Self-defense>Criminal behavior>Bullies

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Bullies are everywhere, from the playground to the workplace. They start their bully ways as children. Some grow out of it, some see the error of their ways, some are shown the error of their ways, and some never change. Bullies lack self-confidence and self-esteem, so to feel important, they think they must bully those who possess these traits. Their philosophy of social hierarchy is:
  • I am at this level.
  • You are at a higher level.
  • Rather than me working to achieve or exceed your level, I will work to bring you down to my level.
  • Then we will both be at the same low level.
  • Even better, I will bring you down below my level so I am at a higher level than you.

What is bullying?

Bullying is a conscious and willful act of aggression and/or manipulation by one or more people against another person or persons. It is sometimes premeditated and sometimes opportunistic; it is sometimes directed mainly towards one victim and sometimes against a group; it sometimes occurs serially and sometimes randomly.

Bullying is a cowardly act because it is done to cause hurt without fear of recrimination. The victimized person is unlikely to retaliate effectively, if at all, nor are they likely to tell anyone about it. Bullying relies on those who are marginally involved, often referred to as observers, onlookers, or watchers, who do nothing to stop the bullying and sometimes to become actively involved in supporting it.

Bullying contains the following elements:
  • Harm is intended.
  • There is an imbalance of power.
  • It is often organized and systematic.
  • It is repetitive, occurring over a period; or it can be a random but serial activity carried out by someone who is feared for this behavior.
  • Hurt experienced by a victim of bullying can be external (physical) and/or internal (psychological).


Bullying can take many forms: it can be physical, emotional, or verbal or a combination of these. It may involve one person bullying another, a group bullying against one person, or groups bullying against other groups (gangs). It is not unlike other forms of victimization and in that it involves:
  • Imbalance of power
  • Differing emotional tones, the victim will be upset whereas the bully is cool and in control.
  • Blaming the victim for what has happened.
  • Lack of concern on the part of the bully for the feelings and concerns of the victim.
  • Lack of compassion. 

Who are bullies?

Bullies are very often people who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are experiencing life situations they cannot cope with that leave them feeling helpless and out of control. They may have poor social skills, do not fit in, and cannot meet the expectations of their family, school, or bosses. They bully to feel competent, successful, to control someone else, and to get some relief from their feelings of powerlessness.

What makes bullies

Things that might cause someone to turn into a bully:
  • They may be picked on by someone else so they pick on a weaker person so that they can feel strong.
  • They may not have any friends and be jealous of people that do have friends.
  • They may be picked on by their parents.
  • They may be having trouble understanding their schoolwork.
  • They may not know how to feel happy.
  • Things that victims may have that the bully does not have:
  • Sense of humor
  • Interesting life
  • Friends
  • Hobbies and sport interests
  • People that like them
  • Parents that love them

How bullies bully

Most bullies tease and harass. Some use force to achieve their purposes, but that takes effort, so most rely on intimidation. The threat of a punch in the nose is worse than an actual punch in the nose. Once punched, it is over, except for the healing. However, a threat of harm will have you leery, cautious, and worrying for weeks and months to come. When a bully says, "You better watch your back because I'll get you!" it is better to deal with the situation immediately than to worry about it for weeks. One way to deal with the threat is to say, "No, I won't be watching my back because we are going to settle this NOW!" and then take action to settle it now.

Some bullies get their way most of the time, so they continue their bully ways their entire life, and some even become successful in life. But their life is always stressful, and their successes are usually gained illegally. Bullies do not lead what most would consider a desirable life, even when they outwardly appear to be successful, such as having lots of money and things. Most times their bully ways lead them into failure and/or judicial or non-judicial punishment, but sometimes they live an affluent life and die of old age. So is life; nobody ever said life is fair.

Victims of bullies

Bullies choose the weak or those perceived as weak as their victims. Their victims tend to have the following characteristics:
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Insecurity.
  • A lack of social skills.
  • Not able to pick up on social cues.
  • Cry or become emotionally distraught easily.
  • Unable to defend or stand up for themselves
Some people seem to provoke their victimization. They will tease bullies and make themselves a target by egging the bully on and then, not knowing when to stop, they are unable to defend themselves effectively when the balance of power shifts to the bully.

