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Did Richie Incognito believe he was just good-naturedly teasing Jonathan Martin, a six foot five, 312 pound linebacker on the Dolphins and not bullying him? Martin was reportedly called names, socially isolated and subjected to embarrassment for the entertainment of veteran players.

Martin left the team saying, in effect, he couldn’t take the situation anymore.

Is there a difference between bullying and teasing?

The National Institutes of Health define bullying as “aggressive behavior to another person in “a physical, verbal or relational manner.”

In my book, Triumph Over Tension: Easy Steps for Coping in a Complex World, I described the consensus of psychologists about teasing

  • Privileged disrespect
  • Playful annoyance
  • Mock Insult
  • Bullying

Teasing is not always evil. It can be mild and good natured. It can communicate friendliness. It Is Interesting. The word, itself, has its roots In the French word attiser—to make warm—and In the Anglo-Saxon word taesan–to tear apart. When teasing turns into serious bullying, the perpetrator: keeps doing or saying things to have power over another person. Bullies act that way to be popular or to make themselves look tough and in charge.  Some of the ways they bully other people are by:

  • Calling them names
  • Writing nasty things about them in print or on the Internet
  • Leaving them out of the activities
  • Threatening them, taking or damaging their possession,
  • Hitting or kicking them
  • Making them do things they don’t want to do.

If you are being teased or bullied at work, in school or in social situations and it makes you tense, here are some hints to cope:

  • If you sense the person is a bully and perhaps physically dangerous, report it to an authority—a teacher, a police officer or a boss (Martin evidently didn’t report it to his coach).
  • Develop a list of come-backs.
  • Ask the person, “Why do you always say……?”
  • Deflect with humor
  • Say, “I feel (whatever you feel)….therefore cut it out…”
  • Distract
  • Above all, don’t give the teaser the satisfaction of seeing that you are upset.

Instead of leaving his team, which must have taken him a great effort to be chosen, Martin could have dealt with it by using some of the techniques above.

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