What makes a Bully?

By Kati Dann

With so much attention spent on the victims of bullying, the biggest issue itself is often ignored: the bully.


When people hear about bullying, the focus is usually on the victim of the bully: have they been physically hurt, emotionally scarred, or worse?

While these are important issues, one side of bullying that is often skipped over is the psychology of the bullies themselves. Why do they bully? Is it just a cruel hobby, or does it stem from something more?

A good place to start is the definition of a bully.

“Bullying is the act of intimidating specific others, either to cause them to take some action or sometimes solely for the purpose of humiliation,” said Nancilee Korth, a resident of Douglas County and a therapist with a focus on trauma work.

In the school environment, bullies often “target another student or group of students continuously, even with the student asking them to stop,” said Ms. Sarah Cooperman, the school social worker. “Bullying can certainly end up looking like harassment.”

The definition of bullying is universally agreed upon. However, the reasons for why bullies do what they do is a matter that is continuously debated.

“Bullies tend to choose a certain type of person to abuse,” said Korth. “Victims of bullying are often bullied due to achievements, do not have a large circle of friends, or tend to be more serious about important things such as school or work. They also target those who appear to be vulnerable.”

“A bully might have some deeper issues going on with themselves that makes them choose a student,” said Cooperman. However, “there’s really no right answer about that. Each situation that I have dealt with is very individual.”

Bullies can come from all different types of situations, too. They can be people “who haven’t developed very strong coping capabilities or haven’t developed a strong sense of self,” said Cooperman. “It can be a student who has significant insecurities that targets others, potentially for things they’re worried about themselves.”

Something that many people forget is that bullies are people too, not just random monsters with the word “bully” written across their face. They can be people who “have experienced abuse at home and may be acting out the abuse that they have learned,” said Korth. “They come from all walks of life. Sometimes they are experiencing life situations they cannot cope with that leave them feeling helpless and out of control.”

Most people are able to identify bullies in adolescence, big kids being mean to little kids in the playground or teenagers spreading rumors about each other on social media sites. However, there are also many cases of bullying in adulthood, although it is often identified as harassment.

“These students who grow into adult bullies probably haven’t gotten any strong interventions,” said Cooperman. “No one’s tried to figure out why they’re behaving the way they are or supported them in correcting it.”

Adult bullies can be defined as people who “lack the civility to get along with others while seeking power and dominance,” said Korth.

Not every bully ends up carrying the title through the rest of their life, though. “Anyone can change with education, support, and the proper treatment,” said Korth.

However, bullying does have significant effects on the bully and the victim.

“Many victims need counseling to come to grips with the bullying and to help rebuild their lives, as bullying can lead to depression, panic attacks, and physical ailments,” said Korth.

As for the bullies themselves, “bullies are twice as likely as their peers to have criminal convictions,” said Korth.

Bullying is a huge problem that should never be taken lightly. But for every bully, there’s someone who cares, whether it’s a parent, a teacher, or a friend.

“I’m always surprised that a lot of students don’t know about the services we have here,” said Cooperman. “I know that students know about the assistant principals and people like that, but we actually have counselors too. I’m a mental health provider and we have a psychologist and counselors that are here in the main office. A lot of times we help problem solve with students.”


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