People who are not bullied tend to have better social skills and conflict management skills. They are more willing to assert themselves about differences without being aggressive or confronting. They suggest compromises and alternate solutions. They tend to be more aware of people's feelings and are the people who can be most helpful in resolving disputes and assisting other victims to get help.

When your child IS the bully

Your first response to this will probably be to become defensive. You should disarm the situation and buy yourself some time to process what is being said. For example, "Instead of labeling my child, please tell me what happened." Make yourself listen. Remember that this discussion is ultimately about the well-being of your child, regardless of how it is being framed.

Even if your child is behaving aggressively or acting like a bully, remember that this behavior is probably coming from your child's feelings of vulnerability. You need to look for what is going on in your child's interactions with others and what is going on internally, causing your child to behave that way.

In talking with your child, do not blame the child. Do not get into a discussion about the "whys" of what happened. Your discussion should focus on several key points:
  • Bullying is not acceptable in our family or society.
  • If you are feeling frustrated, angry, or aggressive, here are some things you can do.
  • Remember to role-play, act out the new behaviors.
  • Ask, how can I help you with this? Who could you go to at school if you see yourself getting into this type of situation again?
  • Specify concretely the consequences if aggression or bullying continues.
  • You want to stop the behavior, understand your child's feelings, and then teach and reward more appropriate behavior.

Preventing bullying

As soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behavior, and teach them better ways to express their feelings and wishes. Children do not learn to solve these kinds of problems and get along by themselves. We need to teach them.

When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, intervene immediately and consistently. In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, "She's not my friend and she can't come to my party." Respond with, "You don't have to be friends with her today, but it's not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can't come to your party."

In the early elementary grades, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from us, "It's not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she cannot play with you?” Kids don't have to play with everyone or even like everyone, but they cannot be cruel about excluding others.

Boys who are physically small or weak are more prone to victimization. Making fun, picking on, and other forms of bullying need to be identified in their earliest stages. The message needs to be crystal clear: This is not okay. Think about how he must feel. How could you include him and let other kids know it is not all right to treat others this way?

Children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach your children to speak up on behalf of children being bullied. "Don't treat her that way, it's not nice." "Hitting is not a good way to solve problems, let's find a teacher and talk about what happened."

Encourage your kids to tell you, a teacher, or another adult when they are having a problem. They need to let someone know early before the situation escalates.

Explain the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is when you report something just to get someone in trouble. Telling is when you report that you or someone else is in danger.

Insist on the buddy system to and from school and in the neighborhood. Children give each other support, and a child who has friends is less of a target. Encourage kids to reach out to other kids. That way they can watch out for one another.

Helping a child deal with bullying

First, help teach the child to avoid being an easy target. Start with posture, voice, and eye contact. These can communicate a lot about whether you are vulnerable. Some things to do are:
  • Just as in the prevention of child abuse, role-play is what makes the skills real. Walkthrough situations and have your child practice different responses. Discuss prevention techniques such as staying with other kids. Do not get involved with bullies in any kind of interchange. Do not take it personally; it is the bully’s problems that are causing the situation, not you.
  • Practice with a mirror or even a video.
  • Tell your child to avoid isolated places where no one can see or hear him or her. He or she should learn to be vigilant for suspicious individuals or trouble brewing.
  • If bullying starts, the child might be able to deflect it with humor or by changing the subject. The child should run over a list of positive attributes in their mind. This reminds him or her that they are worthy of something better than bullying behavior.
  • Teach your child not to obey the commands of the bully. Often it is better to walk away than to comply.
  • The parent may help the child make positive friends. If the child hangs around with a group, he or she is less likely to be a target.
  • Finally, if the child sticks up for other children he or she sees being bullied, people may get the idea that he/ or she is not someone who tolerates bullies.
The child must learn to discriminate the difference between social bullying and more threatening situations that are more dangerous physically. If the child is in an isolated place and truly feels physically threatened, they should give the bully the item demanded. However, if someone is demanding that the child get into the car of a stranger, the child should resist with as much force as possible. Once the child gets away, he or she should notify a responsible adult as soon as possible.

