Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald: Are you a victim or a bully?

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Within all of us lies the ability to respond without empathy and feel justified in attacking rather than engaging. Photo / Supplied
Within all of us lies the ability to respond without empathy and feel justified in attacking rather than engaging. Photo / Supplied

"Regarding bullying, reality is, it's killing many through suicide. Why is it so rife?" Concerned

Bullying is a word that has been redefined, a word we used to associate with schoolyard taunts. But the singling out of one child for physical attack is now synonymous with the cruel online attacks increasingly putting the lives of young people, and adults, at risk.

But is it any different? Or is online bullying (as tragic as the outcome can be) just more visible, and therefore more easily reported? And how does it drive some to take their own lives?

Singling someone out to run them down, humiliate or attack them is as old as social groups. Yet, in some ways, we're only just starting to understand the impact it has, especially on emotional development.

Just a generation ago children were encouraged to ignore it (think "sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me").

But more recently research into how "adverse events" effect emotional development suggests sustained bullying can be as harmful as physical and sexual abuse, and it's consequences just as lasting.

To me there are some really key differences with cyber bullying. Firstly, it is much harder to escape. If you're being picked on at school, you can escape it outside school, or in other social groups. The nature of social media means it's always on. And that makes users more vulnerable.

READ MORE: • Why are we becoming so narcissistic? Here's the science

Many social scientists have also found an increase in narcissism in western culture. With it, they note a decrease in empathy.

Some believe social media is a cause of this trend. Others see it as an outcome. What is clear is the very nature of social media - without physical proximity and the ability to read physical and facial clues - means we all risk responding thoughtlessly online (I know I have).

For all the wonderful things about social media, it can also amplify the risk of bullying. It can make empathy for others harder to generate and sustain. It also makes it harder to know when enough is enough.

Ultimately the responsibility falls on all of us. Not only to make sure we protect each other from bullying, but to accept that within all of us lies the ability to respond without empathy, to feel justified in attacking rather than engaging. Within all of us lies the potential to be both the victim and the bully.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR KYLE? SEND US AN EMAIL

• Questions will remain anonymous

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- nzherald.co.nz

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Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald is in private practice at the Robert Street Clinic in Auckland. For more: psychotherapy.org.nz or his Social Anxiety resource site: overcomingsocialanxiety.com.

Read more by Kyle MacDonald

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