Bullying, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Bullying is more than just having a joke, teasing someone or being occasionally mean. Bullying isn’t a general disagreement, or someone not getting you. Bullying isn’t someone who has had a rough time passing it on. Bullying is repetitive. Bullying is about power. The Bully wants to feel good by proving, at least to their own satisfaction, that they have power over you by dominating you in some way.

The School Yard Bully is what we are addressing here. This can be applied to some extent to the work place, with a few considerations as we are now dealing with adults, you have a much greater self advocasy power than you did as a child, and the work place will have a general grievance procedure you can follow.

Angry fist

While Bullies are abusive, and will follow the general guidelines of the abusers we have discussed at length in the DV section [LINK], we are covering the more formative stages of bullies as they appear in high school or the workplace. The big difference here is the powerlessness of being a child in school and that you can, with parents being decent, more easily get away. In DV, the relationship is set up by the perpetrator of abuse so that you think that you cannot get away.

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Understanding the Bully

We don’t really know why bullies do what they do. Much like Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and people diagnosed with Narcisistic Personallity Disorder, Bullies often don’t volunteer to participate in research, and when they do, they lie.

We can speculate based on their behaviour and form a model of what is likely going on for them. This is not so that we can help them, it is so that we can help ourselves understand what is driving the Bully so that we can better protect ourselves.

In our model, the Bully is a person who has a feeling of inadequacy. They feel less capable than others, less loved than others, and less worthy. They generally can’t admit this to anyone. They will lie to your face if you ask them about it. They are terrified of people figuring out that they are actually awful humans, awful at doing things, and that they don’t feel good about themselves.

The Bully wants to feel good. They want to feel worthy. The problem is, they don’t want to put the work into actually being worthy. So instead they fake being good at things, and they constantly seek praise by seeming powerful. When they can prove to themself that they are more powerful than you are, they feel good. Unfortunately this is very temporary and they quickly lose that feeling.

There is a temptation that understanding why the Bully is being mean, to let them feel a bit of power so that they’ll feel good and stop being a Bully. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. They Bully associates being powerful with feeling better and so seeks it more, making them worse. Nor can you, as a victim or authority, explain to the Bully why they are being a Bully. They mostly already know, and this is the solution they have settled on. If the Bully seeks to stop doing these behaviours, they need to see a therapist and get some good help with this.

Bullies feel powerful when they perceive that they can make you do something, most often feeling awful or doing something you don’t want to do.

The Basic Bully

The Basic Bully wants you to show emotions, such as:

  • Anger
  • Annoyance / irritation
  • Sad
  • Scared
  • Self Conscious

These are enough for them to feel that they have power over you. The Basic Bully has a moderate chance of growing out of this, especially if the social group calls them out on their behaviours and doesn’t gratify them. Often the Basic Bully is someone who is not comfortable with how they socially interact and has found that poor behaviour will get some predictable response, but what they really would prefer is positive responses to positive behaviours.

The Major Bully

The Major Bully is often past redemption arcs. The Major Bully has settled into being a Bully and doesn’t see the need for social acceptance. They just want to feel good and they don’t mind that it is at other people’s expense. The Major Bully picks their targets carefully and isn’t satifisfied with only emotional responses. They want actions as well.


  • Crying
  • Running away
  • Melt downs
  • Betraying a friend
  • Fighting
  • Self harm and suicide

Don’t Feed the Bully

As eluded to above, you can’t appeace the Bully for long by giving them what they want. They may give you some space for a moment, but they will be back to get more, and now they know you will give it.

Don’t Feed the Bully, you’ll only encourage them.

This means not showing the Bully any of the emotions that they are looking for and stubbornly refusing their invitations to actions that you are not proud of.

Often ignoring the Bully is enough, they will go and find their fun elsewhere. Sometimes you need to counter the Bully’s intent.

Countering the Bully

When ignoring the Bully isn’t working, you will need to escalate your actions. This involves looking at how the Bully’s is trying to get their power trip goal satisfied. If their mechanism is emotions, manually respond with indifference, humour or pity.

Indifference: “Oh? You were talking at me? Hmm…” *wanders off.

The Bully hates being ineffective, so showing them that their efforts are ineffective is a good way to rob them of feeling satifisfied with the encounter.

Humour: “What a keen observation, I really do have a big nose. I think it exceeds the ‘noble nose’ and is threatening to tip over to ’emperor sized’.”

