Tremendous attention and outrage has been applied to the act of bullying. Unfortunately, almost all of the energy has been directed toward reacting to the act with punishment for the perpetrator and sympathy and counseling for the victim. Its contemporary handling has been focused primarily on the prevention of the action, yet, almost no attention has been given to the causes that would encourage one to do so,to what the victim broadcasts to attract his perpetrator or what kind of education or training would contribute to its prevention for the perpetrator and the victim.
Nothing happens at random. Because we live and grow in the physical world, we deal with our experience from an action/reaction perspective. For most of us, these understandings and perceptions are understandable and seem even reasonable. But, closing the barn door after the horses have escaped does little to prevent their escape in the first place. In the same light, punishing the perpetrator and counseling the victim from a victim perspective does little to prevent future occurrences. Their predisposition toward bullying or being bullied emanate from a deeply ingrained behavior learned in childhood. For us to be effective in our handling of this type of event something more must be come into play than to simply to punish or console. I’d like to offer some options for understanding but I must warn you ahead of time. Those who have been bullied, have children who have been bullied or have done the bullying themselves may take great offense at what I’m about to say. Please put aside your indignation and allow this to unfold in your understanding before you fold your arms and shut the door on what I’m about to say. It takes two to Tango. It also takes two to bully and to be bullied. Both the perpetrator and victim are implicated in what occurs, whether we or they are aware of it or not.
Let’s first start off by examining the old adage “birds of a feather flock together.” The more modern version of this is “like attracts like.” We can certainly see that people who like or do the same things will have an attraction for each other and are often found in the same groupings of people. Artists attract artists. Business people attract business people and so on. But can we also understand that people who are, say, very frugal with their money will also be drawn to people who throw money away? Yes! Why? Because both character types have a learned problematic attitude toward the handling of their money. In this light we can also say that people who are overly compassionate also attract people who are not and users always seem to find people who are easily used. It’s just a fact of life that we also attract our opposites. Why? Because an imbalance in issues draws us together more than which side or polarity of the imbalance we take our perspective from. Included in this perspective is the understanding that extroverts and introverts are opposites and are also attracted to each other in the same way. Both have an opposing tendency in how and how much they will tend to allow or seek contact with the “outside” world. Opposites attract as nature’s way of attempting to rebalance an issue that has become polarized. However, people who are a little more evolved and finely balanced than we will, most likely, not be perceived by us as being extroverted or introverted. For them, attention will be given to the degree to which they do or don’t project according to the appropriateness of the response required, not that they are opposites. We won’t see the polarity because their action will be in line and appropriate for what is needed.
For those of us who might not be quite as evolved, and that’s most of us, people who either advance into or retreat from contact will be perceived by us as being either extroverted or introverted. Let’s take this one step further. Bullies will appear to us as being more extroverted and those who are victims will appear to be more introverted. The issue creating the “difference” between them, outward projection or inward retreat, can be as strongly polarized for us as we compare male to female; active and receptive again reinforcing the fact that opposites attract. Our awareness is triggered by the perception of extremes. To us, the issue appears secondary.
So, now that we can see that like attracts like as much as opposites attract as a function of the issues not because of the sides or extremes we take in or perspective. The sides we take are simply symptoms of an issue that is unbalanced. Let’s move on and fill in some other factors in the dynamic picture that’s forming.
In examining how we handle contact with others we must look at character. We can initially assume that our tendencies toward exhibiting certain types of character may be either innate or hereditary. To some degree, I will agree with this. We most certainly seem to bring some forms of character and tendencies into life with us. But this may not be the only reason for our exhibited behaviors. Our tendency to either project toward or retreat from contact with others can also be trained or encouraged in us by those in our early environment such as parents or siblings. If we project a behavior that displeases someone in our early environment, their negatively perceived reaction may encourage us to refrain from using that same behavior, not only in the family, but in other circumstances outside the family. If we feel is frightened or intimidated by someone in our early environment, this will also intensify our reluctance to express ourselves the same way within and outside the family nucleus. Someone who is not innately introverted may then be shown that introversion may be the best behavior to exhibit within and outside the family to assure their emotional and physical safety. Parents who are extremely authoritarian or exhibit fits of anger when they are not pleased may very easily discourage their children into introversion thereby preventing them from exhibiting their innate behavior for fear that they will elicit unpleasant reactions. The child’s innate emotional strength has a lot to do with their responses. We must also understand that a strong spirited child may act out against discouragement of unwanted behaviors by the parents and not be subdued.
Contrarily, a child who may be innately introverted may feel encouraged by their parents to be more extroverted simply because their parental encouragement may give them enough confidence and courage to step outside their comfort zone, and perhaps even past ethical boundaries, to try new things. This will also be true with abusive parents when the child is taught or modeled that abusive behavior is appropriate to get what they want.
In both cases, hereditarily and environmentally, we’re working with nature verses nurture; also known as genetics verses environment. We all respond to both but in many varying degrees depending on their mix. What is environmentally trained depends on the mix between how we as parents respond to the behaviors we perceive in our children, our own level of emotional maturity and the emotional strength and resiliency of our child. We have the power to create balanced adults, narcissistic monsters (spoiled children feeling entitled) or people pleasers (fear induced submissives) depending on our behavior and what we encourage or discourage in our children’s behavior. Bullying is often a consequence of a pairing between apparent narcissists and people pleasers as opposites. Both the parent and child may be either. A submissive will create a narcissistic monster and a parent behaving narcissistically will create a submissive.
