Have you ever wondered why bullies do what they do? Here are eight reasons that explain why bullies are so mean.

Why do bullies become bullies? People who stand up to their bullies and win early on seldom give this a second thought. These lucky few simply consider standing up to a bully as one of childhood’s rites of passage that they’ve completed. For those who don’t stand up to their bullies, however, it’s often a different story. It’s not uncommon for bullying victims to seek answers and explanation for the torment and pain they’ve suffered. Victims and former victims typically ponder this for three reasons:

  1. Knowing why bullies target them might help them change these attributes to end their suffering.
  2. If they knew how their bully thinks, perhaps they could reach him/her in such a way as to end the bullying and heal the bully’s wounds.
  3. They’re seeking some sort of closure to a particularly painful chapter in their lives.

A Better Understanding of Bullying

So, who do you turn to when you want to know why bullies bully people? How about someone who’s dealt with bullies nearly his entire life? Though I didn’t used to want to admit this, I’ve experienced bullying in many places including my childhood home, elementary school, and junior high. When I faced bullying in high school, I finally put an end to it once and for all.. or so I thought. In my adult life, I’ve experienced bullying in the workplace, social situations, and even in relationships. Having been through one end of this rabbit hole to the other, I’ve come up with these eight observations on why bullies bully people. To be clear, the reasons listed below tend to focus on bullying encountered in school situations.

1. Bullies Have Problems at Home

Duh! These broken and damaged people weren’t just born that way. Someone did this to them, and that someone usually is in their own home. In most cases, it’s a parent, step-parent, or older sibling that’s abusing the child who will become a bully. In these situations, the bully bullies to regain his or her power back. It’s no small irony that abused children treat their victims the way they’ve been treated at home. Taking out their frustrations on someone smaller, weaker, and less self-confident offers a temporary sense of relief and empowerment to the bully.

2. Bullies Feel Socially Uncomfortable

Some people have social anxieties and deep-rooted feelings of insecurity. Some of these people externalize these feelings, which manifests in bullying others. By projecting their negative feelings onto their victims then punishing their victims for having these qualities, the bully successfully avoids dealing with his/her social issues. This helps the bully feel more in control.

3. Bullies Seek Approval and Validation

I’ve seen too many people bully others for attention for it to be mere coincidence. School-aged kids are obsessed with status and fitting in. This is why very few people ever stand up to bullies on behalf of the person being bullied. Laughing at the victim and cheering on the bully are far less risky behaviors, both physically and socially. (The do-gooder could be beaten up or lose social standing.) Bullies know this, which is why many of them tend to put their bullying on display. Simply put, it provides them with positive rewards for their negative behavior. This makes it difficult for them to stop bullying, even when told to do so by authority figures.

4. Bullies Establish and Reinforce the Hierarchy

Humans are pack animals. It’s in our basic nature establishing and reinforcing a hierarchy within the group. This drive is bio-chemically hard-wired into our brains as a survival strategy that goes back to our primitive hunter-gatherer days. No one group of people is more moved by these urges than bullies. They instill fear and terror into others to establish their place as close to the top as they can get in the hierarchy. Note: This behavior is common in controlled group settings, which explains why there is so much violence at schools, jails, and prisons, as well as subways and buses.

5. Bullies Reinforce Social Norms

This is an extension of the point above. Again, this is a throwback to humankind’s primitive days. The bully uses violence and threats to teach someone, particularly newcomers, the unwritten laws of the land. Why do you think the new kid in school typically runs into a bully within his or her first week? As a former new kid, I can still hear my former bullies say, “Someone’s gotta show that little punk how we do things around here!”

6. Bullies Need an Escape from the Hell of Their Own Minds

Some bullies suffer from un-diagnosed mental illnesses when they’re kids. Some might want to argue this, but I’ve seen it too many times. Whether it’s bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, or a similar condition, the kids who bully their peers end up being diagnosed with these conditions. As kids, they don’t know what’s going on. All they know is that it’s a living hell inside their heads and they need a way out. Prior to self medicating with drugs and alcohol, these kids will often viciously and ruthlessly bully others. I can only imagine that the thrill and/or distraction of tormenting their victims offers these bullies a temporary form of relief.

7. Bullying Maks Bullies Feels Good

Sometimes, it’s just that simple. Whether we like it or not, there are those rare individuals who take pleasure in making and seeing others suffer. Generally speaking, these folks lack impulse control and often act out on their darkest fantasies. As kids, bullying becomes a sport and pastime, usually their favorite. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that kids with these traits grow up to become psychopaths and sociopaths. We can only hope that there’s prison cells somewhere with these people’s names on them.

8. Bullies Bully for Material Gain

“Gimme your lunch money, faggot!”  If you’ve ever heard that or a similar phrase, you’ve met someone who bullies for profit.  Kids who develop predatory tendencies early on are good at choosing their future victims.  For them, bullying and violence become a way of gaining material resources.  Their early successes also reward and reinforce their behavior; thus, it’s nearly impossible to get these kids to see bullying as “wrong.”  (They think: How can it be wrong when I’m gettin’ shit from it?)  Although I don’t have any studies to back up this claim, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that kids who bull for material gain end up escalating this behavior as adults.  Here are your future muggers, strong-arm robbers, etc.

The Psychology of Why Bullies Bully

While it might seem that I went into great detail here, this is just an overview. The thoughts expressed above are akin to the guy feelings I’ve felt throughout the years I’ve dealt with bullies. Feel free to use this as a general tool for assessing why bullies do what they do. If you were a victim of bullying, I hope this gives you some answers. Hopefully, it also provides you with a small amount of comfort and the knowledge that you aren’t alone in your suffering. In the future, I plan to delve deeper into this topic. In future bull blogs, we’ll look at psychology and biochemistry of bullies, as well as provide a primer on social versus asocial violence.Until then, protect yourself at all times.

About J.P. Ribner, Indie Author

J.P. Ribner is the author of the Viking fantasy adventure series, The Berserker’s Saga. Currently, the saga features three novels – Legacy of the Bear, Prophecy of the Bear, and The Berserker’s Return. He’s currently in the process of editing his next book, Wasted Youth: A Flint Punk Rock Memoir. J.P. lives in the Metro Detroit area with his wife and sons.