Today’s Childhood Bully May Be Tomorrow’s Narcissist

Identifying a bully, getting him or her help, and keeping kids safe.

Posted Apr 30, 2019

Most children do not come forward when they are being bullied. They are afraid they will not be believed. Unfortunately, their intuition is correct. Most bullies have a heightened defensive structure, which masterfully deflects responsibility and projects blame onto the victim, so he or she routinely gets away with abuse. Positioning himself or herself as the victim instead of the aggressor, the bully confuses the adults who are attempting to mediate and frees himself or herself from responsibility.

One reason a child bullies is because he or she is profoundly insecure but unconsciously compensates with ego-centrism and narcissism. In sum, he or she acts big to counteract feeling small. Protecting deeply fragile self-esteem with a heightened and rigid defense structure comprised of deflection, projection, narcissism, and a victim mentality is frequently the result. For this reason, the bully is often able to deflect accountability and project blame. Therefore, it’s difficult for a bully to take responsibility for his or her acts, and he or she immediately points the finger at the other child. Because the bully wants to escape accountability, he or she becomes skilled at playing the victim and is usually believed by parents, teachers, and coaches, which perpetuates the bullying behaviors and systematically dismantles the other child’s mental health.

Thus, it is important for parents, teachers, and coaches to identify problematic personality traits early. Providing a child who may have bullying tendencies with help is imperative and may also ensure other children are safe. Several characteristics may indicate a child has characterological vulnerabilities which contribute to bullying:

  1. Brown Nose. A child who bullies usually goes to great lengths to create a favorable impression in front of adults. They may complement or bring gifts to a teacher, yet, if the teacher observes closely, he or she may notice the child rarely relating politely to peers when the child believes an adult is not watching. This discrepancy may be problematic. At some level, the child may be aware that if adults perceive him or her positively, it is easier to escape accountability and successfully point the finger elsewhere. Although this may not be a conscious manipulation on the part of a child, it is a common unconscious relational tactic of a person who bullies.
  2. Always right. A child who believes they are always right, despite evidence to the contrary, is displaying a facet of narcissism. The rigidity of his or her thinking may stem from an inability to be wrong/vulnerable, so he or she defends against it with all of their might. Alternatively, a secure child is often able to be humble, open-minded, and flexible even if it arouses an element of discomfort.
  3. Braggity McBrag. The child constantly talks about himself or herself without sharing the floor or paying attention to other people when they have positive news to share. If he or she is solely concerned with espousing how wonderful he or she is and refuses to give anyone else props or credit, it may be a warning sign.
  4. Extreme pouting. It is normal for a young child to pout; however, it is not healthy for an older child to routinely pout when they do not get their way. Pouting is different from an emotional withdrawal or a shutdown caused by an overwhelming experience or not feeling heard. Pouting is a child’s oppositional response to not getting what they want.
  5. "Not my fault." The child frequently turns wrongdoing back onto someone else. The child’s continuous knee jerk reaction is to argue that he or she is not at fault because someone else is to blame. Even when given time and space to think about it, the child maintains a guilt-free attitude while placing blame on someone else. The lack of authentic remorse may signify issues with conscientiousness.
  6. Tyrannic temper tantrums. Meltdowns and shutdowns are normal at the end of the day when a child is tired or hungry, but if a child throws a fit multiple time a day for most days because he or she is not getting what they want, it may be a red flag. If a child has a temper tantrum during athletics or extracurricular activities because they are not winning or obtaining the spotlight, the child may have issues with deep insecurity.
  7. Mean Streak. A child who feels entitled to say or do hurtful, mean, or cruel things to other children may lack the ability to understand how their actions impact others. This lack of conscientiousness may lead to a lack of conscience if it is not addressed succinctly.

It is critical to assess character flaws accurately in children in order to support the child in recovering from deep insecurity. Although most children display these behaviors at some point, if a parent, teacher, or coach, perceives these characteristics as the child’s predominant mode of interacting, it may be important to help the child with his or her self-esteem.

Some tips for helping a child with profound insecurity include:

  1. Holding the child accountable.
  2. Honoring feeling states, but correcting behaviors.
  3. Validating effort and character before achievement.
  4. Following through with consequences.
  5. Helping the child with worries and anxieties.
  6. Teaching the child empathy.

Having a realistic view of a child who bullies also protects additional children who may have fallen victim to the child’s lack of empathy and accountability. All children deserve a safe and functional childhood. Helping a child recover from deep insecurity may prevent abuse and violence from transpiring in the future. Breaking the cycle is important.