Children learn by example. They not only react but also emulate what they observe as “effective” behavior. The “effectiveness” will usually be paired with a purpose or intention, whether they are conscious of it or not. If a child sees that kind and tender behavior elicits a loving reaction, they will emulate that behavior to receive that response from others. If they see that an angry or abusive behavior elicits submission to their preferences, they will emulate that too. Whatever behaviors appear to work in getting the desired response from others will be emulated. A child’s emotional patterns are usually set by age three. An important factor in the development of their character is to realize that the young child as yet has no understanding as to whether their behavior might be nurturing or hurtful. At that age appropriateness never even enters the picture. All they know is that what they see projected by an adult or sibling achieves a result they may want.
There is one additional factor I’d like to talk about which may seem totally unrelated but bear with me. I will tie them all up shortly. This is the fact that animals can sense fear in other animals. When they become afraid they emit pheromones and are simultaneously catalyzed into a “fight or flight” response. This pheromone can be sensed by other animals and has a primary influence on whether one animal will choose to attack another. As part animal, humans have the same tendencies to sense and to emit these pheromones relating to fear. But now it is almost always an unconscious “recognition.” But there is an additional factor that humans have that animals are believed to not have. That is the potential to be able to think about possible future outcomes. In additional to instinct, fear can be generated by our minds by the perceived possibility of what can happen. When we as humans feel the fear, we also emit the pheromone. If we now connect this with a child who is about to be bullied, we can see that his release of pheromones and his fear response concerning what could happen can be sensed by a bully whether the bully is conscious of it or not. It is my belief that a bully will only bully those whom he thinks and senses that he can bully. The important factor to understand is that the bully may operate not only from a perspective of entitlement but also from fear. If a bully feels somehow threatened, they will bully or attack someone who appears or feels to be unable or unwilling to defend themselves. This will go a long way to alleviate any feeling of powerlessness or inadequacy on their part.
There are two types of bullies. Those who feel entitled to their safety and preferences and those who feel the potential loss of them.The first group is raised by parents who cater to the child’s every whim and create a feeling of entitlement within their expectations of the outer world. These children almost always exhibit an absence of compassion or consideration for others. These are the narcissistic bullies.
The second group is usually the recipient of authoritarian or abusive parenting. The modeling of their parents has taught them that the only way they can maintain their safety and preferences is to act aggressively toward those who trigger their feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy. As a consequence of the feelings of worthlessness encouraged by their parents or siblings, they will also tend to seek out, mostly unconsciously, those who emit fear pheromones and feel defenseless and those whom they feel that they can bully and believe won’t fight back. Bullying them into submission enables them to cloak and submerge their own feelings of inadequacy and feel the power they believe they lack. However, the feeling is gained only temporarily. The feeling of power quickly evaporates. What is truly ironic is that due to their unwary projection of their own sense of powerlessness and worthlessness they will constantly attract those who will answer their imbalanced perception of themselves with reminders of their own inadequate feelings. (natural entropy – nature’s tendency to neutralize polarities through their attraction to each other or opposites attract).
Both fear induced bullies and the “victims” of bullies need, essentially, the same kind of counseling; encouragement for worthiness and adequacy. However, the trained narcissists will require a different kind of counseling than bullies who operate from a fear induced aggression. The narcissist feels little or no fear relative to others. They’ve been trained into believing that they are entitled to whatever it is that they prefer in spite of what is brought to their attention by others. Counseling for them would consist, first, of awakening some sort of understanding and acceptance that others have and are allowed their own preferences if different from theirs and, second, that their total lack of awareness or attention to the needs of others should somehow be considered a deficit. The first factor would be mildly difficult to correct as it would require the narcissistic bully to relinquish some of their preferences. The second factor will be much harder to induce since it is irrevocably tied up with the ego. The older the bully, the more ingrained and embedded the feeling of their entitlement as being appropriate. With young children, the change is difficult but not impossible but with adults, the change seems only to be a distant hope. Remember, we are emotionally “coalesced” by age three and by the time puberty is added to the emotional mix, our ego boundaries become rigid and almost impenetrable.
We can now understand where the sense of entitlement comes from but where does the pre-emptive strike come in? When the fear induced bully feels triggered by the victim into feeling his unworthiness and inadequacy, the urge to strike is born. This activates the old adage “the best defense is a good offense.” If the bully can induce submission in the victim, the attention is drawn away from the bully’s own feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy and focused on the power they feel over their victim. If this doesn’t subdue these feelings, their actions will be over-emphasized. The stronger their sense of worthlessness and inadequacy is, the more intense becomes the bullying. The more elusive the submersion or cloaking of the bully’s worthlessness and inadequacy becomes, the more violent their bullying.
So now we have a perspective understanding of the two types of bullies and the victim. All three have their issues applicable to the creation of the problem. It takes two to Tango. Yet, consoling the victim and punishing the perpetrator does little more than to push their feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy further underground. In fact, consoling and punishing has the opposite effect. It intensifies the issue because it often ignores and suppresses its causes. It is common knowledge that anything that is emotionally compressed surfaces more violently in other unexpected areas and circumstances.
Bullying can be prevented in our children by making sure there is a balance between Self-Trust and confidence and their consideration and compassion for others. There must be enough Self-Trust to build worthiness and feelings of adequacy but enough humility and consideration for others to keep their interaction with others balanced and congenial. This must be taught if we wish to decrease the incidences of bullying. This may require some adults to receive some form of counseling if they are to prevent passing on this emotionally destructive and debilitating pattern to their children.