I begin this post by saying that I genuinely believe that we don’t do ourselves a lot of favours when we devote time and energy to trying to figure out why bullies bully. Why is a question that for me misses the mark — what, who, when or how are more powerful questions. What is happening, what can we observe, who is involved, who is hurting us, when does this happen, how do we feel, how do we know something is not right, how do we protect ourselves?
When we attempt to sort bullying and bullies into types, its a way of trying to organize, manage and make sense of disorganized, unmanageable and often nonsensical behaviour and intentions. The time we spend trying to figure out why someone is behaving poorly, is time we could be spending looking after ourselves and putting distance between the bully, who is in every sense of the word an enemy, and ourselves.
Enemy …. it’s a strong word and many of us feel uncomfortable using it. We have a tendency to believe that other people are just like us and share our values, beliefs and motivations. When we value honesty, integrity, kindness, cooperation and caring – we tend to believe other people do as well. This can make it very difficult to recognize an enemy as an enemy before it is too late. We’re not looking for underhanded or hurtful intentions or actions, and therefore, we miss them. When we do pick up information, we may downplay it, or question our instincts, or observations. We are taught to love and care, forgive, forget, and turn the other cheek to our enemies. It can be very difficult to accept that some people thrive on hurting other people. It can be devastating to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much we love, care, forgive or forget … the bully will carry right on bullying.
Knowledge is power, so yes, let’s spend a few minutes and think about the enemy. What exactly is an enemy? The dictionary gives us a simple definition: an enemy is a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.
Although the dictionary definition is very simple, identifying an enemy can be anything but simple. Enemies don’t generally broadcast their feelings or intentions unless they feel very secure in their power and position. Yet all bullies have harmful or antagonistic intentions against other people. Remember, a bully is someone who repeatedly and deliberately is disrespectful toward others for their own gratification in a way which harms the target. We need to recognize that those who are harming us, are our enemies, they are trying to hurt us.
1. The Invincible Bully. This sort of bully sees life and relationships as a competition for resources and power. In seeking to get their needs met, invincible bullies are confident and frequently openly aggressive. Like all bullies, the Invincible bully is self-absorbed and will take any opportunity to elevate themselves and their agendas without regard to the feelings and needs of others. They do not experience guilt or remorse because they lack the capacity for empathy or compassion. If they did feel guilty, they would be quick to justify and rationalize their behaviour. The invincible bully sees life as a game that can have only one champion. People are pawns on the chessboard of life. Their predominate need is to WIN.
2. The Bossy Bully. All bullies want power, the bossy bully doesn’t make effort to hide it. The bossy bully often feels that they are in a leadership position and should have absolute authority. Bossy bullies feel powerful when they are in control and their desire to be in control outweighs any respect or consideration they might have for the feelings and needs of others. These sorts of bullies see things in absolutes; black or white, good or bad, in control or not. They expect unquestioning obedience and loyalty. Their way is not only the best way, but the only way. Bossy bullies have low tolerance for other people being open and direct about their thoughts, feelings and needs. Assertive behaviour is perceived as a threat that must be extinguished to ensure the bossy bully retains control.
3. The Manipulative Bully. This sort of bully can be difficult to spot as they have the ability to engage in socially desirable ways, in order to get closer to others and gain their trust. The manipulative bully is able to convince others that they are honest, trustworthy, caring and compassionate, without actually possessing a social conscience. They can fluently talk the talk of relationship and connection, but are unable to walk the walk. They frequently exploit the vulnerability of others to gain their own ends. Manipulative bullies thrive on playing people off against one another. They are aggressive, but in underhanded ways using a powerful blend of charisma, charm, lying, undermining and manipulation to secure their own ends.
4. The Wounded Bully. Wounded bullies do not trust others and may genuinely believe that people are out to get them. They can be sullen, sarcastic, deeply secretive and constantly question the motives and intentions of others. Wounded bullies may not look like bullies on the surface because they are the ones complaining about other people wishing them harm. They blame other people for their problems and are not personally responsible. Many wounded bullies operate on a sort of defensive automatic pilot; they assume that other people have negative intent and they seek to crush before being crushed even when there is no real threat.
5. The Victim Bully. As a variation of the wounded bully, the victim bully also doesn’t necessarily look like a bully on the surface because they appear passive, do not openly or directly get angry or aggressive and often look easy going and relaxed on the surface. Victim bullies are often jealous of other people’s perceived power and success and will work to undermine them or set them up for failure. They do not follow through with agreements or promises and will use the tactics of denial, minimization, rationalization and excuses to deflect attention from their bullying behaviour. A victim bully resists and resents feeling controlled by anyone else. They often use the tactics of victimization and manipulation to appear powerless, whilst actually wielding a significant amount of power over others.
There are all sorts of bullies and variations or combinations of types. The above list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but rather to get you thinking about some of the tactics or approaches that bullies use. You will notice I have side-stepped the issue of why it is that bullies are the way that they are. I am resistant to attributing the behaviour of bullies to bad childhoods, poor role modelling, lack of love and approval or the like. There may be many reasons that a person leans toward bullying, but the biggest reason is because they can.
It is not our job to make hurting us easier for a bully. Our job is to recognize bullying, when it is happening, for what it is – and then to take all reasonable steps to protect ourselves.