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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

We Love To Hate The Bully

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 15th 2011

We Love To Hate The BullyThe bully victimizes and terrorizes and intimidates others. He is a tyrant who is cruel and manipulating. He is the "demon" who we love to hate. He is "Darth Vader," in the movie, "Star Wars." We love him, we fear him, we romanticize him, we hate him.

Here, we are discussing children who are bullies.

However, we have to ask who this person is and what motivates him? Isn't he also a victim who deserves our help?

Mostly, these youngsters who intimidate are males. The reason for this is that, generally, girls are less physically violent as compared to boys. It's expected that boys play rough and tumble while girls do not. This is not meant to imply that girls are incapable of bullying. They certainly do. However, their's is mostly not violent. They will use the silent treatment, spreading rumors and the social network to bully. It is the male bullies who are out front with violence in their intimidation of others.

Recent research shows that the bully is a victim even while he victimizes. He is someone who sees the world around him as dangerous even in the absence of danger. He believes others will try to dominate him unless he dominates them. As a result, he is quick to interpret the behavior of other youngsters as hostile. All of this describes someone who both sees the world through paranoid lenses and who has not learned how to behave in ways that are realistic and socially adaptive. He has low self esteem, feels ineffective and expects people to dislike him.

There are many psychological theories about what causes aggression in human beings. They vary from the psychoanalytic tradition that defines aggression as a biological drive that, if left unmastered, will run amok. Other theories state that aggression results from children learning to be violent from their environment. In other words, the bully, according to this view, is imitating what he sees at home. The truth is probably a combination of both.

A more recent theory is that at least some bullying results from inconsistent parenting. In this scenario, the child rarely knows what to expect. For example, the parent disciplines according to how she or he feels and not by what the child is doing. The child may do something aggressive but will not be punished unless the parent is in a bad mood.

Many of the youngsters who intimidate others eventually outgrow this behavior. Others go on to live extremely self destructive lives. Some of them become criminals and end up in prison for most of their lives. Others drop out of school early and live lives far below their intellectual abilities. There are those who become alcoholics and drug abusers.

It is for these reasons that the earlier this behavior is identified and the earlier psychological treatment is used to help these kids the sooner they will make a healthier adjustment to life. The older a youngster becomes, the more difficult it is to help them learn new behaviors.

The bully does not need our hate, he needs our help.

Do you have a child who bullies others? Have your children been bullied? How have these problems been addressed?

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Gender Bias and general abuse... - BPBear - Aug 15th 2011

I have to agree with the comment posted before mine. There are more ways to bully than just with physical violence. And bullies are not mainly boys. Bullying extends into adulthood as well as spreads through races, classes and sexes. The worst bullying that ever happened to me occurred with social ostracism and extended into accepted general harassment from anyone with an axe to grind. I basically became a scapegoat in school for other children who wanted an easy target to "hit". 

Bullies do not have to be singular either. Ever heard of "cliques of girls," fraternity hazing, the in-crowd? Bullying like acne does not always go away after puberty. 

Studying a bully's behavior and studying crowd dynamics as well as social orders are a good idea. But don't mistake bullying in all it's forms. And people who are abusive inspire anger as well as promote it. This is why they are not given much in the way of mercy. If you've noticed pedophiles are not "curable" I would probably be not far from wrong in saying that neither are child abusers, molesters rapists and any other person that finds denying another living being's well being. Studying them to help prevent people from becoming involved with them as well as helping victims become aware of their actions and helping victims to recover from the results of these behaviors is probably the best that can be done for now. 

Maybe in the future in a more civilized society the abuse of power and control will be dispensed with. Until that happens asking for sympathy for people who persist in getting satisfaction from other people's pain is probably a losing cause. Understanding and helping solve the casualties that result from their actions is more reasonable at this time.

Gender Bias - Jai - Aug 15th 2011

I believe it's unfortunate you narrow your article to specifically implicate male bullies.The way females 'bully' one another may not look like the stereotypical "aggressive, lone male" as it is characteristically presented, however, I would wager that intimidation, threats, isolation and physical violence is practiced among female children and adolescents just as often. The tactics used may not be displayed as overtly, but they are rampant in any middle school setting, and often times more insidious. Countless stories about small groups of girls picking out an isolated victim with intentions to scare, harm, steal from, and even assault him or her, have cropped up all across the US and Canada.

 Is it more difficult for adults and supervisors to spot these behaviours so that they may intervene?  How does the reporting rate among peer witnesses and targeted children differ from incidents perpetrated by a single bully? Because this problem typically occurs under the influence of peer pressure, is it less complicated to reform the behaviour of a group or rather that of an individual bully?


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