Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Many Faces of Bullying

The image that most people have of a bully is the big, rough looking kid, who punches the geek and takes his lunch money.  But this is not so much the case anymore. A lot of bullying goes under the radar, because the face of bullying has changed.  Actually, there are many faces to bullying. One of them may be sitting in your home right now, helping you make dinner.
1. Physical Bully- He is the stereotypical physical bully who punches kids and takes their lunch money.  This kid is like Nelson from The Simpsons. The physical bully is usually a boy and bigger than everyone else. Sometimes, he's not that big, but just very aggressive and rough. These are often kids who come from chaotic homes, where violence is normalized. Some of them have ADHD or learning disabilities that limit their impulse control, frustration tolerance, or social skills. They try to compensate for their deficits by pushing kids around or intimidation. Other physical bullies are just boys trying to prove their masculinity and position themselves as the top dogs on campus. They’re actually afraid of being vulnerable, so they project this upon kids who are vulnerable. A lot of them are all bluff though. They target the smaller, shy kids, until that person stands up for himself. Then he chooses a new target.  Some physical bullies are actually the ones being bullied. He’s very reactive, and other kids know exactly how to push his buttons.  They get him to explode, then sit back and enjoy the show.  When it’s over, they all blame him because they know the teacher is likely to believe it. 

2. Social Bully- these kids are popular and have a lot of influence among peers. They are able to turn everyone against you by spreading rumors and destroying your reputation. They get all of the other kids to not be your friend. Social bullies tend to be girls. These are the mean little brats who spread rumors about you on Facebook, or make sure you don’t get invited to parties. She might invite you to the party just to humiliate you.  Don’t get it twisted! This type of bully is just as cruel as the rest, or maybe more.  She will not only humiliate you, but also leave you feeling isolated. 

3.  Verbal Bully-This is the quick-witted kid, who can butcher you with words.  He or she is sharp, clever, and usually charismatic. They have quick come-backs to anything someone says to them.  Back in the days, these were the guys who could “base” on you so bad, that you’d want to fight or just cry.  The girls will tease you to tears, and have everyone cracking up in laughter-at the expense of your self-esteem and dignity.  Verbal bullies, like the others, are compensating for some insecurity they have about themselves. This kid probably runs his or her mouth in other settings as well. He tends to argue with adults and has to prove he’s right in every situation.  A lot of the male verbal bullies that I’ve encountered are smaller guys, who just won’t shut up. If I had a magical eraser, there would be plenty of kids and adults with no mouths. 

4. Friendly Bully- this is the friend who will make jokes at your expense in front of everyone. This friend needs you in order to seem cool or funny. They treat you nice when it’s just you two, but when there's a group around, they use you to promote themselves. They also borrow things and don't return them, or rough you up and say "Man, I was just playin'…stop acting like a little girl". Some kids remain “friends” with this type of bully, because they gain something from this unbalanced, abusive relationship. They feel connected to someone who is popular…a sense of importance.  I’ve seen kids who’ve dissed their nerdy friends, just to kick it with the bully friend. Other kids continue hanging out with them because they don’t have other friends; or they want to avoid the full wrath that would come with ending the “friendship”. 

5. The Follower Bully – they pick on kids occasionally, but don't consider themselves to be bullies, or don't realize that what they're doing is bullying. They just want to be down with whoever is at the top of the food chain. The followers are the kids who laugh at the bully’s jokes, help them spread rumors, and abandon friends who’ve become targets of the bully.  These kids are just trying to get by and keep the target off of their own backs.  They don’t realize how much power they have.  The followers have strength in numbers and determine whether a kid is popular or not. If the followers stop laughing at the jokes, the jokes will lose power.  When the followers agree that something is not right, the bully loses clout.  He or she will either become an outcast or have to conform to more pro-social behaviors. 
6. Sociopathic Bully- usually charming, smart, manipulative and cruel. They usually don't get caught because what they do is often subtle and calculated. They are often believable to adults and present to be good kids. She will destroy your reputation, turn other kids against you, and then blame you for it. The sociopathic bully feels no empathy or remorse. Their primary means of bullying usually depends on their strongest qualities or what they’ve learned from their home environments or community.  The ones who use more physical aggression tend to be less sophisticated or come from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds.  The sociopathic bullies who are not overtly aggressive tend to build bombs and other crazy shit.

All kids who bully have one thing in common; they are insecure and pick on others to mask their own deficits.  A lot of these folks carry their behaviors into adulthood, while others learn from their mistakes, and evolve into decent people.  As much as I dislike bullies, I have to be cautious about labeling kids.  Language is powerful, and a label like this can brand someone for a long time. I try to distinguish the act, from the person. With exception to the sociopathic bully, most of them are able to change their ways with the right balance of accountability, love, and guidance.  At the same time, earning that label is one of the consequences of the behavior. If he or she doesn’t want the label anymore, they may be inclined to start treating people with respect.  In my up-coming posts, I will describe the kids who are typical targets for bullies, what to do about bullying, and how both parties can move forward. 


  1. On point! I often go back and forth on whether the best response is to ignore the bully -- which for me has usually resulted in the bully trying harder and amping up the intensity of the attack. Laugh it off -- which is usually in open invitation to more bullying. Punch him in the mouth -- which is risky and not an option for some. Looking forward to seeing your follow up...

    1. thanks darius. i think all of the above is right. i've had experience trying them all. the best response depends on 3 things: who the person is, who the bully is, and the specific circumstances. i'll get into more detail in one of my follow up posts. thanks for commenting.

  2. U always give us a great read :) keep up the great work.