Psychologists used to believe that bullies have low self-esteem, and put down other people to feel better about themselves. While many bullies are themselves bullied at home or at school, new research shows that most bullies actually have excellent self-esteem. Bullies usually have a sense of entitlement and superiority over others, and lack compassion, impulse control and social skills. They enjoy being cruel to others and sometimes use bullying as an anger management tool, the way a normally angry person would punch a pillow.
All bullies have certain attitudes and behaviors in common. Bullies dominate, blame and use others. They have contempt for the weak and view them as their prey. They lack empathy and foresight, and do not accept responsibility for their actions. They are concerned only about themselves and crave attention.
Bullies are not born that way, although certain genetic traits are often present. Some children's personalities are naturally more aggressive, dominating and/or impulsive. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are more likely to become bullies. However, having such inborn traits does not mean that a child will automatically become a bully. Bullying is a learned behavior, not a character trait. Bullies can learn new ways to curb their aggression and handle conflicts.
Bullies come from all backgrounds. Researchers have not been able to find a link between bullies and any particular religion, race, income level, divorce, or any other socio-economic factor. Girls are just as likely as boys to bully and abuse others verbally, although boys are three times more likely to be physically abusive.
There are different types of bullies produced in different types of homes. Author Susan Coloraso identifies seven kinds of bullies. Among them are the hyperactive bully who does not understand social cues and therefore reacts inappropriately and often physically. The detached bully plans his attacks and is charming to everyone but his victims. The social bully has a poor sense of self and manipulates others through gossip and meanness. The bullied bully gets relief from his own sense of helplessness by overpowering others.
Bullies are often victims of bullies themselves. According to Dr. Peter Sheras, 40% of bullies are themselves bullied at home or at school. Dr. Nathaniel Floyd's research shows that a victim at home is more likely to be a bully at school. The reason may be that when a bully watches another child appear weak and cowering, it disturbs him because it reminds him of his own vulnerability and behavior at home.
Bullies have immature social skills and believe other children are more aggressive than they actually are. If you brush up against a bully, he may take it as a physical attack and assault you because "you deserve it, you started it," etc. Drs. Kenneth Dodge and John Coie's research indicates that bullies see threats where there are none, and view other children as more hostile than they are. The hyperactive bully will explode over little things because he lacks social skills and the ability to think in depth about a conflict.
A bully's parents may be permissive and unable to set limits on their child's behavior. From early on, the bully can do whatever he wants without clear consequences and discipline. His parents may have been abused themselves as children and view disciplinary measures as a form of child abuse. While their lax style may have been fine for an easy-going, older sibling, it will not work on this more aggressive child. This bully may be allowed to dominate younger siblings and even take over his entire family - everything will revolve around his agenda.
A bully's parents often discipline inconsistently. If his parents are in a good mood, the child gets away with bad behavior. If the same parent is under stress, he or she will take it out in angry outbursts against the child. This child never internalizes rules of conduct or respect for authority.
Self-centered, neglectful parents can create a cold, calculating bully. Since his parents do not monitor his activities or take an interest in his life, he learns to abuse others when no authority figure is looking. His bullying can be planned and relentless, as he constantly humiliates his victim, often getting other children to join him.
A bully has not learned empathy and compassion. The parents of bullies often have prejudices based on race, sex, wealth and achievement. Other people are just competitors who stand in the way. Their child must always be the best in sports or academics, and others must be kept in an inferior position. A University of Chicago study led suggested that bullies watch more aggression on television and in family interactions. Aggression is rewarded and respected, and humiliating others is tolerated. Compassion and empathy seem like weaknesses.