The Psychology of a Bully

When I first realised that I was getting bullied, I was very confused. It felt like a virtual punch in the face. However after the initial shock of realisation, I knew I would need to do something. I knew I couldn’t rely on my instincts and gut feelings only, but would need to be a lot more prepared and organised. This is when I started to study the psychology of a bully a bit more in depth. Even though I did not want to fight, I was aware that I could only win if I knew my enemy.

the psychology of a bully

So this is when I started and extended research online, to put my own experiences in perspective. I took -mostly mental – notes in order to better understand what was happening to me. Trying not to over-analyse and avoiding to label everybody around with various stereotypes I still had to notice the most obvious common pattern in the behaviour of all bullies: the greed.

All bullies seek attention,  the appreciation of their peers which confirms for them that what they are doing is right. They want power, they want to dominate and control others. This is what gets them excited and thus make them enjoy their actions. At first they might simply think it is fun to make somebody else feel miserable – could just start out with something which might seem like innocent teasing – however if there are no consequences to their actions they will soon get the impression that bullying is “acceptable” and they will go big – and possibly regular.

This is how the nature of a greedy person works, they always want more and more. They will repeatedly use their power or tools (either physical or verbal threatening, isolation, humiliation, gossiping) to put others down. This is why it’s so important to nip the problem in the bud as soon as we realise that something is not right, and before it gets out of control. If there are no actions taken, that will only encourage the bully to continue using they nasty techniques to harm somebody just to get more attention or to make themselves feel better. This is no different at the school playground, the cyber playground or at the adult playground called the ‘workplace’.

the psychology of a bully

When we think about a bully – either a certain person from our own experience or just in general – we tend to believe that this person is doing whatever they are doing because they are confused, insecure, having low self esteem, and by bullying others they simply seek confirmation that they are in fact better than others. We might think that the actions of a bully serves the purpose to justify that in fact he/she is a likeable person, too, by getting the attention from their peers. We possibly think that the tyrant boss for example must have been the victim of bullying himself when he was a kid and this is what turned him into a bully as well. Or that the colleagues spreading rumours behind your back just want to strengthen their position or gain more friends at work – at your expense.

However researches lately seem to show the opposite: that most of the bullies have high self esteem, and it is quite likely that they are already popular in their micro-environment. But if they get in contact with somebody who is more capable in any areas they perceive it as a threat and will do anything they can to rule it out. Call it jealousy. They usually have the power (by their position for example) which they use to harm others as and when they want to dominate their peers (whom they see as opponents). This is more likely a social domination, rather than physical, with more sophisticated weapons. 

I personally think that we can find examples of both groups. I had experiences with bosses who tried to manipulate team members against each other just as well as people who were desperate to belong to someone else and just joined the game on the wrong side. (I actually consider them as victims in a way, too).

The Psychology of a Bully

People who feel the need to abuse their power are in fact weak, immature and incompetent, greedy or envious. The opposite of their victims, who are usually popular, successful and competent. That is exactly what is pushing the bully’s buttons as they see having these people around a real threat, therefore they are trying to isolate them from their peers first of all. Once the bully achieved this milestone, he will use it against his target as well, claiming that the colleague who previously seemed to be popular is not a good team player after all.  This way they can easily undermine their victim’s confidence who will sooner or later start having doubts about their own capabilities, too.

You can read about the different types of bullies more in details here.

I would love to hear your thoughts or experiences, please share them below in a comment!

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