Anna Filina

Anatomy of a Bully

February 8th, 2015

This is a combination of research that I read, what I witnessed and what I personally experienced. I was bullied since childhood, too many times to count. I continue to be bullied on a regular basis. I blocked nearly a hundred bullies and harassers on Twitter alone, and it takes much effort to get on that list.

The more I learn about bullying, the earlier I notice the signs and the better I can deal with it. I want to teach you what I know.  Please research other sources as well, since this is a complex topic.

What is bullying?

In simple terms, bullying is a series of actions meant to psychologically destroy or eliminate a person. Think of it as death by a thousand cuts. Each individual action seems of little importance, but combined, they paint a clear picture of abuse and intimidation.

Some of these earlier actions are: insulting behaviour, destructive criticism, faultfinding and nitpicking. This often escalates into: intimidation, abuse of power, humiliation and threats.

Bullying is not just unpleasant. It can have serious consequences on health and even cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a work environment, bullying drains all productivity. This is because the bully will find a way to make others perform less, in order to hide their own lack of performance. It usually creates a culture that will attract other bullies.

What is a bully?

Bullies are usually very intelligent people and appear normal, yet they have a hidden aggressiveness. They use their intelligence to aptly toy with people's emotions. The most important thing that you need to know is that bullies do this because it makes them feel better about themselves, whether to raise their low self-esteem, to further their agenda or to satisfy their sadistic desires. They do it at the expense of their target because they don’t feel empathy, just like a psychopath. Their gratification is all that matters.

Serial bullies are obsessed with asserting dominance and control. There is no mistake or misunderstanding: they know exactly what they are doing, even if they will invariably deny it when confronted. Once they are done psychologically destroying a person, they cool down for a few days or maybe a few weeks, and then pick their next target. They cannot stop and cannot be helped. Serial bullying is a compulsive behaviour. They do not want to change. They love being what they are.

Bullies manipulate people. They invent, distort or misrepresent events to fool people and to avoid consequences. They often manipulate other people into bullying their targets, and they even bully other bullies.

It’s not always easy to distinguish between bullies and assertive people. The main differences are that bullies will have no integrity, will be aggressive and demanding, will not respect people’s rights, and sometimes even disobey the law.

How do they bully?

Bullies don’t come swinging with their fists. They're subtle, slowly causing their target to disintegrate, feeding on their anger and using it against them, hoping for a meltdown. Each individual action would seem trivial, which is why bullies are so good at evading consequences.

They can write bashing articles, spread rumours, make negative or unpleasant comments, point out faults, complain about obviously trivial things, accuse of greediness and other moral shortcomings, etc. These will be a series of relatively small attacks to get the target’s attention or provoke an adverse response. Some of the more advanced methods include threat of legal recourse, harassment of the target and possibly the spouse, attempt to discredit or undermine, etc.

There are countless other ways to bully, just like there are countless ways to physically harm someone. Once you learn enough about bullying, you’ll be able to more easily spot it.

Who are their targets?

Bullies will pick targets that make them feel inadequate. The targets will often be successful, creative, popular, competent, reliable, honest, etc. Bullies will envy them. They might even perceive that person as a threat that must be eliminated.

Targets don’t do anything to attract bullying. They are only guilty of being better in some aspect than the bullies, of outshining them. If you get bullied and ask yourself “why me”, tell yourself that it’s because you are everything that they are not. They can never become you, so they’ll destroy you instead.

How to respond?

If you are being bullied, the first thing that you need to do is to start collecting evidence: screenshots, talking to witnesses, etc. Bullies are great liars and master manipulators, so you will need to be able to substantiate any claims later on.

If there’s no threat to your safety and you can muster the courage, explain to the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable and how it affects you. Tell them to stop. Don’t be subtle: “I want you to stop this right now!” If you’re unable to face them, you can also send them a letter through a registered courier, so that you would have a signature to confirm reception. If you don’t know their home address, send it to their workplace.

Keep in touch with people. Expose the situation to your friends and ask for support. It will prevent you from slipping into isolation, which is how the bully can better silence and control you.

If your bully doesn’t get the message, seek legal counselling, which I strongly recommend to get as early as you can. Bullies can go very far to get what they want. Remember that they don’t have a moral compass. The evidence you collected will be very handy at this point. If events escalate to harassment and stalking, you have the added option of a restraining order.

If you’re a witness, step in. Speak to the bully about their behaviour. Tell them to stop. Bring more witnesses. The bully must be aware that their actions are being observed and judged. Bullies are concerned with preserving their self-image and this can make them back off.

