The Anatomy of a Bully

When I visited a foreign country fifteen years ago, I ran into a very different approach to children who bullied:  “ignore them.”

I was told that bullying was a way in which children who did not “fit in” or represent societal norms were actually driven from school, usually in grade school.  It seemed to be the way in which a whole country accepted the necessity to relieve themselves of individuals who did not march to their common drum.

I’ve thought a lot about bullying and how bullies are created and sustained.  There are some common aspects of bullies, whether they are eight or sixty-eight.

  1. We must realize that bullies are NOT born, they are Created.
  2. People who allow themselves to bully, deny their empathy towards their victims.
  3. Bullies practice learning how to blame others for their own actions.
  4. Bullies feel entitled to do whatever it takes to get their needs met.
  5. Bullies are always FEARFUL–unable to face their own fear, they act out on others.

A)  In our foreign country, bullies were created at home and sustained by schools.  The easiest way to create a bully is to accede to the child, trying to please every wish, demand, outburst, and raging behavior.  The more a parent allows the child to set the rules at home, the more the child learns to control others through intimidation, fear and out right physical attack.  For Harry Potter fans, think of Dudley: a boy was indulged constantly by his doting parents.

B)  To be able to inflict emotional or physical pain on someone else, usually we humans have to feel like we are in the act of survival–for our sense of self or for our physical body.  For a Bully, inflicting pain upon others is a wish to control them.  To see the reactions to fear and pain induce the Bully to believe that he/she has reached supremacy.  And, at the same time, the Bully is able to mask his or her own secret sense of inadequacy.

C)  When children no longer have to accept responsibility for their actions, they learn to practice how to blame others for their actions.  Somebody else always “made me do it.”  Parents who accept that their child is blameless, teach their children to look to others for explanation of reactionary behavior.  The easiest way to teach children about self-responsibility when there are more than one child in the house, is to hold each child responsible for his or her behavior.  When children learn that there are consequences for reactionary behavior, they will learn how to abstain from the instant thought and actions of “he made me do it.”

D)  When children don’t have to earn their rewards, they learn to expect gifts without expending any effort.  A reward can be simply a walk to the park, or a glass of chocolate milk, or as great as getting a pet or having their favorite meal.  This does not mean that parents are never to give their children gifts, but it does mean that it behooves the parent and child for the parent to remind the child that through their good choices or behavior that they are going to the park, etc.  As rewarding as it is to see our children’s eyes light up with our thoughtfulness–these are indulgences.   Too many indulgences and we are not teaching our children how to EARN our regard.  (Note, I didn’t say “affection,” regard and respect have to be earned to have value.)

E) When respect is not earned at home, but is freely given as a GIFT, a child learns to expect others to give her/him the same gifts, without understanding the need to EARN them.  A child who learned and practiced the internal self-deceit of outward respect, FEARS that others may find out that he or she is not WORTHY of their actual regard.  And thus, to protect his own ego from the painful acknowledgment of being “less than”–the bully does everything he or she can to protect their fragile ego.  FEAR is a huge driving factor in bullies.

What to do about a bully?  Have it be common knowledge that Bullies are Fearful of being found out–that they have been unable to build a respected self–that they are torturing others for their own lack of courage.  School programs would do well to promote an educational understanding about bullies–and a follow-up with a mediation process that gives the bully every opportunity to explore his or her own fears and personal failings.

(We adults have our own issues with accepting adult bullies that we tend to ignore.  By ignoring grown up bullies, we are teaching the watching eyes of our children that they, too, must ignore bullies.  Remember the foreign country that ignored school bullies?  It is one of the most “class conscious” countries in the world.)

Be gentle with yourself, your children and give the gift of earned rewards.



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