Why Do Bullies Bully?
“Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.” ~Benjamin Disraeli.
I am beginning to think that a very widespread problem today, especially with youth, is the problem of perceiving you are being bullied (by life, parents, teachers, peers, employers, enemies, co-workers, relationship partners, etc.). The real problem is the fact that when this perception occurs, there are only four possible reactions and three of them are bad. The chances of stopping the bullying or teaching better responses are not that hot.
First of all let’s get a handle on what bullying is. Personally, I prefer the more global definition: Bullying is any behavior that over-controls someone with unfair means to limit productive responses, which keeps the person hopelessly locked in a vicious circle of being bullied and having no where to go but down. The unfair means can be physical strength, money, political or position power, keen intellect, good looks, illegal behavior, knowledge, manipulative strategies, force and support from others, or any other way one person can intimidate and disrespect another into subservience and limit their freedom.
Now here are the only four possible responses to perceiving the reality that you are being bullied:
• You can be passive and do nothing, just letting the bullying run its course and hoping you don’t get maimed or die in the process.
• You can fight fire with gasoline and fight back with what fury you can muster up, not knowing what the outcome will be, but worrying it may be even worse.
• You can go underground and think up some clever passive-aggressive approach, trying to hurt or “get back” at the other person mentally or emotionally by getting a more subtle message across; but with the likely knowledge this will just continue the battle on a different playing field or up the stakes and worsen the outcome.
• You could trust in and try the assertive approach of standing up for your natural rights of not being bullied, in a way that is healthily in between being aggressive or passive.
It is usually helpful to take the time to understand why someone does something they really shouldn’t be doing because it can never have a happy ending. So why do bullies bully? Here is what my research says:
1. People who are likely to bully have a big monkey on their back and an axe to grind. They are not getting enough of something they need desperately. If you take this problem back to its original source the reality becomes that the bullies were not given enough positive attention, acceptance, appreciation and love by their parents; and this empty love bucket continues on in school, work and relationships. Note that this is not always true of the converse—some people who don’t get these essential needs met can turn into real heroes.
2. Bullies seem to be stuck in a scarcity, win-lose mentality as opposed to a viewpoint of the world being abundant and full of win-win outcome possibilities. Fear of losing or being seen as a ‘zero” is what drives the bullying behavior (just like criminal behavior), and unfortunately bullying usually gives the false illusion of short-term winning, just strengthening it that much more and making it quite impervious to successful intervention.
3. Bullying is really a symptom of extreme weakness rather than strength and so it is usually wrongly approached with reactive fear and anger rather than proactive compassion and understanding.
4. The only stopping of bullying is: (a) the growing awareness by “the silent majority” that it is a very serious problem even when we don’t see or sense it because of the lack of gory headlines (b) increasing the consistency of assertive responses by the victims of bullying, and (c) the gradual self-awareness of the villain of bullying: (1) That this behavior is all the above (2) that the intentions for this behavior in their own minds don’t count as much as the destructive impact of the bullying behavior, and (3) the reality that there are much more effective and legitimate means to get what they really want and need.
The current epidemic of bullying behavior is something we all need to put our heads together to cure. The best cures always start with the best understanding.
William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or firstname.lastname@example.org