The Psychodynamics of a Bully
Bullies equal scared kids:
In recent decades, bullying has become a more serious problem in our schools and neighborhoods. I would like to talk to you about the psychodynamics of bullying. First I must say that I have been in mental health for more than 40 years. In fact, I graduated from Social Work School 40 years ago this June. I have had many opportunities to both observe and study human behavior including bullying. The following are my opinions and observations gathered over the years and are not intended as recommendations for any treatment pathways.
I can tell you beyond a doubt that fear is the most powerful and most dominant of all human emotions. This is true across countries, cultures and societies around the globe. The healthiest people in any society are the least frightened and most able to act on their own behalf in all life situations, whether people around them approve of them or not. On the opposite end of that spectrum are the people who are most frightened and, in the extreme, suffer from the most serious forms of mental illness. Their lives are set up around managing fear and at the expense of people around them, in extreme cases.
The people with the least amounts of fear come from a place described by Thomas A.Harris MD, author of I’M OK-YOU’RE OK, as living in just that place, the place where I am okay with myself and other people are okay as they are with me. The next level down on the Fear Spectrum isthe IAM NOT OKAY but YOU AREOKAYplace. The third level down is where bullies live. They live in the I’M OKAY and YOU ARE NOT OKAY place. This is a difficult world to live in, because in order to manage one’s own fear at this level,you must work at keeping other people feeling afraid. So,instead of living a natural, healthy life, you must find people to bully and intimidate so that you can feel okay about yourself inside.
Bullying is a form of Fear Management. On the surface, one might easily conclude that the person being bullied is clearly the frightened individual. However, at a closer glance, the psychodynamics of bullying become more evident. The person being bullied is afraid or shy, or a bit unusual, and therefore an obvious target. But the Bully is in the business of chronically seeking people to bully and chronically expending resources to pass off his or her own fears on to someone else. The thing that makes bullying so chronic is that the Bully never faces his or her own fears. But instead, devotes his or her life to getting someone else to feel those fears. Bullying is like a game of “hot potato.” You feel afraid and go out and find someone to scare. Thus the other person feels the fear and you present yourself as being tough and strong. Bullies are very frightened people, whether they live in grown-up bodies or children’s bodies.
The world of the Bully is avery sad world indeed. It is sad because the Bully is not only chronically managing his or her fear, but also because they are so difficult to treat therapeutically. They never present themselves as scared. They live in the I’M OKAY and YOU’RE NOT OKAY place. So, for all practical purposes there is nothing wrong with them.
Parents have some ability to stop their children from bullying. But, doing so requires an extraordinary parent who is willing to absolutely not allow his or her child to be a Bully. The dynamics of the families of most Bullies often support the Bully tactics, so there is very little commitment on the part of the parents to stop the Bully behavior. In fact, in some familiesthe children are carrying the fear of their parents and passing that fear off as Bullies on behalf of their parents. Complex but quite obvious when you watch human behavior long enough.
Children being bulliedare very treatable. If they are young, they need their parents to stand up for them and behind them one hundred per cent, in my opinion. Never, ever let your child be bullied. Stop it if you have to sit in school all day long with your child. GivetheBullies the message that no child of yours will be the target of anyone’s fear. In other words, be more frightening than the Bullies and they will leave your children alone. As for the Bullies, if you are one and want help to stop, there are many people who can support you. I am happy to give references.
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By Mary E. Miller MSW, Health Freedom Advocate