intimidation can take several different forms. Here are some examples:

A) Intimidation might come through passive aggressive behaviors such as a hostile stare, making a hanging noose gesture from across the room, or other forms of aggressive body language.

B) It might involve talking with friends about “all the different ways there are to kill Mikey” within obvious hearing distance for the victim.

C) Posting a death threat on a web page or hanging up an anonymous note somewhere in the school.

D) Intimidation can occur through taunting. For example, a bully might repeatedly egg on the victim by saying things like “Do you want to fight? Meet me after school in the back alley,” knowing full well the victim has no desire for aggression. The repeated invitation for physical conflict serves as a form of intimidation.

E) It might involve passive-aggressive language, such as constantly reminding the victim how weak they are or saying that “I could break you like a toothpick” in a way that isn’t openly hostile, just meant to remind the victim who is more powerful.

F) It might involve the bully repeatedly hurting the victim through “play”; a common scenario amongst social dynamics where the bullied child accommodates the bully to the point that the bully mistakes them for a friend.

G) The intimidation can also be social or emotional, such as threatening to turn a child’s friends against them or embarrass them in front of the class or over the Internet if a victim doesn’t comply.

Intimidation bullying: When adults set the example

Sadly, intimidation is a form of bullying commonly used by adults. (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, pp. 76-78) Teachers may fall into the trap of using intimidation as a means of behavior modification or classroom control. Or children may witness adults using intimidation against each other. When this happens, it sends the message to the students that such tactics are an acceptable way to manipulate others.

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