How are Bullies Created?


Many people think that bullies are either insecure or have low self-esteem. Recent research shows that some bullies may fit this description, but many bullies have high self-esteem.


The bully leads via intimidation. People follow to avoid being victimized.

Bully leaders are often admired because of a superior trait. Some bullies are very attractive, some are very athletic, and some are very social.

Bullies gain power and therefore respect in many ways.  Sometimes adults give power to a leader, who then may abuse it and bully others. For example, a coach may give the captain tremendous power, allowing him to humiliate younger teammates.

Bullies gain power by the amount of followers. The more that follow the more power he has to yield.

Bullying may be a Conditioned Response


Little bullies grow into big bullies.

Each time a bully gets away with his act, he is encouraged to do it again. This is especially true if the bully gains respect as a leader, or gains an object or reward for his bullying. This is an example of conditioning. The more often the bully succeeds the more likely he is to repeat his bully behavior.

Understanding Aggression?

Identification with the aggressor is a term that psychologists use to describe how a child identifies with

someone who has power. For example, when a young child returns from his check-up at the doctor he may then become a doctor to his teddy bear. He aggressively stabs his teddy with the pretend needle. The child is identifying with the aggressor, the doctor, in an attempt to feel control over a situation which was scary, and one in which he may have felt helpless. As he repeats the scene, he gains control of his own feelings and by identifying with the doctor, he feels more powerful.

True Story

Recently I gave a lecture about victims and bullies at an elementary school. I mentioned how schools often have trouble when they call a bully’s parents because they find that the parent is also a bully. As I spoke I saw the principal nodding her head in agreement.

School officials can also be bullied. Sometimes a parent bullies the administration by threatening legal action. Sometimes the bully parent is a member of the school board, and has the power to hire and fire.

Bullies identify with parents or other family members, who are bullies.

Power Corrupts

When given the chance to assert power over someone else many people will become sadistic. There are a few who have a strong sense of empathy, and an internal compass to guide them towards altruistic and normal behavior. However, the Stanford Prison Experiment examines how quickly groups can deteriorate into bully behavior.


The famous Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrated an aspect of this behavior. College students were divided into two groups; prison guards and prisoners.  “

…Guards …were told …”You can create in the prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, you can create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally controlled by us, by the system, you, me, and they’ll have no privacy… We’re going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness. That is, in this situation we’ll have all the power and they’ll have none.”

“Guards forced the prisoners to count off repeatedly as a way to learn their prison numbers, and to reinforce the idea that this was their new identity. Guards soon used …physical punishment such as protracted exercise for errors in the prisoner count. Sanitary conditions declined rapidly, made worse by the guards refusing to allow some prisoners to urinate or defecate. As punishment, the guards would not let the prisoners empty the sanitation bucket. Mattresses were a valued item in the Spartan prison, so the guards would punish prisoners by removing their mattresses, leaving them to sleep on concrete. Some prisoners were forced to go nude as a method of degradation, and some were subjected to sexual humiliation, including simulated homosexual sex.”


The Stanford Prison Experiment blindly divided a matched group into prisoners and guards. Students became bullies within a few hours; once they were given power and authority. Others became victims as they were stripped of their rights and dignity. This demonstrates one aspect of bullying. That anyone may become a bully or a victim.

One common road to bullying is being a victim. It is part of human nature to mimic behavior. People who have themselves been victims are likely, given the chance, to become bullies. In some way, the bully may be retrieving that part of their soul that was lost when they were victims. Given the opportunity to bully another, people often repeat what was done to them. Victims who eventually bully may feel powerful and whole.

Columbine, Virginia Tech and Bullycides

In 1999, and again in 2007, disturbed students who were ostracized, dramatically committed

homicide/suicide. This cycle, in which the victim becomes the bully, has been etched into the minds of all Americans. Columbine and Virginia Tech are tragedies that highlight the dangers of our vulture culture.

Younger students, who were victims of extreme bullying, chose to commit suicide. These 11 year old boys, Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker Hoover, should be remembered by all of us.


Jaheem and Carl felt hopeless and helpless because we, as a society, did not protect them. They were ostracized because they were perceived to be different and they were teased with homosexual slurs. Perhaps these deaths will be a warning sign, that bullying behavior is becoming more violent and more sexualized; and that intense bullying is occurring and causing death.

When kids feel that there is no way out they give up. Tweens, aged 9-13, are most vulnerable because this is when the frequency and intensity of bullying is at its prime. In addition, the kids are just learning how to separate from home and navigate a bigger school with more students. Their confidence is at its lowest and their stress is at its highest. Tweens are prone to be impulsive, leading to risky behaviors, including suicide.