Inside a Bully’s Head

This post in our bullying series owes its inspiration & expertise to “An Interview with a Former Bully,” by writer Donna Smith.

A bully often has a tough parent, usually a dad. The dad may not be abusive, but he projects an aggressive demeanor. A bully may also be the youngest child in the family who gets picked on by older siblings. When a youngster suffers this kind of treatment repeatedly, he begins to lose self-respect.

Singles out weaker people

In order to regain self-respect, a bully singles out other people who are weaker or different and pushes them around. His victims allow themselves to be bullied. They also have little self-respect and, thus, are easy and vulnerable targets. Often a bully will not pick on anyone who is like him/herself. If the bully is an athlete, he most likely won’t pick on other athletes. If he is nerdy, he will leave other nerds alone.

More emotional than physical

A bully believes bullying is cool. He or she often bullies in front of an audience, which he mistakenly thinks gains him respect. Some of the bullying is physical, but much of it is also psychological. Usually the latter comes first. When a victim has had enough, he or she will finally strike back. Frequently that gesture of self-defense simply feeds the bully’s desire to become meaner and more vicious. The adrenaline kicks in and fuels the bully’s need to dominate.

The bully sideshow

Interestingly enough, a bully can become a sideshow for others to watch. Other people begin to set the bully up, daring him to face off with someone else. The bully becomes a pawn. He is too blind to see how he is being manipulated by his so-called friends. For them, watching him square off with someone else is entertainment. It makes good video. For him, his latest victim is yet another mountain to conquer, another chance to prove how tough he is.

Alone and friendless

Finally, however, the bully finds himself torn between having to fight and not wanting to fight. As he matures, he begins to realize that he has few real friends. Others are either afraid of him and don’t want to be around him or they detest him because he thinks he is God’s gift to the world. A bully is always lonely.

He only begins to feel better about himself and more accepted when he steps back from a fight. He begins to see people in a different light. As a bully gets older, he looks back with regret and realizes the damage he has inflicted on others—in some cases, permanent emotional damage. Some of his past victims dropped out of school or moved away or became reclusive. In extreme cases, the bully may feel some responsibility for a person’s suicide.

The bully looks back at his own family life and realizes that his tough dad was a mean man who hated his own life and took it out on everyone else. He may see how his older brothers treat their wives as objects of ridicule. He now understands that he is only beginning to become a real man.

By dads2dads


We’ve all seen examples of bullying at school and on the streets. Some of our children have experienced it firsthand. One youngster attacks another and an audience gathers. One girl or boy is suddenly jumped on by a swarm of youngsters. A child is tormented mercilessly in person or online. Many situations are caught on cell-phone cameras and posted on YouTube as entertainment and end up on Fox and CNN. These attacks can be ignited by something as trite as name-calling or as disturbing as fulfilling a rite of passage for acceptance into a group. We have all been shaken by the occasional report of a young person taking his or her own life because of vicious and relentless bullying.

The home as a training ground

Research conducted by Ersilia Menesini, Ph.D., Department of Psychology at the University of Florence (Italy), reveals that the relationships between brothers and sisters in a family can serve as a “training ground for bullying, deviancy and aggression through social learning processes or behavioral patterns that can be reinforced across contexts.” In other words, the way siblings treat one another at home often carries over to how those same kids interact with their peers. That behavioral

The same roles leave home

If siblings get along at home and interact with some sense of respect and kindness, it is more likely they will mix well in social settings. If they don’t and are, instead, combative, they may be bullies or victims at school. Children often maintain their home roles outside the home, Menesini points out.

Ah, those older brothers

A study by the professor indicated that bullying and victimization is as strong among siblings as among peers. Older brothers, more so than older sisters, are the culprits at home, according to the study. Because home provides a more intimate environment, however, younger victims are more likely to fight back at home than in school. “At home it is more common to reciprocate attacks and fights among siblings, as the relationship is more intimate and less affected by the risk of losing the relationships, as compared to interactions with peers or within friendships.”

What parents can do

Bullying can happen to anyone, perpetrated by boys and girls alike. Parents need to pay attention to the actions and interactions of their children. Home is the training ground where behaviors can be influenced and altered through modeling, teaching, and perhaps a little preaching.
Menesini suggests that parents need to:

• pay close attention to sibling relationships;

• serve as a mediator to prevent a conflict from escalating; and

• get involved in conversations when relationships between children seem negative and combative.

We’ll add one more to the list. Parents must monitor their own behavior and model a high standard of positive social interaction and civility.

By dads2dads


Bill and his son recently attended a talk by the Dalai Lama. It was a rare opportunity to engage in a “buddy trip” and receive some inspiration from a man who many would call one of the great spiritual leaders of the world.

Truth be told, Bill was skeptical the trip would work out given his son’s multiple responsibilities. But the trip came off without a hitch, and he’s glad it did. It provided a rare opportunity to hang out with his son and to hear words of compassion contained in the Dalai Lama’s address. These trips together, so common when his sons were younger, have grown rare as time has passed.

A city buys in

The event was really a half-day program including music, exhibits, and talks by members of the Interfaith Council of Louisville. In an introduction leading up to the appearance of the Dalai Lama, Louisville mayor, Greg Fischer, talked about the Partnership for a Compassionate Louisville and how Louisville has signed on to be a city of compassion, the largest city to do so.

A return to the Golden Rule

The event, and the impending start of school, started us thinking about the disadvantaging of some children at the hands of others—in short, bullying. There is no space for bullying within the concept of compassion. Compassion means caring for others. Compassion means making sure no one is left behind or goes wanting. It means taking the opportunity to help things go better for others – treating others with respect and dignity. It is the Golden Rule. Being compassionate calls us to alleviate the suffering of others, treat people with justice, equity and respect, and to hold back from inflicting pain or speaking ill.

Our children should be safe to participate in social and educational opportunities without fear. We need compassionate schools and communities where children are treated with respect. Have you thought about what it means to be compassionate and how the traits of compassion might be translated to your children?

Laying the groundwork for compassion

There are some things we can do to enhance the concept of compassion. We can get our children involved in caring for our environment, volunteering their time to help others, standing up for someone who is being bullied or excluded, forgiving others when they make mistakes, helping out at home by setting the table, keeping their room clean, washing the dishes, helping others who are struggling, listening to others, and showing respect.

We can start with ourselves. By beginning personally, we can serve as examples for traits of compassion in our children. This will help build the alliances at schools that can deter instances of bullying. By caring for others, our children can take some responsibility themselves for reducing those times when children are disadvantaged at the hands of others.

By dads2dads