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How To Non-Violently Get A Bully To Back Off

Updated on October 14, 2012

The Premise

Understanding the psychological nature of bullying is the best way for us to confront it, without trying to overcome it with violence or other incendiary means. Getting a bully to back off will almost always entail taking steps towards diminishing the kick they get out of imposing their way with the victim.

So, Thooghun, what is this kick you speak of?

Bullies feed on perceived weakness in order to aggrandize themselves. There is an emotional transaction taking place, whether they know it or not, which involves bolstering their own self-esteem and status by leeching their victims'. While bullying may appear callously wanton and sporadic, the bully is acting out of a deep seated emotional need. If they are deprived of this influx of illusory self-esteem (the kick), they will either look for it elsewhere or stop entirely.


When It's Out Of Control

Occasionally bullying can present more than just an emotional threat, it can lead to an existential one. If you are certain that your case of bullying is more than just empty air, or you are flirting with drastic notions such as suicide, know that there are many options available to you, including free helplines, professional support (which I am not qualified or prepared to give you) and anti bullying movements that you can seek help from.

Gaining Confidence

Starving the bully of their fragile source of self-esteem requires the victim to stop sacrificing their own strength by refusing to allow a bully to humiliate or coerce via physical or emotional intimidation.

Alas, this is easier said than done -- and in no way entails balling your fists and telling the bully that if it's a fight he wants, it's a fight he gets. What it does entail, however, is that taking baby-steps towards improving your own confidence will whittle away how much of a kick the bully is able to extract from you. Think of the relationship between a bully and their victim on the same slide, the stronger the victim, the weaker the bully and vice-versa.

Forget about the bully for a moment. Let's have a look at what we can do to to improve our self-confidence right now.

  • Tell an adult. Most victims are either too embarrassed to admit to being a victim, or fear being labeled as weak for not "dealing with it" themselves. These are illusions which are formidable passive weapons in the arsenal of a bully.
  • Sticks and stones. Even if you suffer a blow to your dignity, even if the words cut like barbed wire, know that they are looking to feed off of your reaction. Realizing that you are what you choose to be, and are not limited to the box that others would cast on you, is an enlightening experience which creates confidence and severely reduces the effect of judgement cast on you.
  • Don't isolate yourself. Staying in a group, associating yourself with a group of people (taking up new hobbies is a good start) and avoiding places where bullying is known to occur (including Facebook and other intangible "locations") are all in your power.

Confronting A Bully

Most victims are considered "easy targets" by bullies because they don't retaliate. How do we stand up to the bully without worsening the overall situation?

You needn't make it a showdown! Simply refuse to be goaded into a reaction. By smiling in the face of our tormentors we are letting them know that the show is over and they need to find another actor to play-out their emotional pantomime. By not reacting violently you are also casting a cold-fire on their temper in the long-term, demonstrating self-confidence and readjusting the power imbalance that previously existed between you.

When To Confront A Bully

Ideally, the perfect scenario to have a face-to-face is as follows:

  • Confront the bully when he is alone.
  • Confront the bully when there are others, ideally authority figures, nearby in case the bully reacts wildly.
  • Be honest and not incendiary. Let them know you've had enough and ask them directly to stop it.

Simply because bullying is an ongoing process you should be able to find a good moment to engage a bully in this way. For those who feel that this kind of face-to-face is simply unbearable, focus on simply saying what you have to say and not on what the bully replies. The act of having confronted the bully itself, and not what is said, is usually enough to convince the bully you are no longer the most accessible target. In short, if they wish to make a scene -- let them.


A Bully Is A Victim Too

While the actions of many bullies label them to many as sub-human scum, it can help victims of bullying to realize that beneath the apparent confidence of a bully's exterior lies a brewing storm, a ticking time-bomb of pent up insecurity and anger. They need you to feel better about themselves.You certainly do not need them. This dependency is not healthy and grants you a lot more power than you think.

Toppling the statue of their strength and aggression is often as simple as realizing that they too suffer, and in many cases are also victims. While this does not justify their actions in any shape or form, it does remind us quite unequivocally that they too are human.


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    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thank you both for your insightful answers!

      @abby: That is an awful scenario, and I emphasize. Ultimately the bully chose to force a reaction and there are no clear-cut answers in these situations other to involve support and keeping your chin up.

      @Algar: Thank you very much, have a great day too!

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, very interesting subject, every day we hear more about bullying and it's hard to think of the right things to say if one day our child is a victim of a bully (I really hope that won't happen to my kids...)... Your article really sheds some light on the subject... Well done! Voted up and interesting and sharing! Have a great day!

    • abbykorinnelee profile image

      Abigayle Malchow 5 years ago from Ripon Wisconsin

      This is a very well written and accurate hub about bullies. Dealing with them is very difficult when you are the victim and it seems the world is going to end when its happening to you. I have been bullied but as a child they didn't have cell phones and texting or social networking on top of bullying you at school. My son is being bullied again and unfortunately this kid hit him square in the face, and he had to defend himself. Now, the aftermath is the taunting of who exactly "won" the fight. All his friends sided with the kid in the wrong because my son is the new kid and the other kid they grew up with in this small town. I tried telling hiim what you stated in this article but its not sinking in that if he follows it the odds are it will stop and come out in his favor in the end. I read this article and tomorrow he agreed to sit down with me and go over it with me so he can see that its what is the best thing to do. We are lucky that the school does take it seriously but at the same time its adults that don't understand exactly how the new technology and the things they do are worse than what we went through and they don't always see just how serious it is. Thank you for the hub, it might actually show my son that being the person that they can't get to and can't affect with their words and actions will make him a more confident and likeable person and he will gain respect from all those that were bullied by this kid or that stood by and did nothing about it.