National Bullying Prevention Month is a nationwide campaign founded in 2006 by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. The campaign is held during the month of October and unites communities around the world to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. According to statistics, one in five children admit to being bullied. Bullying is not only isolated as a childhood problem but also affects adolescents and adults as well. Much of the awareness around bullying is centered on the victims, prevention and the consequences however in order to understand how to prevent bullying from a victim’s standpoint it is important to understand what drives individuals to become bullies. Bullies are often portrayed as villains or the “bad guys” in the media. However what the media fails to show is the making of a bully. Studies have shows that bullies are much more likely than average to experience a traumatic or a stressful situation in the past five years. This could include abuse in the home, a divorce, a mental illness, or insecure relationships. Studies have also shown that most bullies have actually been bullied in the past.

The relationship between shame and bullying

Emotions like anger, fear and sadness trigger a cascade of physiological responses that affect almost every organ in the body preparing it for survival actions, like fleeing, fighting or freezing. When a child, in the midst of experiencing powerful and painful emotions like anger and fear, is left to cope alone, the child’s brain uses another class of emotions called inhibitory emotions to prevent themselves from being psychologically overwhelmed. Shame is one kind of inhibitory emotion that very efficiently blocks anger and fear by causing a protective visceral withdrawal inward like a turtle fleeing into its shell.  While protective in the moment, toxic shame leaves a child feeling broken, unlovable and alone until it is healed. A child develops defenses, like aggression, which turns into bullying behavior. Conversely, a child may cope with shame by disconnecting from their mind and body, which renders a person vulnerable to bullies for they have lost their sense of self. Aggression and disassociation are fail-safe ways to block the intense emotional and physical pain of emotions when healthier ways of soothing are unavailable.

Characteristics of a bully

Studies show that bullies lack prosocial behavior, are untroubled by anxiety, and do not understand others’ feelings. They misread the intentions of others, often imputing hostility in neutral situations. They typically see themselves quite positively. Those who chronically bully have strained relationships with parents and peers. Bullies couldn’t exist without victims, and they don’t pick on just anyone; those singled out lack assertiveness even in nonthreatening situations and radiate fear long before they ever encounter a bully. Increasingly, children are growing up without the kinds of play experiences in which children develop social skills and learn how to solve social problems.

Seeking help for those who bully

  • One of the best ways to address bullying behaviors is to incorporate social and emotional learning into the discipline plan. The goal is that kids who bully will increase their emotional intelligence in the process. Many people who bully others feel entitled to behave in the way they do. Consequently, teach them to look at the situation from a different perspective. Ask them to talk to you about how they would feel in a similar situation. Developing empathy will go a long way in preventing future bullying incidents.
  • Many teens who bully others struggle with anger management and often lash out without thinking. As a result, it may be beneficial to incorporate anger management tips in the discipline plan. Help the person engaged in bullying learn to recognize anger triggers and develop healthy solutions for dealing with that anger. Remind him that anger is a normal emotion, but that he has a choice in how he expresses that emotion. Choosing to express his anger in hurtful ways is unacceptable. It is important that he understand that.
  • Sometimes bullies lack impulse control. This is especially true among cyberbullies who post mean things online without thinking about the consequences and how it might impact others. Work with the bully to find ways to control his impulses and make better
  • Some kids who engage in bullying target others because they lack self-esteem. As a result, they lash out at others in an attempt to feel better about themselves. This is especially true of bully-victims. They feel so beaten down that they turn their anger and frustration on other people. To combat self-esteem issues, work with the person bullying to enhance his strengths and improve his weaknesses. Determine what things he needs to work on such as social skills, assertiveness, perseverance and resilience. These skills build a base for improved self-esteem.