Bullying is a behavior that has historically been linked to kids on the playground, but it can happen among people of any age in any setting—schools, households, workplaces. So the main question observers of such conduct have is…why do people bully others?
According to our latest research, we discovered that 1 in 2 people have experienced bullying in some form in the last 12-months. And trust us when we say, we know how difficult it can be to go through it, especially if you don’t fully understand the psychology of bullying.
In this article, we will be exploring the reasons why people bully, using the latest research and psychology to give you a greater understanding of the motives of those who are either bullying you right now or who have done so in the past.
What is bullying?
Although there is no singular definition of bullying because it comes in all shapes, sizes and subtleties, it can be simplified as unwanted behaviour from one person to another, designed to hurt, harm or cause distress to them.
It can be defined as intimidation, insults, humiliation or intimidation. Bullying can be related to age, disability, nationality, race, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or any personal characteristic or hobby of an individual.
Why do people bully?
You may have assumed that you get bullied for whatever makes you different or unique, for example: your race, religion, culture, sexual or gender identity, line of work, fashion sense or weight. By the end of this article, you will know that this is not the case at all.
If you want to talk about it – join our community today to start a conversation about bullying and speak to our amazing digital mentors who can help you anonymously without judgement.
The psychology of being bullied
We will explore the reasons why later on in this article, but most frequently, those who bully others are looking to gain a feeling of power, purpose and control over you.
The easiest way of doing this is to focus on something that is unique about you – either preying on or creating new insecurity with an intent to hurt you either physically or emotionally.
What happens is, we, as the people experiencing bullying, start to internalise it and we become self-critical. We want to understand the reasons why we are being targeted and we start to blame ourselves.
As a result, we try to change or mask that unique characteristic in order to avoid the bullying. We dye our hair, bleach our skin, date people we aren’t interested in and cover up our bodies like they are something to be ashamed of.
It starts to affect our behaviour and the ways in which we see ourselves, which in turn, can go on to impact both our mental and physical health.
The way we see bullying is all wrong. It isn’t because we are different in some way.
The real reasons why people bully others
In a recent Ditch the Label study, we spoke to 7,347 people about bullying. We asked respondents to define bullying and then later asked if, based on their own definition, they had ever bullied anybody. 14% of our overall sample, so that’s 1,239 people, said yes. What we then did was something that had never been done on this scale before; we asked them intimate questions about their lives, exploring things like stress and trauma, home lives, relationships and how they feel about themselves.
In fact, we asked all 7,347 respondents the same questions and then compared the answers from those who had never bullied, those who had bullied at least once and those who bully others daily. This then gave us very strong, scientific and factual data to identify the real reasons why people bully others.
It also scientifically proves that the reason people get bullied is never, contrary to popular belief, because of the unique characteristics of the person experiencing the bullying. So, why do people bully?
Stress and trauma:
Our data shows that those who bully are far more likely than average to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past 5 years. Examples include their parents/guardians splitting up, the death of a relative or the gaining of a little brother or sister.
It makes sense because we all respond to stress in very different ways. Some of us use positive behaviours, such as meditation, exercise and talking therapy – all designed to relieve the stress.
Others use negative behaviours such as bullying, violence and alcohol abuse, which temporarily mask the issues but usually make them worse in the long-term.
The research shows that some people simply do not know how to positively respond to stress and so default to bullying others as a coping mechanism.
66% of the people who had admitted to bullying somebody else were male. Take a minute to think about how guys are raised in our culture and compare that to the ways in which girls are raised. The moment a guy starts to show any sign of emotion, he’s told to man up and to stop being a girl.
For girls, it’s encouraged that they speak up about issues that affect them.
For guys, it’s discouraged and so they start to respond with aggressive behaviours, such as bullying, as a way of coping with issues that affect them. This is why guys are more likely than girls to physically attack somebody or to commit crimes. It isn’t something they are born with, it’s a learned behaviour that is actively taught by society using dysfunctional gender norms and roles.
In order to mask how they actually feel about themselves, some people who bully focus attention on someone else. They try to avoid any negative attention directed at them by deflecting. But know they might look in the mirror at home and hate the way they look.
There is so much pressure to live up to beauty and fitness standards that we are taught to compare ourselves to others, instead of embracing our own beauty.
They’ve been bullied themselves:
Our research shows that those who have experienced bullying are twice as likely to go on and bully others. Maybe they were bullied as kids in the past, or maybe they are being bullied now.
Often it’s used as a defence mechanism and people tend to believe that by bullying others, they will become immune to being bullied themselves. In fact, it just becomes a vicious cycle of negative behaviours.
Difficult home life:
1 in 3 of those who bully people daily told us that they feel like their parents/guardians don’t have enough time to spend with them. They are more likely to come from larger families and are more likely to live with people other than their biological parents.
There are often feelings of rejection from the very people who should love them unconditionally. They are also much more likely to come from violent households with lots of arguments and hostility.
Low access to education:
Without access to education, hate-based conversation directed at others may be the norm. They may not understand what hate speech is and why speaking about people in a derogatory way is not appropriate.
Finally, those who bully are more likely to feel like their friendships and family relationships aren’t very secure. In order to keep friendships, they might be pressured by their peers to behave in a certain way.
They are more likely to feel like those who are closest to them make them do things that they don’t feel comfortable doing and aren’t very supportive or loving.
So there you have it, some of the most common reasons why people bully others.
We hope that helps you with understanding why it is happening. Keep reading if you need help with dealing with the bullying.
Still worried that people pick on you for no reason? We can promise you, it is nothing to do with you. It is only because they themselves are going through something at the moment, and instead of dealing with that something, they are taking it out on somebody else.
How do I deal with being bullied?
Are other people constantly making you feel sad, unhappy, worried, stressed or frightened on a regular basis? Then they may be bullying you.
If you’re still unsure about whether or not you’re being bullied, take our quick quiz.
The most important thing you can start with, is to talk to somebody about it. Whether this is a close friend, family member, teacher (or somebody else at school) or us at Ditch the Label. We have a free anonymous community you can talk to and get help with any bullying moments. Don’t forget to say how it makes you feel and how long it’s been going on.
You will always get understanding and non-judgemental advice and support from our mentors.
If you don’t feel like talking right now, that’s OK. We’ve got advice, guides and resources that have helped thousands of other people overcome bullying. These are some of the best:
- Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Bullying
- Top 9 Tips for Overcoming Cyberbullying
- How to Speak to Someone who is Bullying You
What if I’m the problem?
If you are doing the bullying, here are 7 things that you can do to overcome it.
If you are looking for more help – our community is a safe space to discuss your issues and get support from trained digital mentors who will help you without judgement.
Need to talk?
Join the internet’s safe space
Want to learn more about us?
We are a leading global youth charity. We are anti-bullying experts having supported young people for over 10 years. We’re here to help young people aged 12-25 navigate the issues affecting them the most; from mental health and bullying to identity and relationships.