A Little about Bullying

14 Feb

Bullying is a topic that has recently become quite newsworthy, as youngsters report horrific tales of being emotionally shunned, verbally abused, or even physically beaten, largely because they are different from the majority of students. It is sad to think that until recently this behavior had gone totally unrecognized in our school system. Now the first steps are being taken to look at a pattern of behavior which has caused so much harm to so many young people.

However, bullying is by no means confined to grade school, high school, or college. It is alive and well in the workplace. Even in social gatherings you may come across a person of this ilk.

What does a bully look like? Well, don’t expect to identify him or her by any physical characteristics. A bully can come in any shape and be of any age. The key behaviors that identify a bully are

  • S/he belittles others. This may be in terms of their education, their work performance, their mode of dress or any other factor. Sometimes the bully will not do so directly but spread a rumor that eventually gets back to the victim.
  • The bully usually gets into some position of power, whether that be at work, at home, or in some civic organization, for example. In this setting, the bully can control how things are done and can utilize his/her manipulative tactics to turn people against one another.
  • The bully feels entitled to put others down because of his/her superior education, social standing, political power, or whatever makes up the cornerstone of the bully’s self-beliefs.
  • The bully works tirelessly to create disharmonyand mistrust among those beneath him/her. This is done either by outright lying or by “tweaking” the truth. Make no mistake, these half truths are lies — and sometimes more dangerous to society than an outright and obvious lie!
  • The bully wants to “look good ” in whatever setting s/he finds himself. To the neighbors a family with a bully looks picture perfect. To outsiders the bully in a workplace setting looks like a boss with the company’s best interest at heart.

Many people wonder why bullies engage in such convoluted and complex behaviors, reinventing the truth only from their own perspective. Although the bully looks like the one in power — and that may be technically true — this person is definitely not EMPOWERED. The following list of characteristics of bullies is not meant to create empathy for bullies’ behaviors or for readers to feel sorry for such individuals. In fact, that would not be therapeutic treatment for them. However, a deeper look into their psychology might help make sense of their behavior.

  1. The bully actually is a very frightened individual. S/he perceived him/herself as powerless as a young child. Whether that was because of a small stature, because of a perceived lack of power in a dysfunctional family — whatever the cause — the bully is trying to make up for this terrible feeling of being out of control by taking control of his/her outer environment, usually to the detriment of others in his/her world.
  2. The bully uses lies to control other people and get an ever greater sense of control in his/her life. Of course, this perceived sense of control will never be enough.
  3. The bully thinks only of his/her own needs. This is technically what we would call narcissism. This person does not recognize the needs of others as valid or worthy of being fulfilled.
  4. The bully ends by believing his or her own lies. This individual has told so many lies about a particular situation, that s/he may get the versions mixed up and thus trip herself up. It may also be the case that a bully’s self-talk is so persistent and ongoing in her own mind that it actually becomes “truth” for that person.

An excellent resource for examining the bully’s behavior in greater depth is M. Scott Peck’s book, “People of the Lie.” Although written around 30 years ago, the book consists of compelling case studies of narcissistic behavior in “normal” families, in which “looking good” is the most important factor as the family interfaces with the community.

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