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Bullying – Characteristics of a Bully

Bullying – Characteristics of a Bully

Bullying often repeats because the reasons that bullies target their victims don’t change.   School violence is the violent attitude or behaviour that is seen in children in the school premises nowadays and is increasing at a rapid rate. These violent kids also trouble the other kids of the school. They threaten other children, bully them and also to some extent, beat or kill them. They make use of weapons in the schools such as guns, knives, etc. The school age is indeed a young age for these things and this type of attitude in such a small age is indeed intolerable.


Description of a Bully

A student who is stronger, more aggressive, bolder, and more confident than average typically bully other students who are weaker, more timid, and who tend not to retaliate or act in an assertive manner. Sometimes older students bully younger ones, or upper year students bully new students.  Sometimes bullies pick on students who are disadvantaged by being new immigrants or are from a cultural minority group. Bullying is a form of aggression used from a position of power. Children who bully are learning to use power and aggression to control and distress others.  Many kids who bully were once victims of bullying! Many of the most violent acts that have taken place in our schools are carried out by students who were once bullied. Children acquire power in many ways:

  • Advantage in size, age, strength, intelligence, etc
  • Advantage in social status with peers (e.g., more popular, more socially dominant)
  • Children who repeatedly bully are establishing patterns of using power and aggression in relating to others.
  • Knowledge of another’s vulnerability (e.g., obesity, learning problems, family issues, disabilities) and using that knowledge to cause distress
  • Membership in a dominant group in society and using that power against members of a less dominant group in the forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classicism

Kids bully to get attention, to feel powerful or to make themselves feel better if they are feeling angry, sad or unaccepted. When kids bully, they feel important and powerful because they often get the attention of other students. Kids who bully may have never learned how to deal with conflict peacefully – they may come from families where everyone deals with each other by shouting, name calling or hurting each other physically. Children and youth who bully may show behaviours or emotional signs that they are using power aggressively:

  • Aggressive with siblings, parents, teachers, friends, and animals
  • Are obsessive and compulsive; the serial bully has to have someone to bully and appears to be unable to survive without a current target
  • Are seething with resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger, and often have wide-ranging prejudices as a vehicle for dumping their anger onto others
  • Are unable and unwilling to recognise the effect of their behaviour on others does not want to know of any other way of behaving
  • Are unwilling to recognise that there could be better ways of behaving. Bullying is obsessive and compulsive; the serial bully has to have someone to bully and appears to be unable to survive without a current target
  • Bossy and manipulative to get own way
  • Does not recognize impact of his/her behaviour on others
  • Easily frustrated and quick to anger
  • Has never learnt to accept responsibility for their behaviour
  • Have low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and thus feel insecure
  • Holds a positive attitude towards aggression
  • Little concern for others’ feelings
  • Possessing unexplained objects and/or extra money
  • Secretive about possessions, activities, and whereabouts
  • Relinquish and denies responsibility for their behaviour and its consequences
  • Wants to enjoy the benefits of living in the adult world, but who is unable and unwilling to accept the responsibilities that are a prerequisite for being part of the adult world.

What bullies fear most is exposure of their inadequacy and being called publicly to account for their behaviour and the consequences that come from bullying others. The purpose of bullying is to hide the bully’s or abuser’s inadequacy and people bully to hide their inadequacy are often jealous of their victim or the environment. Bullies are seething with resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger, and often have wide-ranging prejudices as a vehicle for dumping their anger onto others. Some powerful motivators the bullies are driven by are jealousy, envy and rejection. Since childhood, bullies have learnt that they can avoid the unpleasant consequences of bad behaviour through the instinctive response of denial, blame, and suggest they are themselves a victim of victimhood.

  • Children who bully others often experience power and aggression in their own relationships or in those close to them. The following may contribute to bullying behaviour:
  • Child has friends who bully and are aggressive
  • Child has trouble standing up to peer pressure
  • Difficult temperament, attention problems, hyperactivity
  • Exposure to excessive violence through media or games
  • Family stress
  • Few opportunities to shine and show talents at home, school, or in the community (positive power)
  • Inconsistent consequences
  • Lack of attention, rejection or marginalized feelings
  • Lack of positive role models
  • Lack of supervision when interacting with peers
  • Mental or physical abuse
  • Parents may model use of power and aggression by yelling, hitting, rejecting child
  • Parents may model use of power and aggression with each other
  • Past experiences of being bullied
  • Siblings may bully child at home
  • Teachers or coaches may model use of power and aggression by yelling, excluding, rejecting

Another important but often overlooked group of children who are affected by bullying are those children who are neither victims nor perpetrators of bullying, but who see bullying happen to their peers. There are also children who will not take the initiative to bully themselves, but will follow a bully’s lead in helping to harass or victimize a particular child in their class or school. All children, including bystanders, are negatively affected when bullying occurs. The bullying may cause anxiety or fear in bystanders. The learning environment is poisoned by bullying, particularly when there are no effective interventions in the bullying situation. Children, who observe violent behaviour and see that it has no negative consequences for the bully, will be more likely to use aggression in their future.


Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can’t, Bully


There are many reasons how and why bullies target others and the reasons are consistent between cases…Bullying often repeats because the reasons that bullies target their victims don’t change:


1) How do bullies select their targets? – The bully selects their target using the following criteria:

  • Being good at your job, often excelling
  • Being popular with people (colleagues, customers, clients, pupils, parents, patients, etc)
  • Being the expert and the person to whom others come for advice, either personal or professional (ie: you get more attention than the bully)
  • Being too old or too expensive (usually both)
  • Bullies are predatory and opportunistic – you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; this is always the main reason – investigation will reveal a string of predecessors, and you will have a string of successors
  • Having at least one vulnerability that can be exploited
  • Having a strong sense of integrity (bullies despise integrity, for they have none, and seem compelled to destroy anyone who has integrity)
  • Having a well-defined set of values which you are unwilling to compromise
  • Jealousy (of relationships and perceived exclusion therefrom) and envy (of talents, abilities, circumstances or possessions) are strong motivators of bullying.
  • More than anything else, the bully fears exposure of his/her inadequacy and incompetence; your presence, popularity and competence unknowingly and unwittingly fuel that fear
  • Refusing to become a corporate clone and drone
  • Refusing to join an established clique
  • Showing independence of thought or deed


2) Events that trigger bullying

  • A new manager is appointed
  • Blowing the whistle on incompetence, malpractice, fraud, illegality, breaches of procedure, breaches of health & safety regulations etc
  • Bullying starts after one of these events:
  • Challenging the status quo, especially unwittingly
  • Gaining promotion
  • Gaining recognition for your achievements, eg winning an award or being publicly recognized
  • Obvious displays of affection, respect or trust from co-workers
  • Refusing to obey an order which violates rules, regulations, procedures, or is illegal
  • Standing up for a colleague who is being bullied – this ensures you will be next; sometimes the bully drops their current target and turns their attention to you immediately
  • Suffering illness or injury, whether work related or not
  • The previous target leaves
  • There’s a reorganization
  • Undertaking trade union duties
  • You may have unwittingly become the focus of attention whereas before the bully was the centre of attention (this often occurs with female bullies) – most bullies are emotionally immature and thus crave attention
  • Your performance unwittingly highlights, draws attention to, exposes or invites unfavourable comparison with the bully’s lack of performance (the harder you work to address the bully’s claims of underperformance, the more insecure and unstable the bully becomes)


3) Personal qualities that bullies find irresistible

Targets of bullying usually have these qualities:

  • A sense of humour, including displays of quick-wittedness
  • A desire to always think well of others
  • A need to feel valued
  • A strong forgiving streak (which the bully exploits and manipulates to dissuade you from taking grievance and legal action)
  • A strong sense of fair play and a desire to always be reasonable
  • A tendency to internalize anger rather than express it
  • A tendency to self-deprecation, indecisiveness, deference and approval seeking
  • A strong well-defined set of values which you are unwilling to compromise or abandon
  • A well-developed integrity which you’re unwilling to compromise
  • Ability to master new skills
  • Ability to think long term and to see the bigger picture
  • An inability to value oneself whilst attributing greater importance and validity to other people’s opinions of oneself (eg through tests, exams, appraisals, manager’s feedback, etc)
  • Being incorruptible, having high moral standards which you are unwilling to compromise
  • Being unwilling to lower standards
  • Competence (this stimulates envy in the less-than-competent bully)
  • Difficulty saying no
  • Diligent, industrious
  • Giving and selfless
  • Helpful, always willing to share knowledge and experience
  • High coping skills under stress, especially when the injury to health becomes apparent
  • High expectations of those in authority and a dislike of incompetent people in positions of power who abuse power
  • Higher-than-average levels of dependency, naivety and guilt
  • Honesty and integrity (which bullies despise)
  • Imaginative, creative, innovative
  • Idealistic, optimistic, always working for improvement and betterment of self, family, the employer, and the world
  • Intelligence and intellect
  • Irrepressible, wanting to tackle and correct injustice wherever you see it
  • Low assertiveness
  • Low propensity to violence (ie you prefer to resolve conflict through dialogue rather than through violence or legal action)
  • Quick to apologize when accused, even if not guilty (this is a useful technique for defusing an aggressive customer or potential road rage incident)
  • Perfectionism
  • Popularity (this stimulates jealousy in the less-than-popular bully)
  • Sensitivity (this is a constellation of values to be cherished including empathy, concern for others, respect, tolerance etc)
  • Slow to anger
  • Strong sense of honour
  • Successful, tenacious, determined, courageous, having fortitude
  • Tolerant
  • You’re always willing to go that extra mile and expect others to do the same
  • You’re trustworthy, trusting, conscientious, loyal and dependable


The typical sequence of events is:

  • Employers are often more frightened of the bully than the target and will go to enormous lengths to avoid having to deal with bully (promotion for the bully is the most common outcome)
  • Even if the employer realizes that they might have sided with the wrong person in the past, they are unlikely to admit that because to do so may incur liability
  • Eventually, the target asserts their right not to be bullied, perhaps by filing a complaint with personnel
  • If legal action is taken, employers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep targets quiet, usually by offering a small out-of-court settlement with a comprehensive gagging clause
  • It’s one word against another with no witnesses and no evidence, so personnel take the word of the senior employee – serial bullies excel at deception and evasion of accountability
  • Once the target is gone, there’s a period of between 2-14 days, then a new target is selected and the process starts again (bullying is an obsessive compulsive behaviour and serial bullies seem unable to survive without a target on to whom they can project their inadequacy and incompetence whilst blaming them for the bully’s own failings)
  • Personnel interview the bully, who uses their Jekyll and Hyde nature, compulsive lying, and charm to tell the opposite story (charm has a motive – deception)
  • The personnel department are hoodwinked by the bully into getting rid of the target – serial bullies are adept at encouraging conflict between people who might otherwise pool negative information about them

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