Post No.: 0228
Bullies cannot raise themselves up (or at least they don’t think they can) so their primary strategy is to attempt to put others down. And those who are already down or seem ‘weaker’ or vulnerable, such as because they belong to a minority ethnic or sexual-orientation group, are perceived to be the easiest targets to push down, or at least they are perceived to be the least able or likely to fight back for being physically vulnerable or for being outnumbered for belonging to a minority group. By doing this, the bully will feel that his/her own standing is raised relatively.
It’s an attempt at gaining dominance and popularity within a group but in the most low and cowardly way possible. They won’t pick on someone perceived to be physically stronger than them or a group perceived to be more numerous. It might appear to achieve their objectives but those who employ threats and violence must keep one eye on their own backs. And that’s one reason why most bullies don’t achieve much after school, because after people graduate, most of the smart students don’t want anything to do with them anymore and won’t help them as friends because they weren’t friends. You can temporarily be a big fish in a small pond by using coercion, but once you’re in the big ocean you’ll need social intelligence to become and stay a big fish there.
Status is relative. It’s all about how people feel they stand relative to others that matters (especially the peers immediately around them), and because bullies have low self-esteem yet a level of competitive aggression (they lack true (non-over-compensatory) confidence and tend to gloat insufferably about their wins and are truly sore if they lose) – they’ll feel pride about themselves whether they manage to raise themselves up under their own achievements or if they see others around them fall. But because they like to win and gain respect from others yet often lack the confidence to try or the abilities to succeed – seeing others fall becomes their main strategy.
Bullies in school often are or have been bullied themselves though, whether at school or outside (e.g. they may be facing or have faced a bad family atmosphere of aggression at home, which has set a bad example for them) – hence it reveals a wider societal problem that must be tackled too. Ethnic minorities may even pick on other ethnic minorities because of this. It becomes a fight to not be at the bottom rather than a fight to be at the top.
They tend to be insecure (they don’t tend to be the high achievers in school, who have less reason to feel insecure), tend to blame others (to try to protect their own perceived fragile status – read Post No.: 0131 for information about ‘displacement’ behaviours too) and feel like no one listens to or understands them (hence they may lack good communication skills to help others understand them better). They are sometimes easily frustrated and provoked into aggression (hence they may lack good emotional regulation) and they sometimes fail to care about other people’s feelings (their competitive desire for elevated status overrides their empathy for others, at least when they’re being concerned about their own status, such as during playground politics).
Most bullies wouldn’t be bullies if they were actually academically great, or more generally, if their abilities matched their egos (so some can be good academically or in other ways but still not enough to match their even greater egos). So bullies try to make themselves feel bigger and more important, but use antisocial methods to try to increase their own popularity and/or to get something they want, and they try to pick on those who seem different or weaker than them, which might include booksmart people if they’re not also physically intelligent. Overall, bullies are only trying to capture attention and get a reaction from their victims, whether that’s being upset or showing any fear. Sometimes online trolls will harass a celebrity with vile comments, and if they receive a reply from that celebrity, the troll will behave as if cordial and may even thank the celebrity for responding!
Because bullies are basically looking for attention and a reaction – try not to give them a reaction that shows that you’re bothered about them or that the bully is important to you, at least whilst they’re being bullies. Do not reward their antisocial, threatening or coercive methods in trying to gain your respect or make you do their bidding but reward their socially acceptable behaviours. And don’t take whatever abusive things they say to heart because what they say only reveals the truth about their own insecure selves and not necessarily about anyone else (e.g. their own prejudices and fears – they basically see you as a threat because only threats need putting down).
They are insecure and cowardly so they may be somewhat considered victims of something themselves, although this doesn’t mean letting them have their way with you whilst they’re trying to bully you. So, if you cannot avoid bumping into them, be confident, look them in the eyes, calmly and emotionlessly stand up to them or just ignore them unless doing so will make them escalate their efforts to get a reaction from you, and eventually they’ll move on. Because bullies tend to pick on easy targets and those who get upset easily – do stand up for yourself. Get support if you feel you need it, but don’t escalate matters via violence or aggression yourself. A child should talk to an adult if it gets serious – the bully may be afraid of the consequences if teachers find out because he/she’ll get into trouble at home.
It’s hard to talk generally though because different bullies are different – some bullies will leave you alone if you show even the slightest bit of retaliation but others will just keep on trying to prod you for another reaction, which will make them feel more powerful for having such an effect on you. The former tend to be those who hang around a main bully in their clique in order to try to have a bit of that bully’s perceived status rub off on them, and the latter tend to be a main bully in a clique and are more likely to push it and cause harm, especially when they feel ‘tougher’ for being surrounded by a few cronies in a e.g. ‘three against one’ situation; which is what cowards do.
We should see bullies as what they are – people who feel threatened, insecure, humiliated and small. Yet for understanding this, we shouldn’t fight fire with fire but with water. If we turn into bullies too then we’ll be no better than them.
In a school playground environment, a lot of onlookers seem to join in with the bullies or do nothing (due to conforming to the crowd, safety in numbers or hiding in the crowd, deindividuation, the bystander effect, and not wishing to be targets themselves) – but if you’re an onlooker then aim to be independent-minded and be friendly and supportive to those who are victims of bullying to stop the cycle of bullying. People seemingly siding with bullies in order to not become victims of the bullies themselves make the bullies falsely believe that their elevated statuses are being confirmed as a result of their antisocial behaviours – but really, if it came down to it, these people probably wouldn’t urinate on a bully if he/she was on fire! That’s what one gets if one tries to rule with fear rather than love.
What can especially hurt though is when people whom you thought are or were your friends didn’t step in to stand up for you when you were being bullied – they may have even joined in at laughing at you with the bullies. But understand that it was because they didn’t want to make themselves targets of the bullies too. They should be stronger people but they’re not or at least weren’t during the time.
If you are being bullied for being booksmart then understand that this is the opposite of something to be ashamed of (not that one should therefore become smug in front of others about it – one needs to be socially intelligent too). If you are being bullied for being physically weak then hopefully this will motivate you to get physically fitter and stronger (if one takes up a martial art though, this is not a reason to provoke or entertain fights because a truly skilled martial artist sees fighting as only a last resort. The true skill of a master is in avoiding fights where possible – if you know you’ve got it then you don’t have to flaunt it). If you are being bullied for something you cannot help or change, such as the colour of your fur or sexuality, then never be ashamed of that (it could even be the case that your own ethnicity across the world far outnumbers theirs if only they weren’t so myopic – not that this means you should discriminate against them in return).
So if you are a victim of bullying then learn to understand the mind of your bully or bullies to defeat or defuse them. And if you witness bullying as an observer then help stand up against them because you’ll find that more people are on your side against the bully or bullies than are on their side. Once you speak up, others will have less fear to speak up against them too. And if you are insecure then I hope you can find the courage to try to lift yourself up via your own achievements rather than hope to take other people down to your level or lower – then you’ll truly earn the lasting respect of others rather than be called a troublemaking loser behind your back. Bullies can learn to change their behaviours, especially if they learn that bullying doesn’t get them what they want.
Woof! Bullying affects many people, especially young people. Please reply to the tweet linked in the Twitter comment button below to have your say on this subject if you wish.