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Bullying - 1/7/2011

Bullying isn’t new.  It was there when I was a kid and I’m sure that many of you may have been  exposed to it.  It needn’t have been physical in nature.  In fact, the bulk of bullying isn’t.  Most of it takes place on an emotional level.  It is equally evident in the behavior of males and females and is participated in by good as well as bad individuals.  

I should add that this behavior is not restricted to young people.  Bullying behavior is evident in marriages, work situations and politics, as well as in  many other facets of the world.    

Youngsters in school display bullying behavior in a more overtly apparent manner than their older counterparts.  The reason being that their feelings of insufficiency or inadequacy are far more prevalent, due to the anxiety they experience while in searching of their own identity.  Sadly, however, their quest to discover who they are takes place at the emotional and physical expense of others.

In men, it primarily tends to manifest itself in the form of physical abuse.  In contrast, some of the sweetest of young ladies also demonstrate bullying behavior.  They form cliques, depreciate, ridicule and become judgmental regarding the appearance, dress and behavior of  peers.  Years later, they join sororities and blackball others, with little concern about the long-term emotional damage their behavior causes.

Of greater interest is that individuals who participate in bullying and their victims have one significant characteristic in common.  They lack a positive sense of self worth, which makes itself evident in either of two ways.  One, fight.  They feel a desperate need to elevate self by belittling, subjugating and discrediting other individuals.  For the most part, they prey upon the weak and strive to impress and control  peers through physical or emotional harassment.  They demonstrate little or no empathy and are totally self centered.  Two, flight.  Instead of compensating for their feelings of impotence, they adopt a passive role - try to be invisible and act timid or fearful.  All of which contributes to their playing the role of the stereotypical scapegoat, who is equally self-centered, i.e., he sees himself as a victim, perceives that everyone is against him and feels, for good reason, out of control and abused by others.   

It might also be concluded that 50% of individuals who feel weak inside, lacking in worth and desperately in need of admiration and love become bullies.  The other 50% of insufficient and inadequate-feeling individuals become scapegoats.  As previously noted, those who become bullies are quick to find fault, criticize - either emotionally or physically and to abuse others with little concern regarding the damage they inflict.  In almost every instance, the scapegoats they prey on are persons they see as demonstrating similar feelings or behaviors to those they cannot abide in themselves.  It’s as though bullies literally, but unconsciously, look into a mirror when they deal with their victims and see themselves.  Their subsequent abusive behavior reflects the overt contempt they have for who and what they believe themselves to be and serves as a means of symbolically punishing self.  It’s no wonder, then, that the gay minister rants about the evil of homosexuality; that men who are emotionally fearful of women do their utmost to demean them; and that politicians who are involved in extramarital relations are often the most hypocritically pious and critical of infidelity in others.

Bullying behavior is not restricted to schools.  It can be seen in many other arenas; particularly in close relationships and in marriage.  Once again, the bully picks on someone who he/she  perceives as similar to himself.  The rule being, you almost always marry someone who shares the same emotional dynamics as yourself, but who behaves 180º the opposite.  That being the case, the abusive spouse winds up punishing his subjugated partner for those characteristics he perceives in him/her that he can’t stand in himself.  

History shows that punishment for bullying behavior never works to relieve the hatred a bully has for himself.  Instead, more often than not, it only contributes to an escalation of his abusive behavior.  For example, bullying provides an initial sense of strength and power that the bully lacks internally.  Thus, it reinforces his behavior.  When he is punished for his behavior, it doesn’t serve as therapeutic.  Instead, it intensifies his already depreciatory sense of self-worth, which causes even more need to demonstrate his so-called strength.  The results is an escalation of his abusive behavior.  

Please note that, despite the fact that  “punishment doesn’t work”, I believe that bullying behavior should, in every instance, have consequences consistent with the degree of bullying that is exhibited.  It is a statement society and parents need to make, but it is not a cure.  The only effective cure is therapy directed toward enhancing the bully’s self image.  Thus, for example, providing the bully with some degree of responsibility or power can often increase his sense of self worth and cause him to alter his negative behavior.  Accordingly, the bully on the playground might be encouraged to become the enforcer of anti-bullying behavior.   The scapegoat, is equally in need of this form of treatment.  The effect of an increased sense of self worth in him/her can also serve to sufficiently alter his image that he no longer acts the helpless, fearful individual bullies need to punish.  You see, the bully and his victim really do share the same dynamics.  Their difference lies in the manner in which they attempt to cope with their feelings.  This notion is strongly reinforced by recent episodes of mass shootings of fellow students by previous scapegoats, clearly demonstrating that the “worm can turn”.

To summarize, whether you’re dealing with youngsters  or adults,  the solution is the same.  If you’re a bully, you need to experience consequences for your deviant behavior.   But, as previously noted, neither bullies not scapegoats benefit from punishment.  They are both desperately in need of a program for positive emotional growth.  One directed toward building a sense of ego worthwhileness, such that the scapegoat no longer feels or acts as a worthless object of scorn and the bully no longer has to put others down to feel adequate.

   Your initial feelings toward the bully or the scapegoat can’t help but be negative in nature.  However, dealing with him/her from a negative orientation only serves to increase his feelings of inadequacy and exacerbates his bullying behavior.  Conversely, if you can connect with that individual’s sense of worthwhileness and need for recognition and acceptance, you are on a path that leads toward connecting with the individual himself and, possibly, toward thwarting this epidemic of abusive behavior between individuals who have much more in common than they realize and who could help each other by being sensitive to one another’s needs.

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