Dealing with bullying

The worst thing you can do to a bully is to be a successful, productive, respected member of your community, be it your school, neighborhood, or workplace. Then they have failed to bring you down to their level.
  • Bullies always take the easy way. It is easier to intimidate the weak than to fight the strong. In the 1958 Marlon Brando movie The Young Lions, Montgomery Clift plays a young, quiet, and slight Jewish G.I. who, while in camp, gets beaten up repeatedly by the platoon bully. The bully is all bravado when picking on a little guy, but later when it comes time to fight in France, it is Clift who is the hero and the bully who is the coward.
  • Bullies only fight when they think they will easily win, so they only choose fights with the seemingly weak. When dealing with a bully, do not back down. This means they won, so they will be back to bully you again. Do not confront the bully but do not let them dictate what you are doing.
  • Do not challenge a bully unless you can back up your challenge and are willing to accept that the bully will probably be back with reinforcements later. To not deliver ultimatums unless you are willing to carry them out. If you say, "Get out of my way!" and the bully does not move, then you have many other options. If you say, "Get out of my way or I will move you!" and the bully does not move, then your only options are to either attempt to move the bully or to back down and let the bully win.
  • Be confident. To deal with a bully, exude quiet self-confidence and do not let them draw you into their liar. Do not act superior or snobbish, just act in a rational, calm, unemotional, professional manner. The martial arts teach you to act this way. With martial arts training, your posture, mannerisms, and demeanor project a confident person that is ready to handle anything. It is not a conscious thing; it is just the way you act even when not aware of it. You project the image of a person who can handle anything. Bullies do not want to deal with this type of person; they prefer to deal with the weak. Bullies will soon move on to weaker opponents.
  • Be brave. When you are frightened, anxious, or afraid of another person, it can be tough to act bravely. However, sometimes acting brave is enough to stop a bully. If you walk as though you are not afraid and hold your head high, it might not be so much fun for the bully and he or she might just give up. You can stand up for yourself with words by telling the bully to stop or by walking away. Ignoring the bully or pretending the bully does not exist are also ways to stop the bully's behavior.
  • Do not be afraid. Believe in nothing the bully has been saying to you. A bully works best with lies and deception. Do not succumb to the lies. You are not the problem, the bully is.
  • Eye contact. Do not try to stare down a bully. Make casual eye contact and act uninterested. If you maintain eye contact; it may be interpreted as a challenge.
  • Stay around friends. If you are being bullied, sometimes an older brother or sister can help by looking out for you. It is also a good idea to surround yourself with your classmates or friends and try to remain part of a group. Bullies can be very brave when their victims are alone. If you have friends or classmates who are being bullied, watch out for them, and try to get all your friends or classmates to be with that person before and after school.
  • Collect proof. Keep a record of what has happened, such as the words used, the action taken, the frequency, venue, time, etc. Be careful and only write down things that have happened. Your records will be useful when you want to prove who is the bully or when planning to take legal action.
  • Do not keep it to yourself. Do not try to deal with the problem on your own. There is nothing wrong with asking for help; we all must do it at some point during our lives. It shows how strong you are and how you can deal with the problem in an adult way.
  • Tell someone. The first and most important thing to do is tell someone. Find an adult or some authority figure you can trust and explain the situation to them. If they do not listen, do not give up–find someone else to talk to.
  • Talk to your family or close friends. Let it out of your head; do not keep it inside. It is good to know that there will be people supporting you.
  • Tell the truth. When telling someone what has happened, do not be tempted to make anything up or exaggerate. Not only is it not good to lie (something that bullies often do), it never works out in the end. When people find out you have made something up, they will not believe anything else you say.
  • Speak out. Even if you are not being bullied, you can take a stand against it. If you see bullying occur, tell an adult. Everyone needs to make it unacceptable for any form of bullying to occur anywhere.
  • Do not blame yourself. It is not your fault that you are being bullied. The people who are doing this have the problem, not you. If you can try to accept this and feel better about yourself, it will give you greater confidence.

Tips on dealing with bullies

At work

Talk to a person in a high position in the company about what has been going on. If the person does not want to believe you, talk to your local union, or employment governing body for advice.

At Lunch

  • Move your seat. Ask a friend to move with you. If you are not allowed to change seats, ask an adult if you can change it. If they say no, tell your parents so they can talk to the person in charge to get your seat changed.
  • Sit close to an adult.  Bullies cannot bully around an adult, so sit as close to one as you can. If an adult who is supervising does not see the problem, tell a teacher you trust or your parents.
  • Be the first one to enter the lunchroom and the first one to leave. Do not waste time in the halls when going to lunch or when getting back to class after lunch. Wasting time only gives bullies more opportunity to bother you.

