In the movies, it’s obvious who the school bullies are. They strut menacingly down the hallway as the kids part like the Red Sea, and the bullies pick out their victim and shove him in a locker. Everybody laughs as the bullies strut away, and the poor kid in the locker is humiliated.
In real life, bullying isn’t always as clear-cut, but it hurts just as much. Threats, intimidation, and physical violence are all a part of bullying.
Why do bullies, well, bully? Look through the lens of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory and it can start to make sense (not that it’s okay to do, just that you can understand why someone does it).
Bullies Are Just Looking for Love (in all the wrong places)
Yes, bullies are just searching for love. This might be hard to wrap your head around! But let me tell you about Hector.
I asked him why he bullied the other kids. “I get them before they can get me!” he announced.
I wasn’t surprised to learn Hector had only in the last six months come from a school where he had been extremely bullied. The pain was still fresh and he didn’t want to be in that situation ever again. So, he got them first, as he said.
“Sounds like you are wearing a suit of armor, my friend,” I said to Hector. “But is it heavy? Do you get tired hiding who you really are from people?”
Many students at the school feared Hector. And here he was, crying uncontrollably in my office because he was lonely and afraid. The armor was much too heavy for him to carry.
Hector wanted desperately to connect with other students at the school. Believe it or not, he actually wanted to make friends! Genuine friendship and love can only exist without control. He was too scared to put down the controlling ways so he could truly connect with others. Connecting with others is scary business.
How Choice Theory Explains Bullying
Bullying behaviors are really just the 7 Disconnecting Habits in action. People use these habits to gain a sense of overall control either over other people or just their general surroundings.
In Hector’s case, he wanted to be the one in charge of deciding whether or not people liked him – even though it meant having everyone choose not to like him! This was protective on his part, so he didn’t have to feel the pain of rejection or being bullied himself. Bullying was also a way to distract others from knowing just how lonely he was.
Remember how I said Choice Theory identifies the 5 Basic Human Needs as:
- Love and belonging
These needs often conflict, and you need look no further than Hector to understand what I mean. His basic human need for love and belonging was running afoul of his need for power. Bullying was his not-so-effective solution to satisfying both.
When we are desperate to stay connected, we can choose all sorts of behaviors in the short-term…but not think of the long-term damage to the relationship.
For many teens, trying to stay connected within their social circles can often be like balancing on the thin strands of an intricate powerweb held together by a few very power-hungry people. People who have learned to meet their needs of love and belonging with the 7 Distancing Habits.
These power-hungry people are hurting so much inside they ignore how they’re not following their beliefs of being a kind and caring person, or being true to their friends. They carry on with this internal conflict.
I’ll be writing more about bullying in the weeks to come: how teenagers can support each other, bullies or no.
“Ritterrüstung (suit of armor)- Grandmasters palace, Valletta, Malta” by Flickr user Martin Fisch is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0