10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Bullying

Bullying is an act done to make a person feel a certain way. The act is meant to harm, intimidate or coerce someone. Bullying is a negative act that often becomes a pattern. It can be done verbally, physically or online. When we intentionally harm and/or humiliate others, we are bullying. However, someone doesn’t become a bully out of nowhere. People are not born bullies, they become them. And they typically become bullies at a rather long age. This continued pattern may only become worse and more intense as the years go on. But how is this personality trait created? What turns a toddler into a bully? What is the psychological link between humans and bullying? Here are 10 things to know about the psychology of bullying…  

Humans are not born bullies.

psychology of bullying

  A child does not enter the world a bully. It’s not a part of their genetic makeup. They are not deemed a bully when the gender is revealed. In actuality, a child is unbelievably receptive to the world around them. They feel a lot of things, they see a lot of things, they are told a lot of things…but most of the time they don’t know what to do with any of that. When all of these factors are rather negative, it’s easy for a child to become a bully. In terms of nature verse nurture…a child’s characteristics and actions are born through nurture.   

Parents play a massive role in bullying.

psychology of bullying

 Is it harsh to say that mean parents tend to raise mean kids? I mean…it’s true..with some minor exceptions. Non-restrictive and neglectful parents can promote these behaviors too. These parents also raise children that fall victim to mean children. As we touched on in the first point, children are born with zero knowledge about the world. They are born knowing nothing about how they’re intended to act, how they should treat other people, and how they should be treated. Children learn everything they know from their parents or guardians. Studies have shown that when a parent is authoritative (for their child’s wellbeing) while also being warm and understanding, they are far less likely to become a bully.  Overly authoritative parents can form a child into a bully for a few different reasons. One reason being that when a parent is harsh and aggressive with their child, they essentially model how to be a bully. This is how the child will now go and act in the world. On the other end of this, a child can become a victim to bullying because this is how they are used to being treated.  

Bullying is not normal aggression.

psychology of bullying

 Bullying is not the same as having fighting tendencies, having a temper, etc. Bullying is not run of the mill aggression. Bullying is targeted and repeated. Bullying is an act that is consistently repeated to cause harm. But what can make a child and then an adult want to make other people feel this way? To be a bully is a serious character trait…so why do these people act out in this way? There are specific vulnerabilities that can lead to someone being a bully. These may include a lack of personal awareness, low self esteem, and the need to feel in charge. These are formed at a young age and if not acknowledged…can lead to a lifetime of suffering – on both ends.  

Many kids in school experience bullying.

psychology of bullying

 When children are in school they are around kids of all different ages and from all different backgrounds. When these differences are meshed together, bullying is bound to happen. Psychologically speaking, when these experiences happen at such a young age, they can be quite significant. Children can be impressionable and may have a lot to learn about themselves. They may have a lot to learn about the different types of people around them. Depending on a child’s life outside of school, they may be a bully in school. They may also be a victim of bullying. This can have a long term effect for both sides.  

Bullying victims may experience suicidal thoughts. 

psychology of bullying

 Bullying is very serious. There is a strong connection between bullying and suicide. In  recent years, there has been a significant increase in suicide rates among young people. This may be due to that connection.  However, it’s important to know that bullying can be experienced at any age. Suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation or thoughts are all extremely serious matters. Whether the bullying is done in person or online, it is unfortunately common for a young person to experience these action or thoughts. We do not know that bullying causes suicidal behaviors but we do know that the connection is serious.  

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Cellphones and computers may make bulling easier. 

In our modern age, we can be in constant contact with people. The world and all of the people in it are at our finger tips. For bullies, this is the perfect outlet for them. Bullies can constantly taunt their victims – regardless of their age, where they are, or what they are doing. For the victims, this can be very heavy. They never get an escape.  Along with being able to access their victims at any time, bullies can be as tough and aggressive as they want. People tend to act differently when they are behind a computer or cellphone screen. Words may feel less serious when they are not in person. Talking through cellphones and computers may create bullies that wouldn’t act the same in a face to face interaction.  

A bully doesn’t pick on just anyone.

 As we slightly mentioned before, a bully picks his or her victim. A bully doesn’t bully just anyone. A bully picks their victims wisely.  Unfortunately, it is common for a bully to pick a victim who is unpopular. This victim is far less likely to be defended by people around them, which allows the behavior patterns to continue. Bullies may also choose victims who excel and receive position affirmations. Bullies tend to have low self esteem – they may feel inferior to these people. The fact that bullies are so particular in this decision shows the clear link between bullying and psychology. 

The best way to handle a bully is avoidance. 

 Avoiding and ignoring may be the best way to handle a bully. If a bully is not successfully getting through to their victim, it’s likely that they will stop being so persistent. Avoiding and ignoring a bully makes it so that the bully does not win.  When it comes to children who are the victims of bullying, having companions around is another way to help. A bully will be intimidated if the children is surrounded by good friends. Another way to handle a bully for children is through parenting tactics. If a parent raises a strong and confident child, this will help them stand up for themselves. A bully will have a hard time making someone a victim if a child knows how they should and shouldn’t be treated.  

Someone may not have to be a bully forever.

 As we talked about earlier, a person develops bullying tendencies at a young age. This may be because of aggressive parents or a lack of positive social interaction. It may also be because of deep rooted trauma. However, just because these tendencies have existed for quite a while, does not mean that they cannot be changed. A bully may be rehabilitated.  One of the ways to do this may be to show the child or adult that is okay to start over. It is okay to start with a fresh slate and leave old behaviors in the past. Another option is to understand that it is okay to trust others. This may soften behaviors and make someone less aggressive. Another option is to lead by example. If a child or now adult has taken to bullying as a way to deal with their feelings, it may be good to show them a healthier way to do that. Showing bullies a healthy way to act can be a very effective way to rehabilitate.  

There are outlets for children who are victims.

 If a child is becoming a bully at a young age, that means that their victims are likely being affected at a young age. This is a harsh thing to experience at any age, but especially when a child is young and in school. Bullying makes children feel isolated and shameful. For kids that are being bullied or have been bullied in the past, they should always contact a person of higher power. This could be a parent, a guidance counselor, or a therapist, among others. This can be a healthy and safe outlet. Talking about their experiences could help them avoid them in the future and/or heal.    

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