What Makes Someone A Bully?

On-line life is very similar to real life. All the types of people we meet in real life are to be found on line too.   One type that finds virtual reality particularly liberating is the Bully.

Bullies exist in real life too - but as they grow older, they can become less obvious.  Their bullying is often confined to those over whom they have some power - family members, employees, colleagues or those receiving their "services".

What a boon the Internet is for Bullies!  A forum in which they can give full rein to their bullying and still remain anonymous!   No wonder we see behaviour on Internet sites that is unacceptable in "real life".  

Many of these Bullies would not want those who know them in real life to see them as Bullies - so they curb these instincts when dealing with their real life associates.   Being anonymous gives them freedom to express their bullying without facing any of the normal consequences that would result from such behaviour in every day life.

And they have all sorts of justifications for their behaviour on line.   "It's the Internet!" they claim - as if the fact that the Net is largely anonymous gives them "permission" to abuse others.  "I tell it like it is" is another claim used to excuse bullying.  Rubbish!  You can "tell it like it is" by being straight forward, honest and up-front.  It does not require the extra element of abuse to make it "real".

So, what makes a person a Bully?

All of us are affected by what other people think of us - particularly those people we are close to and people who matter to us.   Our sense of "self" is defined to a large extent by how we think others see us.  As we mature, this dependence on the opinion of others gradually becomes less important as we become more confident in our knowledge and understanding of our authentic "selves".    If our sense of self remains under-developed, we are very seriously affected by what others think.  This is described (in Bowen Theory) as being "poorly differentiated".

In other words, we cannot properly differentiate ourselves from others and their opinions of us.  The "well differentiated" person, on the other hand, is less vulnerable to being "one of the crowd".  S/he thinks for him/herself; makes decisions based on his/her own beliefs and principles and is able to think clearly without being clouded by emotional responses.

The first type of poorly differentiated people are those who are naturally anxious about what others think of them.  They often change their behaviour and their thinking to "fit in" with the group.  Sometimes they are called "chameleons" because they are easily influenced by "group think".  They agree to ideas, behaviours or beliefs in order to be approved of by others.

We see this behaviour in teenagers who are very vulnerable to peer group pressure.  They have not yet developed sufficient knowledge of themselves or self confidence to assert their own positions without fearing the disagreement of others.

Bullies are the second type of poorly differentiated people.  They depend on approval and acceptance as much as chameleons, but they push others to agree with them, rather than agreeing with others.

S/he pretends to be a "rebel" or "unique" or a "leader" by NOT conforming to others ideas or opinions.  But they are as threatened by disagreement with them as are chameleons - they simply go about trying to obtain concensus in a different way.

The upshot of this is that if someone says (does, etc.) something with which they do not agree, they resort to bullying tactics to try and "convert" that person to their way of thinking.   And Bullies are not interested in genuinely changing people's minds.  They are only interested in threatening, abusing, criticising or ridiculing the person.

And it often works!  There are sufficient chameleons around who feel threatened by disagreement and who are made highly anxious by any contradiction to their viewpoint.  These people will often "cave" at the first attack of a Bully.  This may be done by changing their initial position so as to now agree with the Bully.  Or it can be done by withdrawing from the arena entirely, so they don't have to deal with the Bully.

In an online community, those that withdraw are the ones who never post again.  They retire hurt because the Bully has attacked their sense of self.

There are also people who become Bully "groupies".  Although they have not actually crossed the Bully themselves, they are fearful of doing so.  Hence they behave in sycophantic ways, aligning themselves with the Bully.

Still others remain aloof from the bullying behaviour - not acknowledging it but also not attempting to interrupt it or call a halt to it.  

When Bullies encounter those who are not persuaded by their bullying tactics, they become enraged!  Unable to deal with the fact  that their opinions (behaviours, etc) are not receiving universal acclaim, they redouble their bullying efforts.  Abuse escalates and personal attacks become increasingly vitriolic.   When the Bully is "called" on his/her bullying, their outrage knows no limits. 

