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Our Misguided Obsession with Bullies

The Navy Yard shooting was committed by someone who felt like a victim

Aaron Alexis

Suspected shooter at Washington Navy Yard

Another horrific rampage shooting has occurred. Twelve people were killed and eight injured in at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday, Sept. 16. We will learn more about the shooter, Aaron Alexis, as time goes by. But one thing we know for sure is that he felt like a victim. As the article says, he "had flare-ups of rage" and "complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination."

Society is obsessed with bullies. This obsession has also consumed our social science researchers, who are looked upon by society as the possessors of truth, the solvers of our problems.

But bullies don’t commit random shootings. They don’t commit suicide. Bullies want control, power, dominance. Bullies need living victims.

Pay attention: everyone horrific rampage shooting and every suicide is committed by someone who feels like a victim. They feel discriminated against by society. They feel unjustly fired from their job. They feel unfairly divorced by their spouse. They feel ridiculed by their schoolmates. You may counter, “But they are all mentally disturbed.” Yes, almost all of them are. But almost all mentally disturbed people feel like victims. When we feel victimized, we become mentally disturbed.

Even countries go to war because they feel victimized. How did Hitler get Europeans to exterminate Jews in World War II? Did he say, “Let’s go bully the Jews! It will be so much fun!” No. He said, “We’re the victims of the Jews!” And when we feel like victims, we are capable of doing the most atrocious acts and feel justified doing them. But it is not only Hitler. Even in our own country, how do our leaders get us to go to war against other countries? Do they say, “Let’s go bully that country!” No. They convince us that we’re victims of that country, or potential victims, and then we become eager to send our armies there to blow them up before they blow us up.

When we feel victimized, we are consumed with anger, hatred and revenge. And that is when we become truly dangerous. What we do in revenge is usually infinitely worse than whatever was done to us.

Our obsession with bullies not only is failing to get to the root of why people commit horrific acts of violence. All of our anti-bully education is actually promoting the problem. It encourages us to feel legitimized in our anger, hatred and desire for revenge against those we perceive as bullying us.

If we wish to reduce violence, we need to stop focusing on the bully mentality and instead focus on the victim mentality. And we need to teach the public to stop thinking like victims. Only then will we begin reducing violence in society rather than unwittingly promoting it.


Transparency Declaration: I declare that I do have a financial interest in a company that offers products and services that may be related to the content of my writings.

My Policy Regarding Comments: I rarely respond to comments because I simply don't have the time. If I don't respond to your comment, please don't take it personally. Psychology Today has a strict policy about nasty comments. I believe in free speech, and rarely censor comments, no matter how nasty. Every nasty comment by adults––especially by ardent anti-bullying advocates––illustrates how irrational it is to expect kids to stop engaging in bullying.

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