Understanding The Bully
Unfortunately for everyone, studies have shown that bullies actually are different from their peers. While lay persons scoff at this notion as being obvious, they often overlook its true significance. Psychologists, however, know that bullies act differently because they think differently, and perceive the world differently than others do. They also lack what are called pro-social behaviors, which means that they have trouble interacting with others on a natural wavelength. Sadly, the bully is less aware, and often less concerned with the manner in which he or she is actually perceived by others.
These kids interpret social information incorrectly. Cognitively, children who bully manifest a hostile bias towards the acts and intents of others. What most would understand to be an innocent look, comment, gesture, act or accident, takes on a hostile intent inside the mind of a bully. This misperception then becomes a justification for revenge, or what the bully would later recall as “an act of self defense.” Kids with this disposition often present with a reduced sensitivity to anxiety. Lacking this critical self-regulatory mechanism, they have difficulty perceiving the effects of their conduct. They consistently report that others have “overreacted” to them, or have been “overly sensitive”. Ironically, this ‘overreaction’ is often perceived by the bully as being hostile.
Contrary to popular belief, children who present with this type of disposition actually tend to have unnaturally high levels of self esteem. They have a generalized compulsion to establish social dominance. Most are equipped with the flexibility to adapt their behavior, in the short-term, when seen as beneficial to them. These traits can attract or intimidate others into maintaining friendships with the bully. But such friendships are typically short-lived. As time goes on, the bully’s followers dwindle. Ultimately, this circumstance imposes even more strain on the bully’s world, than on his/her victims. In fact, while victims of bullies are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-victims, the bullies themselves are over 9 times more likely to attempt suicide. (1)
Bullying has been proven to be one of the most enduring human character traits, beginning in grade school, and carrying forward into abusive relationships throughout adulthood. This is why the most reliable solution to bullying problems lies not in the actions of the bully, but in the reactions of the intended victim. It is unlikely that school officials, or even parental intervention, will be able to eradicate a bullying problem. The individualized victim must find a way of shaping their interactions with the bully, and/or directing the conflict away from themself.
1. International Journal of Adolescent Mental Health, “Bullies & Victims More Likely to Attempt Suicide”. July 2008