Being a Bully

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I want to talk about being a bully. When we talk about bullying, it is generally from the perspective of being the victim rather then the victimizer. But one thing that I have learned while working in psychiatric nursing is that we are far more likely to prevent people from becoming victims if we can prevent people from becoming victimizers. Thus, it is essential that we understand what causes a person to become a bully and how we help them change course.

Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm.

National Center against Bullying

I think it is also important to include “what bullying is not:

  • single episodes of social rejection or dislike
  • single episode acts of nastiness or spite
  • random acts of aggression or intimidation
  • mutual arguments, disagreements or fights.” [1]

While the above things can certainly be part of bullying, they are not by themselves. They can only become bullying if the events become repeated and part of a pattern. Because that is a fundamental part of what bullying is: a pattern of behavior. This is a type of behavior that the bully engages in on a regular basis towards one or more victims.

There are numerous types of behaviors that a person can engage in to bully another person. They can use physical abuse which can be hitting, kicking, pinching, slapping, biting or spitting on someone. They can employ social power to start rumors, gossip about their victim, verbally taunt or exclude their victim from important social events. Bullies can engage in their behavior in person or while online. They can bully others alone or as a group of bullies.

When a person becomes an adult, they may or may not continue to be a bully towards their peers. However, being a bully as a child does make it more likely that a person will become a bully as an adult. As an adult, a bully may also employ passive-aggressive behaviors while children generally don’t. “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There’s a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.” [3]

There isn’t as much research on adults that are bullies as there are children who are bullies. What we know about child bullies is that about 30% of children are bullies by self report. This is an enormous portion of children that are intentionally causing harm to other children. And an unknown portion of those children go on to bully as adults.

“All bullies have certain traits in common, specifically they:

  • Like to control and dominate other people.
  • Find it hard to empathize with others or see from other people’s perspectives
  • Like to use others to get what they want
  • Will rarely act out when adults are around – instead choosing to wait for the right moment when the adults aren’t looking.
  • View weaker kids are prey.
  • Do not accept responsibility for their actions
  • Lack foresight and are unconcerned with the consequences of their actions” [7]

Children that are bullies are much more likely to be male and from a low socioeconomic family. [8] “Those who were considered the bullies were more than twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. They were also six times more likely to be diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, characterized by ongoing episodes of anger and hostility, especially toward authority figures, such as parents, teachers or other adults.” [12] One study found that about half the children that were engaging in bullying were still bullies after four years. [8] Those children that are bullies are very likely to be experiencing physical abuse or emotional neglect at home. The home environment of a child has a larger impact on their bullying behaviors than any other environmental factors. [9] However, those children that are experiencing abuse in the school system are also at an increased risk for becoming bullies. [9]

“Kids who bully are more likely to:

  • Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
  • Get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults 
  • Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults” [10]

Many children that are bullies go on to become criminals as adolescents and adults. This means that they are continuing to engage in the violent and aggressive behaviors which are defined as abuse, assault and battery when a person becomes older. One study found that 33% of all juvenile crimes were committed by those individuals that were both bullied and bullying others despite only representing 8.8% of the group. [11] This further reinforces the long standing belief that victimization is the number one risk factor for a person becoming a victimizer.

Preventing child abuse in our homes and schools is the single most important intervention for preventing children from becoming bullies. Reducing the number of bullies would have a direct impact on other areas of violence. When looking at school shootings, “over 72% of shooters had at least one reported adverse childhood experience, and 60% reported being bullied in-person or online.” [13] An adverse childhood experience is a clearly defined group of events that includes traumatic events or an harmful environment.

The things listed as traumatic events are:

  • experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect
  • witnessing violence in the home or community
  • having a family member attempt or die by suicide

The things considered to be a harmful environment are:

  • substance use problems
  • mental health problems
  • instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison

The Adverse Childhood Experience score or ACE score is a long established tool to predict a person’s risk for adverse outcomes in life. If you are interested in knowing your ACE score, you can take the ACE quiz online. If you want to learn more about the ACE score check out Your ACE Score: How it Impacts Life, Family, and Community or What ACEs/PCEs do you have?

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

Additional Reading and References

  1. Definition of bullying
  2. Bullying
  3. What is passive-aggressive behavior? What are some of the signs?
  4. Rates of Incidence
  5. Bullying Epidemic: Facts, Statistics and Prevention
  7. Seven Different Types of Bullies
  8. Children involved in bullying: psychological disturbance and the persistence of the involvement
  9. Physical Child Harm and Bullying-Related Behaviors: A Comparative Study in Japan, South Africa, and the United States
  10. Effects of Bullying
  11. Childhood Bullies and Victims and Their Risk of Criminality in Late Adolescence
  12. Bullies Nearly Twice as Likely to Have Mental Health Disorder
  13. School Shooters: Patterns of Adverse Childhood Experiences, Bullying, and Social Media
  14. Why Do Shootings Occur?
  15. About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study

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