Exclusion Hurts: The Effects of Direct and Indirect Forms of Aggression On the Psychological Well-Being of LGBT Youth
Research has increasingly established that school-based victimization poses significant risks to the psychological well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents, though it has primarily focused on the effects of overt or direct forms of aggression, such as physical and verbal harassment. Indirect aggression, sometimes referred to as social or relational aggression (Archer & Coyne, 2005), has been identified as uniquely contributing to internalizing symptoms such as depression and low self-esteem among adolescents in the general population (Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001). It is clear from existing research that LGBT youth experience high levels of school-based victimization (GLSEN, 2010). However, there is no existing research that examines the different contributions that direct and indirect forms of aggression have on the psychological well-being of LGBT youth.
Using a national sample of 7,261 LGBT adolescents’ school experiences from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2009 National School Climate Survey, the relationships among direct and indirect aggression and psychological outcomes were examined. It was hypothesized that indirect aggression would be a significant predictor of symptoms of anxiety and depression and lowered self-esteem above and beyond the effects of direct aggression. Because previous research has suggested that forms of indirect aggression were partially mediated by one’s psychological connection to school (Kull, 2012), it was also hypothesized that indirect aggression would be a significant predictor of psychological outcomes above and beyond the effects of school belonging.
Three dimensions of indirect aggression were examined: purposeful exclusion by peers, rumors being spread, and having one’s property damaged. Responses on a Likert-type scale ranged from 1-5 (“never” to “frequently”). Weighted scores on verbal and physical harassment and physical assault based on sexual orientation and gender expression were used as measures of direct aggression. The dependent variables— depressive and anxious symptoms and self-esteem—were measured using scores from two subscales of the Brief Symptom Inventory and the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale respectively. Gender and age were included as controls, and responses to the Psychological Sense of School Membership Scale measured school belonging.
Three separate OLS hierarchical regressions were run on the three psychological outcomes. The analyses supported the hypothesis that indirect aggression has a significant (p<.001) effect on self-esteem and anxious and depressive symptoms above and beyond the effects of direct aggression and school belonging. Indirect aggression explained an additional 3-4% of the variance in depressive and anxious symptoms, and only a small but significant (.2%) variance in self-esteem. Discussion of the unique contributions of specific forms of indirect aggression on psychological outcomes will be discussed as it relates to theory (e.g., interpersonal theory of depression).
Increased prohibitions against overt forms of aggression against LGBT youth make it increasingly important that school staff recognize less overt forms of aggression against these youth. Given the evidence that indirect forms of aggression have considerable effects on their psychological well-being, this study supports the need to educate and inform school professionals on less overt forms of aggression.