Traversing the Inner Terrain

The search for the Authentic Self.

Solving the Bully Problem

Getting to the Root of the Bully Problem

So, what in the world can we do to help the bully overcome his compulsion to bully?  Well, first we have to recognize ourselves as part of the pattern the bully lives into. The bully has identified with "badness" as compensation for powerlessness. He believes that this "badness" allows him to be all that everyone else is too weak, stupid, or cowardly to engage. He stubbornly holds to the belief that he is smarter and stronger than the rest of the world--simply becaue of his identification with "badness." Because this is a mask and costume, rather than a real identification with his own authenticity, he is compelled to keep proving it to himself by gaining and regaining power over others. Of course, under all of that false bravado is a scared child who wants desperately to be protected from any harm, emotional, physical, psychological or otherwise. And really he is, in his own skewed way, trying to survive. 

Feeling sorry for poor Bully yet?  Don't. Feeling sorry for her pushes her fear button and to that fear she'll only react with more bullying. Unless, of course, she thinks he can use your pity to her advantage. The bully will only feed on pity to either grow her compulsion to feel strong at your expense, or her need to control you through manipulation.  Ergo, you become a part of the problem. 

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Wishing the bully dead?  Yeah, don't we all from time to time. But again, this only perpetuates the problem. The bully will feel your wish, like a dog senses your fear, and react to it as if it is an energizer. Your desire that he be punished or even killed is an unconscious reminder to him of his own shame---which propels him to identify with it yet again by proving to you that he really is the "bad" guy you think he is. Or, if there is any need to reject shame, he'll just project it onto you, which gives him a rationale for punishing you. And again, you become part of the problem rather than the solution.

Want to confront her so that she'll see the error of herways?  Forget it! She'll laugh at you. She'll just see your efforts as some kind of self-righteous stupidity. All "rightness" is a joke to the bully.  She has identified with "badness" as a method of survival. She's only going to see your efforts to correct her as further affirmation of her"badness" which only makes her feel stronger and more powerful over you.  

The bully actually feels like a victim of the "rightness" of others. Those parents who initially bullied him through their physical, mental and emotional abuse, were "right" and he was wrong. Those parents who allowed themselves to be bullied because that seemed the "right" thing to do, were weak and ineffective to him, so that their "rightness" was seen as stupid.  And so now, when you declare how wrong he is to bully others, you might be reminding him that he was originally wrong and his parents, at whom he is often secretly or overtly enraged, were "right." Or, you might be reminding him that "rightness" is a joke that he can use against you. These are dangerous buttons to push.  

Scared of the bully? Yes, we all are. We fear what the bully can do to us, mentally, emotionally, physically, financially or otherwise. But that fear is food to her. Again, like the dog who can sense your fear, she will use your fear to further perpetuate her own sense of power and control over you. That big amorphous "they" out there fears her because she is so powerful---and that's just as it should be. So, what we are doing when we fear the bully is adding fuel to an already out-of-control fire.   

The above are typical responses to the bully. But none of them work. That is why the idea of rehabilitation from the jail cell is well-nigh to impossible. In fact, put in the room with several other bullies, the bully is going to have to up the ante. He'll have to become just that much more of a bully. Typically, he knows how to do that, for he's been doing it all of his life.

What is effective for some bullies, at least for those who have not yet gone all the way over into sociopathy, is the recognition that this bully thing is a mask and costume that she has worn in order to survive in her family of origin. Whether she was the bully of her parents or bullied by her parents, she is responding to her early environment with an identity that seems to work for her. In other words, there is another whole person, down under the bully mask and costume, with which she has never yet identified. 

Through such recognition, bullies can begin to recognize the powerlessness they felt as children for which they've been compensating ever since with this big, bad bully identity---and they will realize that they have done little else but live out that drama over and over again. As they begin to make this connection they can also begin to hear the voice of the authentic Self, which is neither bad nor good, but simply a real person who has compassion for that inner child who was bullied or taught to bully. Through that compassionate energy, as opposed to the energy of judgment, the bully can learn to take care of herself, for she can now make choices to do, say, think and feel the things that bless and nourish her life. These choices make up the very definition of personal empowerment. And it is this personal power rather than power over others, which can actually be attained, and all that was ever really wanted. 

Conscious choice--rather than unconscious compulsion--makes the empowering difference.

Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., is a Cognitive and Transpersonal Therapist, internet radio show host, and author of Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self. more...

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