Am I a Cyberbully? Examples of Cyberbullying and How to Stop
By Cassie Shortsleeve
Cyberbullying may sound like something someone else does, but the truth is that we all do things we’re not proud of from time to time. Experts also say cyberbullying can occur in a loop, where people who are cyberbullied end up cyberbullying and cyberbullies may cyberbully because they were bullied. That means if you’ve ever been the victim of cyberbullying, you’re more likely to cyberbully someone yourself and more than half of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online.
When we are victimized or hurt, our pain and anger may come out toward others—even if we’re not aware of it. Working through hurtful, painful, or traumatic experiences can help, and you deserve support no matter what you’re feeling. Reaching out can feel scary, but with the right help, you can and will feel better than you do right now.
If you’re posting rumors online, calling people names, or sending unwanted messages, it’s important to remember that these actions have real and lasting effects on mental health.
What’s most important is figuring out why you may be acting in a way you don’t feel great about and taking steps toward interacting in a way that leaves you feeling good.
Here are some signs you may be cyberbullying and how to stop the cycle.
Signs You May Be Cyberbullying
Do you recognize any of the below behaviors in yourself? They’re all signs you could be cyberbullying.
- Posting rumors about someone on social media.
- Calling someone names or threatening to hurt someone physically over digital platforms.
- Pretending to be someone else online, and acting as that person on forums or social media sites.
- Asking people for personal details or keeping tabs on them digitally, such as constantly asking someone where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with.
- Creating mean webpages or social media profiles about peers.
- Targeting someone based on their identity.
- Sending unwanted explicit messages or images to someone.
- Joining in on someone else’s cyberbullying.
4 Ways to Stop Cyberbullying
If you notice yourself acting in any of the above ways, it is possible to stop and change your behavior. Start with these four steps.
Come Up With a Plan
Taking an honest look at your behavior and the root causes for it—and acknowledging you want to change—isn’t always easy work, but you can make significant changes with a little attention, self-honesty, and time. When you have a quiet moment, consider writing down or thinking about the following:
- Potential root causes for any bullying behavior.
- Any triggers or patterns you notice before, during, or after you find yourself acting in ways you’re not proud of.
- How this behavior makes you feel.
- Why you want to change your behavior.
- How you may feel if you regularly acted in ways you feel good about.
Then consider writing down your answers to the below questions, or simply think about how you would answer them.
- What do I get from acting out at people online?
- How does my behavior affect other people? How might they feel?
- What do I notice about the feelings I have before I act out at other people? Are there patterns in what triggers me?
- How do I feel after I act out at other people online?
- What do I want my online interactions with my peers to be like?
- What do I want my online footprint to be?
- What could the ramifications of my behavior be for me or for other people?
- What advice would I give someone in my shoes?
Reflecting on these questions can help you put all of the pieces together and build a blueprint for what you want your online experience to look like. Behavior change isn’t always easy, but the fact that you want to make a change is a powerful step toward doing it.
Prioritize Your Own Mental Health
There are many reasons you may find yourself being less than kind online. Sometimes the following factors come into play:
- You’ve been through trauma and need some support to help you cope with it.
- You’ve experienced abuse and haven’t had the support you deserve to cope with it.
- You are experiencing a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety, and you’re not getting help for it.
You deserve the support you need to heal and be the kind of person you want to be. Taking time to reflect on the questions above and seeking support to better understand your own pain points can make a big difference. Consider talking to someone you know who can support you, such as your parents or caregivers, another trusted adult, a friend, or a mental health professional. Support for your mental health can come in a variety of forms, such as:
- Affordable mental health care.
- Working with a culturally competent therapist.
- Talking about what you’re feeling with a trusted friend, especially if you’re having thoughts of suicide.
- Taking care of your mental health while you’re waiting for care.
- Texting HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
Make Amends With Those You’ve Hurt
Once you realize what could be behind your behavior and you start taking steps to change it, making amends with those you’ve hurt can help you own your behavior and move past it. It is helpful to apologize without an agenda and with the understanding that the person may not forgive you or respond how you’d like. Making amends is as much for yourself as it is for someone else, because it often brings relief, helps you feel better, and lays the groundwork for creating a life you feel really good about.
Practice Kindness Offline and Then Online
Kindness is kindness, online and off. If you find yourself having a hard time being kind behind a screen, try practicing it in real life—whether it’s through helping a friend who is going through a hard time, volunteering, or simply giving someone a compliment. Being kind offline builds an important foundation and key habits that carry over into the virtual world, making it more natural to be kind online. Best of all, no matter what happened before now, you can make the decision to be kinder today and it will make a positive difference for you and others.