What you shouldn’t do is ignore the bullying, because bullies count on your inaction to keep taking casualty after casualty. Another thing that you should absolutely not do is to suggest that the target is somehow responsible for this. Bullies are psychopaths and bullying should not be taken lightly. If you’re in a position of authority over the bully, open an investigation.

How will they defend themselves?

When confronted, they will lie. They will wiggle by pretending that they don't remember doing something, unaware of some event and generally play the innocence card. "What? I didn't do anything." They will start erasing all traces of their wrongdoing and ask others to erase any mention of them, which you should not do even if they apologize. Charm and manipulation is their main weapon, and they can start bullying again once they feel safe from consequences.

They may even feign victimhood, claiming that they're the ones being bullied by the alleged target. They will blame and vilify the target. Many people will believe them. This protects them from consequences by creating confusion and by directing negative attention to their target.

How to move on?

Hopefully, the issue can be resolved quickly. Once the ordeal is over, it’s the beginning of a journey towards recovery. This depends on the individual. It also depends on the intensity and length of the bullying.

If you’re a witness, help them with support. Never suggest any form of retaliation. Help them get some form of resolution or closure on the subject. This will speed up their recovery from this traumatic experience.

If you were recently a target, you will feel like crap. That’s normal. It doesn’t make you weak. This kind of torment takes its toll and you will feel it both on a psychological and physical level.

You will probably be full of self-doubt. “Did I do something wrong?” No, you did not. Bullies use clever tactics to put these thoughts into your mind, because it then makes you less likely to fight back. Remember that they despise you because of your qualities.

Take time off, you won’t be productive anyway. Don’t hold back your tears. Don’t forget to eat and rest. Talk to your friends and family a lot. Write about your experience to put your thoughts in order. If the problem persists, don’t be ashamed to seek professional help.

I really hope that this helped you understand bullying. It is a plague that I hope we can eradicate one day. Such evil should not roam unchecked.

Sources:

http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/faq.htm
http://faculty.buffalostate.edu/hennesda/BULLIES_AND_THEIR_VICTIMS.doc
https://alis.alberta.ca/ep/eps/tips/tips.html?EK=11608
http://smallbusiness.chron.com/identify-workplace-bullying-24918.html

Comments

Peter Drinnan February 9th, 2015 I had to deal with a bully on a recent project. Basically he was a fairly dumb psychopath. It was like dealing with some kind of animal, but even though I knew I was dealing with someone who wasn't quite human, it was still really stressful and it took me a few weeks to get over it once I left.

Best thing to do to help yourself when dealing with a bully is do some research on psychopathy, identify if that is what you are dealing with, and follow recommendations for dealing with it. Think of it as if you are dealing with an animal for another species, because in fact you really are. And most importantly, get away from it as soon as you can.
Anna February 9th, 2015 I'm sorry to hear about your ordeal and hope that you are feeling much better now. Your advice on picturing them as another species is very smart. And yes, I found that researching the subject and understanding the behaviour is very helpful to get a resolution.
Nick October 4th, 2016 I take issue with how you describe bullies here; What you're actually describing is sociopaths. Yes, bullying is an anti-social behavior, but literally everyone engages in bullying behavior at some point in their life. Treating everyone who is rude, everyone who insults, everyone who writes mean things as if they are beyond help, mentally damaged sociopaths can really have devastating consequences on your own ability to reasonably adjust to disagreement, criticism, and accept when you are wrong.

Really, what this piece is missing, is a section on how to identify when someone is "pretending" that someone else is a bully, when the person making that accusation is actually the one doing the bullying: A tactic often employed by the worst sorts of bullies.... the ones that genuinely are sociopathic.
Banessa duff October 7th, 2016 Great article, thank you. This clears up a lot of things for me.
Anna October 13th, 2016 Bullies are actually psychopaths (different from sociopaths). We're not discussing mere rudeness. If you read the section "What is bullying", you'll see that I explain how bullying is accompanied with intent. Bullying is either predatory (enjoying to cause harm) or instrumental (it achieves a goal).

Bullying is also generally directed at a small number of individuals, aka "targets". That's how you distinguish them from the generally mean or anti-social individuals. Someone who is rude to everyone is not a bully, but just a jerk or lacks social skills. It's when you see them acting nice around most people but are particularly terrible to just a handful of people is when you know that there's something more that could be going on.

When people pretend that someone else is a bully, it's called "feigning victimhood", which I actually cover in this article.


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