In the Hallway

  • Always be aware of who is ahead of you. If you see a bully or teaser ahead of you, do not pass the person and allow him or her to bother you by noticing that you are there. Take your time and slow down a little so they get farther ahead of you.
  • Always be aware of who is behind you. Do not allow a bully or teaser to stay behind you in the hall. They will most likely follow you until you have reached a part of the school with no teachers around so they can harass you without fear of being caught. If you notice a bully or teaser behind you, stop and let them pass. Stop to say hello to a favorite teacher or go to the front office or the nurse’s office to say hello.
  • Go a different way when possible. If your school has a first and second floor, you may have a choice of taking more than one way to class. Choose the safest way. Even if the safest one is the longest one, it is worth the long walk to prevent allowing the bully or teaser to bother you.

On the Bus

  • Sit near the front of the bus. Sitting close to the driver will make bullies more cautious.
  • Do not stay silent. Unless you feel that another kid will physically attack you if you speak up, remaining completely silent while kids are harassing you will only give them a reason to keep doing it. Try one of the following:
  • Directly ask them to stop. Be calm and confident.
  • Distract them. Start a different conversation that might interest them.
  • Diffuse their attack. Give them some sign their words are harmless to you, such as saying, “Yeah, right!” or try laughing along with them, even if you do not think it is funny.
  • Sit with friends. There is strength in numbers. You are less likely to be singled out if you are sitting with others.


  • Do not respond to the message. Although it is very tempting to tell them off, it is not a good idea. This may only get them angry and cause more problems for you. They also can print out your message and use it against you by showing it to teachers or to the principal to say you are bothering them and not the other way around.
  • Get out of the conversation. If someone is making fun of you or is threatening you, leave that conversation. Write down their screen name and report them to your online provider.
  • Print any threatening or harassing messages. You cannot prove it is happening if you do not print out the evidence. Show the printed-out message to your parents. It is against the law to threaten or harass someone online.
  • Report inappropriate messages to your online provider. Most online services will suspend individuals who violate online rules. Let them get what is coming to them and report the violation to get them off the net.

Popular bullies

  • Do not exchange insults with popular kids. This will only make them try harder to make you look bad in front of others. Try ignoring them when they have an audience or agree with them to get them to stop, such as by saying “You’re right, I am a terrible basketball player.” Later, when they do not have an audience, you can approach them to tell them to stop.
  • Do not accept getting teased to fit in with the popular group. Some kids tolerate teasing to be accepted by a popular group of kids. If you are hoping they will stop teasing you as soon as they get to know you, it most likely will not happen.
  • Do not hesitate to report bullying or harassment. Many popular kids are concerned about remaining popular, not only among their classmates but among their teachers. Mention what is happening to a teacher or counselor you trust. An adult talking with a student in this situation may be enough to stop it.


The key to comebacks is to avoid the temptation to trade name-calling or personal insults with the bully or teaser. A great comeback line is brief and to the point and leaves the bully or teaser feeling that they did not get to you.

Always look them in the eye and keep cool, anger is a sign to them that what they are doing is working. Try some of the following, however always remember, if another student is threatening physical violence toward you, do not say anything to him or her and do your best to get away from the situation and to where a teacher or other adult is located.

Some comebacks ae:
  • "Why do you waste your time saying that stuff to me? Try someone else."
  • "Those things are ridiculous, but whatever."
  • "I don't do this to you. You should really think about that."
  • "I'm not sure why you keep saying these things to me, but it really doesn't matter."
  • "Okay. Finished?"
  • "That's funny, but enough already okay?"
  • "You really got me with that one, but enough already okay?"
  • "Here we go again, tell me when you are done."


It may be tempting, but violence will not solve anything. When you use it, you have stooped to their level. Others might even think you are the bully. However, sometimes a situation deteriorates into violence. You try to avoid it, but if things become physical, then so be it. 

Just make sure your actions are in the right. If violence ensues, do not take vengeance on the bully, just contain, or eliminate the threat. How far things go depends upon the situation and how far you are willing to go to live your life in the way you want and not the way the bully wants. Sometimes, people would rather die for what is right than to live as a coward.


  • Letson, T. (2001). [Online]. Available: [2003, December 4].  
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