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MENTAL HEALTH SERIES: Understanding and Helping the Bully
The College of Mental Health Counseling www.collegemhc.com reports on causes of bullying and approaches to helping the bully.
Bullying is associated with family breakdown, depression, suicide, anxiety, and other mental distress for both the perpetrator and victim of bullying.
The child who bullies peers is often a victim of parental bullying in the home. Bullying is any aggressive, demanding, threatening, controlling, judgmental and critical, humiliating, or harassing behavior by children or adults.
The child bully may have observed these aggressive behaviors in parents, and so this becomes part of the repertoire and often the default behavior when a child is experiencing stress, helplessness, or perceived mistreatment or social exclusion. Bullying can take the form of gossip or rejection of others arising from feelings of envy or jealousy.
Another cause of bullying behavior is low self-worth or insecurity. The child or adult resorts to bullying as a way of gaining a feeling of worth or importance through exercising power and aggression, victimizing someone who is perceived to be weak and vulnerable.
The selection of a victim may be a member of a minority group or someone perceived to be different and whose value can be demeaned by the bully’s social group whose members have been manipulated into subservience.
Bullying may be a way of distancing from others, perpetuating the loss of caring in the parental relationship. An indication of this is the emotional reaction of others who are victims or who hear of the behavior and react by wanting to punish or hurt the bully. In this way, they unknowingly become bullies themselves. This dynamic is a key to understanding the mind of the bully.
Bullying may be caused by lack of parental discipline when parents fail to set boundaries on aggressive or destructive behavior of the child. The passive parent unknowingly reinforces bullying behavior by inaction.
The bully may have witnessed a parent bullying another family member or parent and so reacts aggressively when aggression is perceived in others. The bully may also have difficulty distinguishing healthy anger from aggressive or destructive anger and will then react to exact punishment.
Bullying may be a cry for help because the bully feels sad or lonely and is unable to reach for help in a healthy direct way. He wants someone to notice, to care, and to reach out to help him.
The bully needs help for his or her behavior, and often this can only happen when the behavior is reported to those who are responsible within the organization, school, or workplace. A person bullied by a spouse can get help through professional individual or marriage counseling.
The bully can change by receiving help to increase his conscious awareness of the causes, patterns, and triggers of bullying in his own life as described in this report, by grieving the loss of parental caring, learning alternatives to aggressive behavior, risking to become close and caring in relationships, giving and receiving healthy caring, and learning empathy and listening skills.
Group therapy provides an opportunity for bullying behavior to emerge and for change to occur. Psychodrama can a useful tool in which the bully engages in role reversal as a victim and also tries on healthy ways of relating and communicating.
The author of this report is Daniel Keeran, MSW, President of the College of Mental Health Counseling, who has been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. He is the author of Effective Counseling Skills: the practical wording of therapeutic statements and processes on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/
Online Certificate training is available from the College at http://www.ctihalifax.com