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Stop Punishing the Bullies!

Updated on August 26, 2018
jessicajlockhart profile image

Creator of Humanology, the discipline that explains human beings; Optimism Coaching, to recover energy and drive and Personal Essence.

Bullying and abuse are everyone's responsibility

Bullies attack victims. Victims are sent away to "be protected." Bullies find new victims.

Violence shares common traits, no matter where it happens

I work with human beings. Many of them come to me because the world is a dangerous place, in which they suffer from aggression and violence. Or because their children do. There might be violence at home or in school. It might be verbal or physical, but violence after all.

Violence usually starts small and grows in intensity. Although all kinds of violence share a lot of common characteristics, no matter where they happen, today I would like to focus on the one that affects many children and teens in a place where they should feel safe: school. That type of violence, most commonly known as bullying, can be devastating and affects not only the direct victim, but everyone else involved. Let me explain this...

Victims are "protected" while bullies are "punished"

There is a victim and there is a bully. The bully insults or physically hurts the first one while others in the group laugh or even cheer. The adults in the institution are somehow made aware of this. Their most usual reaction is to send the victim away "to be protected;" maybe to another class or even to a new school or environment. The bully might be punished for the violent acts. Let's imagine that the victim is a girl bullied by a classmate, a sadly common event. What happens next?

Bullies, victims and onlookers are all affected

The victim goes away feeling guilty. How could she not?! She is the one being sent away! With her go her questions and her doubts, her growing belief that "there's something wrong with her." That belief is a seed that was originally planted in her by her abuser. This is quite common to all victims, I should add; it begins small and almost non-violent and then it grows in intensity. The seed is then watered and nurtured through repetition. Each time the victim is bullied, that little belief, whichever shape it takes: 'I'm not good enough. I don't deserve to have friends. I am horrible. I can never be liked by others,' becomes reinforced and strengthened in her mind. Whenever others look the other way or, even worse, cheer the bully or laugh at the abuser's attacks, that belief gets confirmed once more, but now from different sources, thus making it more firmly established in the victim's mind: 'See? I was right. I am horrible. I don't deserve any friends. I'm not like them.' And so, little by little, the victim starts actually believing those thoughts and becoming a true victim; a victim not only of the abuser, but of her own thinking. That is the reason why victims are so often attacked no matter where they go and why the abuse is repeated. From the moment they start believing their "victimhood," they subconsciously start behaving like victims. They instantly change their demeanour when a possible perpetrator approaches them. They might seem to shrink onto themselves. They might even start stuttering or blushing. Their muscles tense and their heart rate grows. Abusers will subconsciously detect these invisible signals and pick them as victims once more. This is the sad reality of many victims today: they're sent away to be protected but the fear and the assaults continue.

The bully feels rewarded. Not only did she manage to step on somebody else to grow bigger, but she was strong enough to cause some stir and attract attention onto herself. But is that all? She is (sometimes) punished for her actions, maybe sent home or even made to do something. What we should consider, though, is why the bully bullied to begin with. Some may say that she wanted to hurt the victim. Allow me, please, to disagree. If there's one thing I learned as a humanologist for many years, is that human beings only act for one of two reasons: to obtain some kind of pleasure or to avoid some kind of pain. If we were to analyze the reasons why the bully bullied the victim based on that dichotomy, this is what we might find:

  • To obtain some kind of gain: The bully bullies victims to feel bigger and stronger than others; to gain recognition and admiration; to grow in the eyes of somebody else, even sometimes her parents or elder siblings... She believes that social recognition or "showing everyone how powerful" she is can grant her greater popularity and raise the esteem others have for her. Oftentimes, these bullies come from backgrounds in which this kind of behavior is praised, in which their role models act exactly that way themselves. The bullies, then, grow to believe that they should also behave like their heroes and they do. They might be punished at school but silently rewarded at home, for example. That is their gain, the gleam in somebody's eyes, the admiration caused in others, the feeling of success...
  • To avoid some kind of pain: And sometimes, still, they act the way they do to not be bullied themselves. Many of those abusers abuse others to show somebody how tough they are themselves, to prevent being bullied by even bigger bullies. Sadly enough, the bigger bullies often live in their closest vicinity: their home, their family, their neighborhood. These bullies bully others, then, as a way to show the bigger bullies that they are learning and shouldn't be questioned or attacked.

In both cases, the victim is just the vehicle. No bully really cares for their victim. If a victim leaves, another one will be chosen, so that the status quo can be maintained. Unfortunately, victims are not aware of this. Victims can not understand that they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that their abusers couldn't care less if they were themselves or just any other victim. Which is tremendously important, given that victims become victims because they start believing that there is something wrong with THEM!

Bullies are victims as well, though, aren't they? They're victims of their own needs and desires. They "need" to bully others in order to maintain their position and maybe stop being victims themselves. They might only have that model to follow or feel that they are nobody unless they do what they do. By being punished, a message is sent to them: 'you're doing it and receiving recognition!' which was the original goal they really had. By punishing them, they are getting exactly what they think they want.

But victims and bullies are not the only ones involved in many cases, are they? What about the witnesses, the onlookers, the rest of the class or the rest of society? What about those who see what's going one but choose to do nothing? They're also receiving their own messages and confirming their own beliefs, aren't they? There are those who support the bully and laugh with her because they believe that will lead to their being accepted into a group. There are others who look and do nothing because they might be hurt and become victims or hurt others and become bullies. All of them, no exception, are also trying to avoid some pain or obtain some gain. Little by little, they will also see their own beliefs strengthened: 'it's safer to do nothing. I am the better person because I choose to just look. I am becoming one of the group, yay!' Their behavior will be repeated over and over again. Their reactions also act as reinforcement of the beliefs held by both, the bully and the victim. To the bully, the message they're giving away is: 'you are one tough girl, I won't mess with you,' thus confirming her beliefs and desires. To the victim, their message is: 'you don't deserve my defending you because you're not worth it.' Thus, when only bullies and victims are involved in solving situations of this nature, the remaining majority of actors are being neglected and ignored. Their reactions are the fuel that feeds the attacks. Without witnesses, most bullies would not bully, as their goal would not be met.

Bullying and abuse will only be changed by questioning their underlying beliefs

Understanding and helping human beings is not as simple as it may look at first sight. As we see in this kind of situation, the problem is not just limited to two individuals, the bully and the victim, but to everyone involved. Unless an integral approach is used, the situation will replicate itself wherever those actors go. Bullies will get their recognition and support from other onlookers, victims will confirm their weakness and worthlessness and witnesses will reaffirm their role.

If bullying and abuse are to be stopped, action needs to be taken at all levels, and beliefs need to be identified, exposed and questioned for bullies, victims and onlookers alike. Beliefs are the foundations upon which actions grow. Unless they are exposed and questioned, nothing will change. Bullies will continue bullying; victims will continue lowering their heads and onlookers will continue strengthening everybody else's beliefs.

I invite you to read my next article on how to tackle abuse and violence by managing their underlying beliefs. Soon to be published here, too.

© 2018 Jessica J Lockhart

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    • jessicajlockhart profile imageAUTHOR

      Jessica J Lockhart 

      17 months ago from Switzerland

      Yes, Mary Norton. Bullying has for too long be taken as something between two. It usually never is, though. I think it's time to change the way in which we all deal with it. :)

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      17 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      You are right that everyone present has some responsibility as happens in our society. Sadly, many of us don’t want to get involved. I believe with you that bullies are often victims, too. They need as much help.

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