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Angry dog threatens to bully

The Menacing Behavior of Bullying

When I conducted extensive research on bullying behavior for my doctoral dissertation in humanistic psychology, I truly wanted to understand the dynamics involving the person who bullied as well as the one who felt victimized. Bullying is frequently a theme that emerges in my clinical practice.

What does bullying behavior look like?

When people recall the torment they experienced from being bullied, the sick, curdling feeling in their stomach, and the terror upon awakening, knowing that they had to face their attacker, it is as if they are reliving it once more. Bullying can feel demoralizing and draining as it chips away at self-esteem and weakens self-concept. People may try to make sense of it, yet how does one do that when the acts are not rational? In some cases, it can manifest as Posttruamatic Stress Disorder with symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares and avoidance of certain situations.

Bullying is cruel treatment that victimizes another by instilling fear and terror. It can feel like an angry dog charging you. There tends to be an imbalance of power because the victim feels unable to adequately defend against a verbal, physical or psychological assault, often feeling shocked or caught off-guard. Bullying behavior comprises physical attack, theft, damage or destruction of property, name-calling, teasing, spreading rumors, ostracism, threats and intimidation. Why do some people behave like bullies? What motivates them to strike out in such hurtful ways?

When we think of bullying, the image may be of a bigger kid picking on someone smaller. That may be a true picture and it may be despicable; however, bullying reveals its unpleasant face in many scenarios. It can range from a schoolyard bully who pushes a child or takes a child’s lunch money, to a more menacing type of violence by a gang on a shop owner, to a terrorist attack on innocent citizens.

Where does bullying take place?

We can find bullying and victimization within a variety of relationships. We can witness scenes of angry parents bullying their children with threats, intimidations and spankings at seemingly benign locations such as restaurants and grocery stores. At home, a parent can target a child who then targets a younger sibling who then takes it out on a child at school and on… or one parent bullies the other…or a teacher bullies a student…or an employer bullies an employee. The person who is victimized is generally expected to behave pleasingly, well-adjusted and respectful toward others. The person who bullies tends to disguise their shame and self-contempt behind a mask of boldness.

Several themes emerged from my research:

  1. Bullying is found in most cultures
  2. Rather than a true victim-type, victims are selected randomly to satisfy a narcissistic intention or social status
  3. Peer group pressure can reinforce bullying and serve as social control
  4. While family constellation is not a predictor of bullying, family interactions that model bullying suggest it is learned behavior and intergenerational in nature

Most people who bully know what they are intentionally doing, and if they are honest with themselves, would really like to behave more respectfully but are reacting to times they have felt bullied in their lives. They behave in a misdirected attempt on some innocent person (victim) to achieve a sense of power and control that someone else seems to have taken from them; thus, they have felt victimized in their own lives.

Now what? 

People who bully as well as their victims would benefit from the following similar actions for themselves and others:
▪Respect     ▪Compassion    ▪Acceptance    ▪Nurturance    ▪Belonging

Pedalino, B. (2004). Notice me—I am unique: The socialization experience of fifth grade boys who display bullying behavior. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Center for Humanistic Studies Graduate School, Farmington Hills, MI.