Often, those whose lives have been adversely impacted by the physical, emotional and psychological effects of bullying cannot fathom what actually drives people to bully others. Yet a February 2000 article published in Counseling and Human Development revealed that bullying is considered the most prevalent form of violence in contemporary American society. While the factors of bullying are varied, we will delve into some of the influences driving this disturbing behavior. But before that, we will jump into the definition and behaviors associated with bullying.
The act of bullying is defined by Miriam-Webster this way: “To inflict physical or emotional harm upon [another].” While many would traditionally associate bullying with physically harming behavior, such as fighting or name calling, bullying can also take form in a manner far more concealed, such as spreading gossip or posting damaging information on the internet. Regardless of the method used, the intention of the bully is always the same–to willfully and intentionally inflict pain upon the targeted individual.
There is not one single cause or tell-tale sign that points definitively at future bullies. However, there are underlying factors of bullying which can ultimately increase the likelihood of a person becoming a bully. Following are some of the factors that have been closely linked to bullying.
Children who are reared in households wherein there is a lack of warmth or a lack of attention from the parent(s) or guardian(s) are highly likely to develop bullying behaviors. For example, children with overly permissive parents who fail to either establish a reasonable set of expectations or who fail to establish reasonable boundaries often become bullies. In many cases, the overly permissive parent does not implement clearly defined consequences for the behavior or make any attempts–at all–to put an end to the adverse behavior.
Adding to that, when parents tend to be either inconsistent in their enforcement of the rules or when they lean heavily toward punitive behavior, it can damage the child’s emotions and self-esteem.
It is a well-known fact that children and teens tend to model the behavior of parents or other authority figures. Therefore, children who are products of abusive home environments are prone to develop bullying behaviors simply because aggressive and violent behavior and speech was modeled for them. Further, when older siblings are allowed to bully the younger children in the family, that feeling of powerlessness can eventually develop into bullying behaviors as an attempt to regain a sense of power and control.
Behavioral Factors Contributing To Bullying
Bullies, of course, exhibit negative and demeaning behaviors toward others — often repeatedly. When children exhibit similar behaviors early on, this is a strong indication that full fledged bullying may ensue. Following is a short list of common behavioral factors linked to bullying.
- The Need To Exhibit Physical Strength. The need to put on a display of physical strength over another is an attempt to gain control by making the other party feel weak and/or powerless.
- Attempts At Isolating Their Peers. Children prone to bullying often attempt to target and then isolate a person or group of peers. Further, many will also try to influence others to isolate or ignore the other person as well.
- Aggressive Tendencies. Children who show signs of physical aggression in an attempt to deal with frustrating or disappointing circumstances often become bullies.
- Subjection to Bullying. Children who are victimized by other bullies can often compensate for their pain by bullying other children.
- Subjection to Rejection. Children really need acceptance and love; when it is withheld, especially consciously and intentionally withheld, emotional damage can creep in, causing the person to act out. This includes both rejection from family members, authority figures and social rejection from their peers.
- Academic Failure. Children who are struggling and/or failing at school can often demonstrate bullying behavior as a response to their feelings of frustration and lower self-esteem.
- Provocation. The reaction to provocation from another individual or group can easily lead to bullying. This is especially true when the child is teased or verbally abused and parents or authority figures fail to pick up on — and put an end to — the negative stimulation. Sometimes, the response to the provoking behavior is directed back at that individual, but often it can spread to others, too.
Personality Factors Leading To Bullying
Certain personality traits can lend themselves easily to bullying. However, before jumping to the conclusion that individuals are born with the propensity to bully others, we will briefly look into the ways that an individual’s personality comes together.
Personality is loosely described as the complex set of characteristics which make up an individual’s unique imprint. Temperament, thought patterns and emotional responses are all part of defining individual personality. However, extensive research has pointed to the fact that personality traits are also shaped by familial influence, environmental factors and socialization. Thus, a person’s innate predisposition is not the sole factor determining personality.
That said, following is a list of personality factors strongly linked to bullying.
- Lack of tolerance with others. Individuals who are overly critical of others, communicating dislike of another person’s appearance, abilities or intelligence, are definitely prone to bullying behaviors. Adding to that, demonstrations of intolerance toward others from different cultures or those whose lifestyle choices are different from their own is also a major red flag.
- Low self-esteem. As alluded to earlier, individuals with low self esteem already feel bad about themselves or their circumstances. They often lack power and control in their daily lives and their environments; thus, bullying can become the go-to response to help them feel more “in control” and powerful. In circumstances like these, the bullying behavior is often an attempt to regain the feelings of worth, value and control currently missing in their lives. These children may follow their exploits with bragging in an attempt to cover up their inner feelings.
- Lower threshold for frustration. In life, everyone faces circumstances that didn’t turn out the way we hoped… and that is always frustrating. But children who exhibit a lack of coping skills or an unusually low threshold for frustration can easily transform those emotions into bullying behavior.
- Lack of empathy. Children who have not learned to “put themselves in another’s shoes”, so to speak, can hurl negativity toward another person without ever stopping to consider how it may make another person feel. This is often put on full display when children begin essentially blaming the victim, saying things like, ‘He should stop being so touchy about everything!’ or ‘Geesh! She needs to learn how to take a joke!’ These types of bullies simply cannot wrap their minds around the fact that what they do is damaging to another because their socialization skills have allowed them to maintain comfort in self-centeredness.
- The Need For Power. Those who have been robbed of value, power and worth can often develop an intense and driving need for power. This is different from being assertive and displaying leadership skills — which are positive qualities. Instead, these types of demonstrations lend themselves to a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude with their peers. When things don’t line up with their goals or expectations, their natural response is to resort to full-on bullying.
The peer and social factors of bullying are especially important and influential where children are concerned. Following is a list of peer and social influences.
- Spending time with other children involved in bullying.
- Aggression linked to efforts to gain higher status within their chosen social group. This relates to those who already possess prestige and leadership among their peers, but it can also extend to those viewed lower on the social hierarchy who simply want to be accepted by those in higher social positions.
- Attempts to secure friendships (this is especially popular among teenage girls who use bullying to gain attention from other girls)
- Demonstrating aggressive behaviors to eliminate boredom (more common with older children and teens)
- Spending time with other children who glorify violence.
- Watching depictions which glorify violence and bullying behaviors — either on television or in popular movies and video games
- School environments which do little to nothing to prevent bullying
- School environments without an anti-bullying policy, and
- School environments wherein authority figures provide little or no supervision during recess or lunch breaks.