I’ll never forget the first time in group therapy when I asked the men in the group if they had ever been bullied. The group got strangely quiet, and yet seemed emotionally charged. I quickly realized the power of bullying in these men’s lives.
Since that time I have been quick to notice when a client describes bullying behavior. In truth, most of us have been bullied, and we all will bully from time to time to get our way—pushing for what we want and shoving others a bit, either physically or emotionally. It happens at the airport, the grocery store, and especially on the freeway. It also happens a lot in families, and not only between children, but between children and parents—in both directions.
I think there are two different goals behind bullying. The first is the least damaging emotionally…and that is when someone simply wants their way and pushes past someone else to get it. The second, more damaging type, is when someone deliberately wants to make another person feel humiliated and “less than.”
Today I am writing about the second type–the bully on the playground, as I think of him. He (or she) is likely to be an individual who does not feel good about themselves–in fact, he typically feels rather badly. Whether he is being mistreated at home or is suffering from some social or other failure, he feels shame about himself, and he is angry about it. His goal? To pass his shame to someone else, whether in public or private, and experience feelings of superiority for a change.
As Nathaniel Branden wrote in his famous book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, “It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.”
To reach this goal of being “better than”, the bully must select someone they feel they can overpower. After all, they might lose if they picked a fair fight with someone. Instead, they choose someone they perceive as weak in some way. Thus, they can demonstrate their strength by calling attention to the other’s weaknesses. Ridicule, fights, confrontations…these are the meat and potatoes of the playground bully.
So Rule #1: When confronted by a bully it helps to understand that he hates himself.
More to follow…