When we are asked to think of a typical bullying scenario, many of us will pull from our distant memories of those moments in the school hallway when mean-looking, over-grown, loud-mouthed elementary school boys shove weaker, smaller lads into the lockers and demand their milk money — or else! While episodes such as these exist and must be addressed, there also exists another form of belittling, intimidating, and humiliating behavior from one peer to another — a form that is less talked about yet still prevalent. That is intellectual bullying.
This insidious form of harassment is less recognizable than the better-known physical forms of bullying yet is still damaging. Students often place themselves into “intellectual hierarchies” determined by grades, rankings, and participation in Advanced Placement classes, special academic clubs, and organizations. Problems arise when those at the top of these hierarchies belittle those at the bottom. This type of intellectual harassment wreaks havoc on a student’s sense of self-worth, and these feelings of inadequacy can be carried around for a lifetime.
Intellectual bullies are indeed smarter and have higher IQs or excellent knowledge in particular fields of study. The problem lies with the sense of entitlement this type of bully assumes he possesses because of his intellect and, therefore, believes he has a genuine right to emotionally abuse peers who lack his cerebral prowess. The intellectual bully revels in making others feel inferior.
Teachers and parents can be lulled into false senses of security by thinking the adolescents who have good grades “have it all together” and need no further inspection into how they are managing their personal lives. Sometimes intellectually gifted individuals over-compensate for lingering childhood feelings of athletic and social inferiority. They use their intellectual talents as avenues to expose others shortcomings. What can happen, in turn, is that these individuals further socially isolate themselves from their peers. Over time, the intellectual bully may experience destruction in all of his or her personal and professional relationships. It is important to recognize if a student uses verbal attacks — it is a poor attempt to protect other sensitive parts of his or her psyche. Demeaning others, however, is not the way to self-actualization.
So what is the remedy? Helping that young person recognize that humility and empathy are powerful traits to possess is a good first step. Encouraging teenagers to look outward and do something for someone less fortunate without expecting anything in return is a great way to instill kindness in your student. As parents, we can praise our children for good deeds they bestowed on peers as easily as praising them for A’s on tests. Self-worth comes not only from dedication to their studies but also in how they behave as human beings.
This may be a tough life lesson for that student who appears to have it all together, but the introspection now will surely benefit that teen far into adulthood when creating life-long connections with others.
Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions at (714) 999-5055, ext. 1456.
Jill Thomas, LMFT
Fairmont Private Schools Counselor
Supporter of the Fairmont Code