Relationship between Direct and The role of Self‐compassion- Relational Bullying and Emotional Well‐being among Adolescents: | Stop Pesten NU



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Relationship between Direct and The role of Self‐compassion- Relational Bullying and Emotional Well‐being among Adolescents:


Adolescence is a phase of deep hormonal, cognitive and moral changes, as well as of identity development. It is a stage characterized by great neural plasticity, in which desir- able or harmful experiences have a determining impact on brain circuitry, affecting well-being and psychopathology both during adolescence and adulthood (Susman & Dorn, 2009). During this stage, relationships with others gain great importance as they become references and influence self-view. Positive relationships foster personal well-being, while harmful relationships can impair healthy develop- ment and have serious consequences on present and future mental health (Hayden & Mash, 2014; Patton et al., 2018). An extreme yet common case of a harmful relationship is bullying.

Bullying has been defined as a type of violent behavior in which a peer or a group of peers intentionally harasses, humiliates and/or intentionally excludes another peer who is in a situation of power imbalance (Olweus, 1993). In order for this type of peer violence to be considered bullying, it must occur frequently and over a period of time (Salmivalli, 2010). The negative actions exercised over victims can be categorized into two groups: direct or indirect. Direct bul- lying refers to violence targeted against the victim and tends to include physical (e.g., hitting, pushing, tripping) and ver- bal aggressions (e.g., name calling, insulting) (Björkqvist, 1994). Relational bullying (e.g., gossiping, rumor spread- ing, social exclusion) intends to damage the victim’s social status and eventually isolate them from their peers (Archer & Coyne, 2005).

Bullying is global health issue due to its prevalence and to the negative consequences for the victims. A study with a sample of 317,869 adolescents from more 80 countries established a prevalence rate for victims from 8% in Euro- pean zone and to 45.1% in Eastern Mediterranean countries, which means that millions of adolescents worldwide are suf- fering from this form of violence (Biswas et al., 2020). Bul- lying appears to be particularly problematic in early adoles- cence as it generally decreases with age (Moon et al., 2015).

Self‐compassion as a mediator between being a victim of bullying and emotional well‐being

Although there were differences in self-compassion and negative affect depending on gender, analyses showed that gender did not contribute significantly to any of the regression models (in all standardized beta p > 0.25). Therefore, it was used the total sample in the subsequent analyses.

Four regression models were tested to study the role of self-compassion between relational and direct bully- ing and positive and negative affect. Results of the three significant models are shown in Fig. 1.

Self-compassion partially mediated the relationship between both types of bullying (direct and relational) and negative affect. Likewise, self-compassion totally mediated the association between relational bullying and positive affect



This study sought to explore the potential mediator effect that self-compassion might have between suffering bullying (relational or direct) and emotional well-being. We expected to find a negative association between suffering either type of bullying (direct and relational) and emotional well-being, as well as a negative association between both forms of vic- timization and self-compassion. We also sought to confirm a strong correlation between self-compassion and emotional well-being. Consistent with extant literature, findings from this research suggest that self-compassion is a protective factor of the emotional well-being of individuals subject to bullying.

In order to test this main hypothesis firstly it was explored the association between different types of bully- ing (direct or relational) and emotional well-being. Results showed that being a victim of relational bullying had a stronger negative correlation with emotional well-being (positive and negative affect) than direct bullying. Rela- tional bullying, in comparison to direct bullying, also had a negative correlation with positive affect besides its cor- relation with negative affect. These results are according to other research that found transnationally that subjec- tive well-being of children over 10 tended to feel more affected by psychological bullying than to physical bully- ing (Savahl et al., 2019). However, the mentioned studied just compared being hit versus being left out. The present study extends the literature in this field with two more complete measures of relational and direct bullying. These results suggest that being intentionally isolated from peers 

impairs the capacity of adolescents to feel positive emo- tions such as enthusiasm or joy, besides the negative emo- tions that they already might be experiencing (i.e., anger or fear). It is worth noting this result because teachers tend to identify and intervene more easily when bullying is direct or physical than when it is relational (L. Chen et al., 2018). The harmful impact of relational bullying on positive affect should be taken into consideration for fur- ther research, prevention and intervention models against bullying.

Secondly, according to extant literature, results supported the prediction of a negative association between different types of bullying and self-compassion (Fasihi & Abol- ghasemi, 2017; Geng & Lei, 2021; Múzquiz et al., 2021; Zăbavă, 2020). One possible interpretation is that growing up in a hostile peer environment may hinder the develop- ment of self-compassion and erode the capacity of treating oneself kindly. This is an inspiring finding because, although there is research on the topic of how attachment and family acceptance may influence self-compassion (Gilbert & Irons, 2005), studies about how the relation with peers affects self- compassion levels during adolescence are scarce. Future longitudinal analyses will help clarify the way relation with peers affect self-compassion and vice versa.

Additionally, the current study adds evidence to the rela- tionship between self-compassion and emotional well-being in a large Spanish adolescent sample. This finding is consist- ent with extant literature that has found self-compassion to be associated with indicators of well-being and satisfaction (Baer et al., 2012; Bluth et al., 2017; Y. Chen et al., 2016; Neff et al., 2007.

Finally, we examined the mediating role that self-compas- sion may have between being a victim of bullying (relational and direct) and emotional well-being (positive and nega- tive affect). Our results showed that self-compassion was a partial mediator between being a victim of bullying (either relational or direct) and negative affect. These results are congruent with existing literature that found self-compassion to be a mediator between peer victimization or traumatic stress and depression, self-injury or psychological malad- justment among adolescents (Játiva & Cerezo, 2014; Jiang et al., 2016; Xavier et al., 2016; Zeller et al., 2015). This result is also coherent from a theoretical perspective since psychopathological symptoms as well as psychological dis- tress are derived from self-criticism, and self-compassion may be a powerful antidote against self-criticism (Gilbert & Irons, 2009). This is an encouraging finding given that self- compassion can be trained and changes in self-compassion may be associated with changes in anxious and depressive symptomatology (Edwards et al., 2014; Galla, 2016; Hoffart et al., 2015; Wilson et al., 2019).

The present study had two important limitations. First, it was a correlational study. Self-compassion may ameliorate the effects of bullying on well-being, but it could also be that students who have higher levels of emotional well-being tend to report higher self-compassion levels. Second, it was based on self-report measures. Consequently, respondent bias could have influenced the associations found. For example, high self-compassionate individuals may find some aggres- sions as part of the normal middle school student experi- ence; meanwhile low self-compassionate individuals may consider normal conflicts as bullying. Hence, longitudinal, experimental analysis and studies based on other informants (peer, parents, and teachers) measures would offer a better understanding of the interrelation among these variables.

In summary, the present study increases the knowledge about the relationship among bullying, well-being and self- compassion in adolescents. It also gives support to the idea that relational bullying may have even more harmful effects than direct bullying. Moreover, it extends the knowledge about how relationships with peers may influence self- compassion. Furthermore, the present research extends the scarce literature about how self-compassion may mediate the effects of bullying, especially in the early adolescence and extends the literature that self-compassion may be a useful component in intervention and prevention models.

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