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How Relational Aggression Affects Mental Health

Taneia Surles | July 11, 2022


At some point in your life, you or someone you know has dealt with bullying. A 2019 National Center for Educational Statistics report revealed that one out of every five (20.2%) students surveyed had been bullied before. Bullying, which is any form of repeated physical, verbal, or social violence to show dominance over another individual, occurs more often in boys than girls. The same report revealed that more male students were physically bullied, while girls were the subjects of rumors.


However, while male bullies may be more physically violent towards their victims, girls are more coercive with their actions. For example, girls may use relational aggression to hurt them instead of fighting or shouting disrespectful words toward their target.


Relational aggression is “an insidious type of bullying that often goes unnoticed by adults.” This form of bullying is often incited by teenagers as a way not only to bully someone but also to control and manipulate them. Relational aggression falls under the radar of parents, teachers, or other authoritative figure because it’s not as apparent as a physical assault or argument. With this in mind, bullies using relational aggression can continue to harm their victims for extended periods before being caught and reprimanded.


Adolescent girls and teenagers are usually more relationally aggressive than boys during their middle school years. As a result, these tweens and teens are often labeled as the “mean girls” by their classmates. 


Signs of relational aggression include cyberbullying, cliquing up, intimidation, peer pressure, establishing rules to join a social group, and spreading false rumors and gossip. 


Continued relational aggression can take a toll on the mental health of both parties. Depression, poor academic performance, inability to develop healthy social relationships, anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation, and suicidal ideation are a few examples of relational aggression's mental and emotional effects.


If you or someone you know is experiencing relational aggression or another form of bullying, please notify your family, school administration, and the authorities if needed. You can also use the following hotlines as resources: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text 741741






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