Bullies resort to a variety of ways in which to attack those they see as "opposing" them.  Traditionally they rely on personal abuse and on ridiculing their targets on every possible occasion.  There is no place for truth, honesty or realism in this abuse - the more outrageous it is, the more whole-heartedly they embrace it.   Paradoxically, they often "call" their targets on issues such as honesty and principles.

Bullies defend their positions with a range of ridiculous tactics too.  A common one is that they are "being honest".  It seems to be beyond their understanding that other people can "be honest" without resorting to personal attack!   Sometimes they use that awful old chestnut "Can't you take a joke?".  Bullying is about as UN-funny as domestic violence - but these people don't get that.

So what can we do about Bullies on EP?  Their behaviour spoils the EP experience for many people.  Their behaviour is unwarranted, unacceptable and untenable.

Things NOT to do:
Do not agree with them to keep the peace.
Do not stop posting to avoid their attacks.
Do not become a "Bully Groupie" so you won't become a target of their's.
Don't ignore their bullying and hope to avoid becoming involved.
Do not sit by and do nothing.

Things TO DO:
If you are willing to do so, call them on their behaviour.  Remember that "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and good women) to do nothing."
If you are reluctant to get involved, FLAG the Bully to EP. 
Avoid being a bully yourself.  You can be forthright and assertive without being abusive or attacking someone personally.
Accept that others will not always agree with you or see eye-to-eye with you - and it does NOT matter!   It doesn't make either of you "right" or "wrong" - it simply means you have a difference of opinion.

Whilst all of us may occasionally post something thoughtless or ill-considered, that does not make us Bullies.  A Bully is someone whose behaviour is consistently abusive to certain people and / or certain positions.

And, if you are (or have been) a target of a Bully, remind yourself of this fact. It is the Bully who is not fully mature or fully developed as an individual.  Mature developed individuals do not become Bullies.   If you can find it in your heart to do so, pity them.  But don't forget to FLAG them anyway!!
enna30 enna30
56-60, F
7 Responses Jul 30, 2012

Enna,<br />
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What pure 22 carrot gold words of wisdom! Genius has been described as the ability to convey information to others which they already knew to be true but were unable to previously articulate. Everything you write about bullying I can recognize as being resoundingly self evident because it just makes so much sense when described in such simple logical terms.<br />
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I have read, admired and thoroughly endorsed your numerous confrontations with several bullies over the years. I think that anyone reading your posts would have clearly seen, as I have done, that you clinically exposed the weaknesses in their arguments as you cleanly, efficiently with surgical precision cut their legs from under them and knocked them down to size. <br />
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Enna your considerable intellectual ability and personal bravery is such a valuable asset to us on EP to readdress the balance of good over evil. SadIy I think that the chances of an older bully reforming is about as likely as a low libido partner emerging as a sexual Olympian! Happily we have, on EP, our very own, inimitable bully sla<x>yer who is always ready,willing and eminently able to expose them exactly for what they are! <br />
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Thank you Richard! Your support and friendship are very valuable to me.

Thank you to those of you who have responded. There are some excellent points in your responses and I appreciate you sharing these. I especially like the comment by Nitehowl that Bully is short for "bullshit"!! lol <br />
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Bullying of all types has become endemic in our world. It is the most cowardly and despicable of behaviours and deserves NO place in our society - either in real life or on line.<br />
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Every person who takes a stand against bullying is helping to make the world a better place IMO. As an old hippy, I recall the saying once used in relation to nuclear weapons: "Let there be peace in the world, and let it begin with me." I think this applies equally in the bullying arena.

The Bullies on EP do ruin it. They take away from the experience. My experience has been more indirect. Never actually addressing me specifically but making in well know they are talking about or attempting to taunt me. As you mention above, my initial response was to ignore it. And you're right it just got worse. Lol. Oh well, I still choose to ignore it for now because most of us are truly too old for that kind of thing. <br />
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A few of my friends have been bullied as well. It's just so sad to me. Also the whole "anonymous" this is so pathetic! I find myself thinking, "People, this is the internet. Get a grip and a life!" Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this....maybe not. <br />
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Before coming to EP I was truly naive about this topic. The idea of Bullies on the internet never really crossed my mind. Not adult ones anyway. The experience has been tainted but EP It's still full of good people. Here to share stories, make, keep and support friends.<br />
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Thanks for taking the time to write this Enna. As always your words speak truth and I've learned a lot reading them.

