Although there is still a scientific debate on the nature and definition of bullying, most researchers understand this behavior as aggression characterized by:
- causing intentional harm,
- repetition, and
- an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
Bullies appear to derive satisfaction from inflicting injury and suffering on others, seem to have little empathy for their victims, and often defend their actions by saying that their victims provoked them in some way.
Bullies often come from homes in which physical punishment is used, where striking out physically is seen as a way to handle problems and where friendships and warmth are frequently lacking. Sociologists agree that children who have been bullied tend to become bullies themselves. Researchers also agree that all bullies share two key personality characteristics: Low self esteem and profound insecurity.
Boys and girls bully differently but its still about power and control.
Boys will beat you up and feel they have won because youre the one with the black eye and bleeding nose. But they have won nothing. The victory is shallow and exists only in their minds.
Girls, on the other hand, tend to choose rumors, criticism and ostracism as methods of bulling. In it’s own way, this kind of ‘psychological warfare’ can be more damaging and harder to combat than the simple physical abuse traditionally preferred by boys.
Bystanders also play a role in bullying:
- the enforcers join in and assist the bully
- the re-enforcers encourage the bully by observing and laughing
- the outsiders avoid the bullying by staying away and not getting involved for fear of losing social status or being bullied as well.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of bullying is that it doesn’t end with childhood. Childhood bullies often become adult bullies. Their methods become more subtle but their basic behavior patterns remain the same.
We have recently been hearing a lot about adult bullying in newspaper and magazine articles about office bullying and, in particular, ‘the bully boss’. The bully boss’s leadership style is usually described as ‘my way or the highway’ and he or she almost always surrounds him/herself with multiple enforcers and re-enforcers.
The bully boss is also characterized by a top-down management style. She/he consults the employees under her/his authority only to inform them of decisions already made at the executive level; never to seek their guidance or opinions. If the employees choose to remain ‘outsiders’ and simply ‘go with the flow’, the bully boss is successful in maintaining his/her position of power and control. If, however, any employee dares to question the bully boss’s policies or actions, the employee can expect to face the boss’s retribution. Retribution may come in the form of reprimands, threats and (in extreme cases) material punishments such as demotions or suspensions.
The bully boss can also – and all too often does – appear in the leadership of service clubs, volunteer-based groups and other non-commercial organizations. Almost invariably, the bully boss, as President of the club, surrounds him/herself with enforcers and re-enforcers and alienates any non-outsiders – anyone who disagrees with with their top-down policies and poses a threat to their power and control.
I have recently been the victim of this kind of treatment, from the leaders of a group I founded over twenty six years ago (GenderMosaic). The president along with his clique of enforcers systematically drove many talented, dedicated and valuable members out of the organization when they questioned his leadership style, agenda and decisions.
My solution was to leave the old group and start a new one, based on bottom-up, member-driven policies and agendas.
As for the bullies, I feel sorry for them. If the leadership of a small group on the fringes of the GLBT community means so much to them, their lives must be very sad and empty, indeed.