The Bully is trying to make you feel bad. By either owning what they are trying to make you feel self conscious about or deflecting it into something that you laugh at, you rob them of weaponising the thing against you.

Pity: [dead pan voice] “Oh my. You were trying to bait me. Oh dear, and you thought that was going to work. I pity your efforts.”

What the Bully doesn’t want is pity. This is the last of the responses to emotional bullying I recommend as it can backfire badly. The Bully may see this as successfully getting you to fight them. Generally, the less you acknoweldge that they have done something, the better it disuades them from trying again.

When a Bully tries to goad you into an action that you aren’t proud of, the best response is to refuse to do the action. Don’t explain, or justify why you won’t – they don’t care. They will only try to use your attempt to be reasonable as a means to trick you into fighting them with words, defend yourself (which looks like winning to them), or convince you that you actually will do the thing you don’t want to. Instead just say “No.” Give them no reasons beyond “No.”

This can all fail, though, if they imagine that you are badly affected by their efforts. It is hard to demonstrate to their imagination that they have no effect.

When the Bully finds their tactics no longer working, they are likely to escalate a few times to see if they can push you past your defences. Be aware of this and notice that it is an indication that you are winning. Their verbal and social pressure increase will soon disappear as they recognise that they can’t get through and they are wasting the efforts on you, so be stubborn and stay the course.

Physical Violence

At the point that the Bully has laid hands on you in violence, this becomes a police matter. Report it to them. Where possible, get witnesses and video, especially if the you are in a public space. Remember that you are on video, so only do actions and say words that you would be proud to show in court.

If you present as female and the Bully is male, you can far more easily report the Bully doing unwelcomed touch, while male victims will find it a bit harder to report unwelcome touch to teachers or bosses. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it though. No one has the right to touch you without your consent.

It is important that you inform the Bully clearly and dispassionately that you do not give them permission to touch you. It is best to have some witnesses to your statement of this, so that the Bully can’t deny that you’ve told them and “surely this is all a bad misunderstanding”.

Using The System

Bullies fear authority, which is why they only punch down, not up. I’m borrowing this concept from humour, where making jokes at those who are well off [punching up] is not seen as bad humour, whle makeing jokes at those who are struggling is. In this case, Bullies don’t generally Bully their boss, but they will Bully a colleague or an underling.

Because Bullies fear authority, they work hard to not be noticed by them. They will try to Bully in ways that can be considered misunderstandings, or skirt the line of outright systemic bullying. They will try to do their mean actions when others aren’t looking, or as part of their bullying of others, rope them into actions they aren’t proud of in to bullying you.

Your challenge is to gather sufficient evidence that it is clear that they are bullying you. In a school setting, this is using the public space video cameras to your advantage, or having a friend video on their phone or laptop the interaction.

For youth, it is important to have your parents on your side. Talk to them about your experience and make it clear that this is serious and causing you trouble. You will need to be very honest with your parents about anything you have done in response to the bullying, including things you might be ashamed of. Your bully is going to use each of these against you, so to de-weaponise them, telling your parents first means that it is already on the table, and you put it there. It robs your bully of some of their power over you.

Grievance procedures exist in every organisation. Get a copy of them and read the policy around them. Talk to people about your experience and tell them that you are going to put in a report. Now use the greivance system to report the bully. Tell people you did so. If others have had a similar experience, then they will be encouraged to do the same. When the system gets a plethora of grievance procedures, they are far more likely to act, which means bringing consequences to the Bully, which generally prompts the Bully to withdraw their attention from you.

Being reported and scrutinised is not the power response they are looking for and they hate it.

Breaking the Isolation

A common theme that Bullies are relying on is isolating you from other people and making you feel like it is only you versus them, and they have all the power to win.

Bullies rarely pick on only one person. They generally pick on many people, each of whom is trying very hard to survive and thinking that they are alone.

You aren’t alone. Find out who else is being picked on and work together. Talk to people, teachers or work colleagues, about the questionable behaviour and seek advice on what to do about it, which not only increases your ideas about how to manage, but also lets them know this is going on. Work with others who are being bullied to bring an end to the problem.

Break the isolation.

When The System Doesn’t Work

Sometimes the bullying is baked into the system, and or sometimes the bullies are in charge of the system.

There are two major options, escalation and escape.

In some circumstances you escalate to a higher level and bring a greater authority down. You must try and fail at the lower levels first so that the higher levels agree that the outcome was wrong and they can therefore justify getting involved and resolving this.