Having experienced this behavior firsthand here on EP, I was taken aback as I had no idea that everything I wrote was being mulled over and a subject of ridicule by certain lurkers with an agenda. All of my truths were called lies. Easier then thinking about my writings and giving anything validation. To admit a truth exposes them to facing more truths here and in their own lives.<br />
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Bullies hide with blank profiles and silence until certain buttons are pushed and then they expose themselves however they then present themselves as clueless to the truth. Respect is a foreign concept. <br />
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To know that I have poured my heart out here on a site where I felt safe and anonymous to members whose main goal was to hurt me was eyeopening. I had to take some time to work this through in my head. The end result, after much thought, is this. I live by my truths. My bullies change user names on a regular basis so flagging them here serves no purpose. It is what they hide behind. I hide behind nothing or what I have written.<br />
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When any bully has enough guts to out themselves, and few have this courage, then they have to face truths however distasteful. Bullies live lives of fear. Fear of the truth. Bullies are not only the young in years but also those of older years who remain cloaked in their self righteous attitudes. Some bullies are easier to pity than others. Perhaps the young who haven't lived enough of life to grasp certain concepts? It is the older bullies who purposefully get pleasure from inflicting hurt and harm on others that are found most wanting in basic humanity. Calling them on behaviors is fruitless as they are so good at hiding from the truth. <br />
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I choose to continue to write on EP after these attacks by bullies because I will not hide from the truth! I do not force anyone to read what I write. Telling me that I am forcing people to wade through what I write gives me a huge amount of power in their lives. Not what I am or have ever been about. This has never been a power trip for me. Simply my life as I have lived and still live it. For any bully to take some pleasure from my pain says a lot about who they are as human beings but nothing about me. Peace,D

Well said and thought through to a conclusion of a working model. Most of the time when the "Bully" tries to step in and I figure out what they are up to I just laugh at them. There is no defense for laughter. No bully can stand being laughed at for anytime at all. After all what is bully short for? Bullshit? I think so. Therefore because it is just that then it becomes humorous. Transparent to the core and then it is funny and a good laugh is called for. Guess who never comes back?

"In an online community, those that withdraw are the ones who never post again. They retire hurt because the Bully has attacked their sense of self."<br />
This is so true. I shudder to think of the amount of people who have been shut out on their quests for enlightenment by the cyber bully. <br />
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"Unable to deal with the fact that their opinions (behaviours, etc) are not receiving universal acclaim, they redouble their bullying efforts. Abuse escalates and personal attacks become increasingly vitriolic. When the Bully is "called" on his/her bullying, their outrage knows no limits. "<br />
I have experienced this myself (as you know!) Even when I would rebuke, ignore, or acknowledge the attacks the bully would just intensify everything. I even flagged and reported a specific member several times but I'm not sure anything came of it. <br />
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"Paradoxically, they often "call" their targets on issues such as honesty and principles."<br />
YES. I was attacked for my transparency and honesty and called a liar for it. Ha!<br />
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I've actually never been bullied in real life, I often stood up to many a bully in defense of friends or even strangers. It may be easy to just ignore them on places like YouTube but on here where people are trying to grow they need to be FLAGGED.

Thank you for sharing this with us. I agree with you in that the same personality types you gind in the world, both the good and the bad, make their way online. That said, staff wants to work with the community to keep bullies and those who want to abuse the supportive environment of EP, out. As you suggested, it's important for members not to retaliate with attacks, when they encounter a bully. Instead, yhey should block the individual and report them to staff via flagging. We do our best to review all flags within 24an hours.

BTW for anyone who encounters a RL bully, there's an excellent book called "Take the bully by the horns".