(11/12/12) - We hear so many stories of bullying these days. It's usually kids being tormented by other children - and sometimes the bullying can lead to a tragic outcome for the victim.
But some are also saying we are becoming too sensitive and every act of aggression is not bullying.
We've learned that anyone can become a victim of bullying, but experts say there is one trait that all bullies have in common.
Lisa Hunt, an anti-bullying counselor with Genesee County Community Mental Health, sees bullying as an epidemic.
But what exactly is a bully?
Merriam-Webster.com defines it as a "blustering browbeating person, especially: one habitually cruel to others who are weaker."
It brings to mind Scut Farkas from the classic American tale 'A Christmas Story.' Or Blutto, who constantly tormented Popeye in the iconic cartoon Popeye the Sailorman.
Hunt often speaks to students and says bullying is most severe in middle and high school. She says anyone can be a victim of bullying, but certain groups are more susceptible.
"Nationally, we look at statistics of people who are lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or kids who have autism as being victims often, but really it could be anything," she said.
Bullying is having severe and sometimes tragic consequences.
"Post-traumatic stress disorder, we know that bullycide is common and it's concern - it can be a range of psychosomatic symptoms, aches and pains not wanting to go to school, as an adult not wanting to go to work, having less social abilities," Hunt said.
But what would make a person want to torment or bully another? Dr. Lillie McCain, a professor of psychology at Mott Community College, says most bullies fall into generally three categories: those with underlying-laden anger, people who are depressed and those who have a distorted sense of self.
"In other words, believing themselves to be in fact superior to other people," Dr. McCain said.
But there is one thing Dr. McCain says all bullies have in common. "A sense of power - they have this notion of power and control," she said.
The acts of aggression demonstrated by bullies are not always physical.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Ah, the reality is that words can hurt us, will hurt us," Dr. McCain said.
And technology is opening up new opportunities for power-hungry children and adults to find new prey.
"Cell phones, text messages, Facebook, all of those things make it easier to throw a message out there that you can't take back," Hunt said.
Jennifer Livingston, a Wisconsin anchorwoman, recently lashed out at a viewer for sending her an e-mail criticizing her weight.
In a 4-minute live televised response, Livingston called the viewer a bully and offered some advice to others who may have experienced the sting of a bully's words.
"Do not let your self worth be defined by bullies, learn by my experience that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many," she said.
Obviously, Livingston was hurt by the criticism of the viewer, but does that make the viewer a bully? Public opinion is divided and so are the opinions of the experts.
"I think the email was sent because of his own personal issues, but I wouldn't consider it bullying because you didn't have a pattern that continued over time," Dr. McCain said.
"In general, we view bullying as something that is repetitive, but it's not necessarily black and white and it might be more subjective to the persons opinion - the victims opinion," Hunt said.
Dr. McCain says there is a way to break the cycle of bullying, and it begins with the bully.
"Treat others as you would like to be treated," she said. "If the person has not learned to treat themselves with respect and regard initially, it's going to be very difficult for them to extend that to other people. We really cannot give to other people that which we do not have ourselves."
Help is available for bullies who want to break their cycle of aggression, and for victims.
Genesee County Community Mental Health offers a 24 hour hotline the number is 810- 257-3740.
Tuesday, The Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the City of Flint Human Relations Commission will hold a Bullying Prevention Community forum from 6-8 p.m. at Mott Community College Event Center in room ML 1204. The public is invited.
ABC12 Main Station