Before you do that, though, even if justice is met, do you really want to continue being there? Do you really have the resources to escalate and fight this? Will it cost too much? Sometimes the answer is yes, just don’t mistake wanting to be there for a sense of justice. Your health is more important than the health of that place.

Often the most sensible response when the system fails you is to leave. You can optionally still escalate as you leave, but don’t escalte with the illusion that you will stay if that is going to be bad for you. If you are leaving anyway, reconsider the cost of escalation – is it still worth doing? It may be “the right thing to do”, but is it a worthwhile thing to do?

While this could all be read as “just run for the hills and don’t escalate”, there are times where escalating to a bigger system are very much the right thing to do – just do that very carefully.

How to Support Your Child, Loved One

First of all, believe that their experience is pretty horrible. People rarely complain of a situation that is nice.

Sometimes a person’s behaviours are rightly being met by criticism, and this fair criticism can be mistaken for bullying. It is worth checking if this is the case, but often it is not. If it is the case that your loved one’s behaviours need some modification and that resolves things, wonderfuly.

Mostly, though, the problem is real and it is likely going to need some interventions to help.

Parents Helping Youth

Your child is a child, not an adult. While all people have limits of stress before they break, the limits that are fair for a child to endure are much milder than what it is fair for an adult to endure. There are times to step in and defend your child, there are times to step in and fight on their behalf. On average, it is important to educate your child on how to manage the Bully by not feeding them, if that Bully is a fellow child.

If that isn’t working, or if your child is experiencing harm, such as self harm, suicide attempts, melt downs, truancy, social isolation and negative self talk – then it is time to act.

Find out from them who the players are, both good and bad. Draw diagrams if that helps. Get a timeline of what has happened, who was witness and any evidence.

Ask your child what the Bullies are likely to claim and how valid that is. Point out that you knowing this now means you can factor that in, rather than be surprised when the Bully tries to use it as a way to discredit your child.

Take a cold hard look at what you have found out and check to see if your child is actually the bully or not. If they are, you’ll likely need some support services to do something about it. On average, though, if your child has come to you for help, they are the victim.

For simplicity, we’ll just talk about problems at a school. If it is another establishment, there will be a similar system in place.

Find out their policies and procedures around Bullying and Grievance. Make a formal written and emailed complaint. If you can get their form, use it; if not, a well phrased email is just as good – if not better as you are not constrained by their form’s language and assumptions. In your formal comlaint, ask for when an appointment can be made with a senour staff member in charge of your child’s education and safety can be made, give a time limit of up to 14 days. By adding a date, you have told the facility that you know about beurocracy and how things can be ignored if they aren’t time oriented, and they will be a bit concerned with what else you know.

If you get no response, escalate to the Department of Education, even if it is a non-state school. If no response again, change schools.

If you do get a response, go to the meeting and bring your child. They are a key material witness. Don’t allow your child to be met alone by the staff, and if they do that during the school day, coach your child to listen respectfully but don’t answer any questions, only replying with “we can talk about that when my parent is here, at the meeting”. It is not a good sign for the school if they try to meet with your child without you, be prepared to escalate or escape.

Work with the school to ensure the safety of your child. Bringing a reasonable plan of what you would like is a good idea, and anything that the school offers that meets or improves that plan is fair.

If the school fails to comply, fails to make a plan, or tries to shift the blame to your child, move you child to a new school. It is smart to get a therapist involved to help your child process what has happened and why they needed to change schools. It is also good for a therapist to help you child get an understanding of how to make positive friends and get a protective network going.

We can help with that. Feel free to book with us.

Helping Your Adult

It is important to recognise that simple solutions have already been tried by your bullied adult. They need to know that you believe their experience and be careful to not undermine their distress, especially when you reality check what is going on.

Encourage your adult to gather evidence and read up on the greivence policy and procedures. Encourage your adult to talk to some more trusted colleagues to see if they have noticed the bullying or experienced it themself. If your adult doesn’t have any colleagues they can talk to about this, encourage them to get a new job elsewhere – the odds are that work place is toxic.

If possible, use the greivance procedures to call the bully out. If the workplace is good, they will rapidly makie it very hard for the Bully to actually Bully, and often they mysteriously find a job elsewhere.

If your workplace is only tokenistically holding a policy, they will either try to shift the blame to your adult, or will fail to do anything useful. In this case, encourage your adul to find a new job elsewhere.

It is often useful to get some therapy input to learn how to spot and manage toxic people, and when to identify the limits of what is manageable versus when to get out.

We can help with that. Feel free to book with us.

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