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What “Glee” Teaches About Bullying

On "Glee" football player Dave Karofsky (actor Max Adler), left, bullied gay student Kurt Hummer (Chris Colfer) although Karofsky is secretly gay. Photo courtesy of DVD Verdict.

Commentary by David Shrank, MSW, LSW

Bullies and their victims come in every size, shape, and ethnicity and from every social and economic class.

Bullying is linked to low self-esteem on the part of both the bully and the victim. That is because a person will only be affected and become the “victim” if that person has low self-esteem and becomes mentally and/or emotionally hurt by the comments or actions of the bully.

Fox’s hit TV show, “Glee,” focuses on high school teens from a variety of social groups who come together to form a  singing club. “Glee” has made many references to bullying in a multitude of ways with several characters being bullied by others.

One of the major characters of the show, Santana Lopez, is a lesbian of Hispanic origin, who appears to have incredible difficulty accepting herself in that she refuses to identify herself as a lesbian. She is very promiscuous in ways she deems socially acceptable.

Santana also continually bullies others, but becomes highly sensitive when others point out the potential of her being a lesbian which results in her feeling hurt and saying she is being bullied.

One of the school’s football players, Dave Karofsky, is gay but refuses to accept this reality. Instead, he bullies other gay teens at the school both physically and verbally. It turns out that he has a strong crush on the gay student he bullies the most.

Lack of self-acceptance quite often leads to bullying. By the same token, not accepting oneself makes a person more susceptible to being bullied based on low self esteem. Those with low self-esteem, generally speaking, either become the target for bullying, or they become the bully in order to change the social environment and become more empowered.

And quite often, those around the bully are afraid of being bullied themselves, so they become aligned with the bully and are then in a state of being in power. Both the bully and those the bully are aligned with usually feel horrible about hurting the feelings of others, but are so relieved not to be the target that they continue on this path.

A person who doesn’t accept themself but wants to be in a powerful social status is most likely to become a bully because as the saying goes “misery loves company” and the bully will feel better about putting down the victim.

Actress Naya Rivera portrays Santana Lopez on "Glee." Photo courtesy of

The strength of “Glee” is found within the characters who are being bullied who make it their job to teach the bullies a lesson that they should be “out and proud.” This reinforces the strength of self acceptance.

Self acceptance is one of if not the most important aspect of human social development. Self-acceptance leads to being grounded as a person and leads to increased self-esteem. High self esteem usually correlates to comfort in one’s personality and strengths.

The more a person likes themselves, the more likely the person will have increased self esteem. With increased support from others, especially from support groups, one’s self-esteem most likely will increase. Particularly with the topic of bullying, self-acceptance will almost always lead to increased self-esteem and therefore a reduction and potential elimination of bullying behavior.

Shrank is founder and CEO of  Empowerment Behavioral Therapeutic Services. He has been a corrections case manager in Trenton, N.J. where he monitored former inmates who had persistent mental illness. He also provided them with clinical therapy, resources, and acts as their court liaison. Shrank was also head of mental health and a board member for the Equality Project, an anti-bullying activist nonprofit agency. Shrank received his master’s degree in social work from Temple University.

To learn more about how Shrank and other social workers help young people overcome life’s hurdles visit the National Association of Social Workers “Help Starts Here” Kids & FamiliesWebsite by clicking here.

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