There’s a lot of information out there dedicated to protecting our kids from bullying and enforcing policies to ensure it doesn’t happen, but the real key to stopping this problem is understanding it. Bullies are definitely people like the rest of us, so what’s so different about them that their social skills are so drastically different?
Bullies do not fit into a neat little box. They come from all walks of lives, all ages, all genders, all races, and all cultures. When we understand what lies behind the bully, often it takes away the mystery and this reduces the fear. It also helps to create a new mindset around the idea that “This is not about me, I am not terrible, its about them” - and this can change our emotional responses to the bully. This piece will try and throw more light on the inner workings of the mind of a bully which can help give us more insight to lead to change in outlook.
It is often said that behind every bully there is a bullied past. This idea falls in line with Newton’s 3rd law of motion states that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and this universal truth applies to all sphere of life. Nothing happens without a reason; same goes with our bullies. More often than not, individuals who torture, annoy or bully others are, in most of the cases, the ones who were tortured the most and bullying is their way of displacing their rage and helplessness by retaliating on someone who may not be in a position to defend themselves.
Bullies are more often than not said to be a product of their upbringing, and many parents unknowing expose them to interactions that shape the way their children will communicate with others one day. It’s been shown that there’s a link between disciplinary parenting styles that use threats and spanking to control behaviour and the children that in turn use the same methods to get their peers to cooperate with them. Some data exists theorizes that some bullies are people who suffered emotional and physical abuse at home, and they replicate those behaviours at school or other social environments as they believe that this behaviour is normal and acceptable given their exposure to this for a prolonged period of time, particularly from their primary caregivers. Additionally, a difficult upbringing can result in poor self esteem, which coupled with aggressive behaviour can create an individual who not only lacks communication skills but feels the need to defend themselves constantly. It’s due to this that so many bullies can make peace with what they do – they see threats and insults everywhere they look, and in their eyes, everyone else is asking for it. They lash out as a defence mechanism, and then often seek out ‘weaker’ victims to bolster their own sense of superiority.
Stemming from the idea of a poor self esteem arises another need typically seen in bullies and that is the need to control or be in charge of someone else or something. If they’ve had a tumultuous upbringing with a lot of big changes that were completely out of their control, they might lash out and assert their dominance over others as a means of coping. For instance, having a say in someone else’s day, it helps them cope with not having a say in their own.
Bullies also appear to be unaware of how they are perceived. Very often they find ways to justify their behaviour and have no concept of how their peers actually see them. For the most part, they consider themselves well-liked, though this is usually just a result of fear-based manipulation, and people being too afraid to speak up.
Individuals who bully also often show traits of personality disorders such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD) or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). ODD and CD is a disordered behavioural pattern which typically manifest in children while the latter two are more often seen in adults. Children with ODD often exhibit angry, irritable, and vindictive moods and are prone to misbehaviour, especially towards other children. CD on the other hand is a scary pattern of behaviour exhibited in children characterized as anti-social behaviour and is regarded as a precursor to Anti-Social Personality Disorder, a personality Disorder seen in adults who commit serious, violent offenses. In case of adults, those with NPD often display a pattern of behaviour that causes them to have an over-inflated sense of self-importance or worth and as they see themselves as higher than others, they may become angry when they don’t get their way and this could lead to bullying.
Bullying can be triggered by a perceived sense of danger. In many cases, when bullies target someone, they perceive this person as a threat - this could be a threat to their potential business success, ego, or self-esteem. The victim of bullying may be "different" or otherwise unique in a way which stands out to the bully or who they view as a threat. In many cases, bullies are only subconsciously aware that they're feeling threatened by someone else.
Bullying also stems from having a desire for power. We live in a world where a lot of importance is placed on power and getting as much of it as possible. Unfortunately, there are many individuals who internalize this and believe that knocking other people down is the best way to build themselves up and this is typically characterised in bullying behaviours.
Lastly, there is also have element of sadism which is certainly a factor with certain bullies and indicates a more pathological or even sociopathic drive behind their actions. For as terrible as this is, there are certain people who merely enjoy being able to punch down on other individuals. We see this all the time in abusive relationships or criminals who go on to target individuals who fit a certain mould. It is also important to know that when sadism is the strongest factor behind a bully's actions, they are likelier to be much more dangerous than bullies driven by other factors because they do not have a conscience or feelings of remorse or guilt for their actions.
Unfortunately, for many of us, whether we are witnesses of such events, victims of a bully, or know someone who is a bully, we are not armed with the proper mindset/knowledge to handle the situation. Bullying is a serious issue. There are many reasons for bullying but none are so serious that they cannot be overcome with the right help being provided. This type of behaviour must be curbed as it has proven to have lasting psychological effects on the victims and lasting effects on the bully as well and having an insight into what can lead to such behaviours and looking into the mind of the bully can put us on the right track to achieving this.
Written by: Yash Mehrotra