To learn how to deal with a bully, we need to know the psyche of the bullies first.
Personally, I find that most bullies have two areas in common:
A strong tendency to have control over someone, something or a situation
These two factors are intrinsically linked together. If observe the two factors, we will realise that the low self-esteem is actually a mindset and a strong tendency to exert control over a person or situation is a behaviour. For school bullies or even any individuals who suffer from low self-esteem, they will try their best to remain in control. If they lose this control, they will often try their best to get it back at all cost. Why is this so? It puts them at ease and enables them to function normally in society and in this case, educational institutions.
All of us have a tendency to retain a certain degree of control over our lives as doing so gives us a sense of security. What then differentiate school bullies from typical individuals such as ourselves is the differences in their self-esteem and ours. As most of us have a high degree of self-esteem, we do not face as much fright as someone with a much lower self esteem (such as a school bully) and we thus are able to cope with a higher degree of stress in the face of change. A person of a much lower self-esteem will not cope as well, and thus they need a certain form of defensive mechanism to cope with change (which can be considered to be one of the most feared conditions of mankind, considering that we humans are creatures of habit).
So, what are these defence mechanism?
One defence mechanism will be intimidation. School bullies usually operate by intimidating another student, usually a weaker student. Why intimidate, you might ask? Well, when school bullies intimidate another student, the bullies are forcing another student to submit, to be subservient. This places them on a pedestal and the intimidated student(s) their subjects. Seen from an imperialistic perspective, the bullies see themselves as kings and rulers, and the intimidated as subjects and servants. This situation gives them a sense of power and control which they so strongly desire, and explains why most bullies go about living their lives with outright arrogance and big ego. But why weaker students? It is simple: bullies do not love challenges and weaker individuals do not pose as much as of a threat to bullies than their stronger counterparts. Have you ever wondered why it’s often the new students who are often bullied but not the older students? This is because the older students has either fought back the bullies (thus making the latter wary of their resistance) or they have succumbed to the bullies. But when it comes to the new students, it is different. They are new to the school and new to the bullies. The addition of a unfamiliar face and an unknown presence is uncomfortable to the bullies because as mentioned previously, bullies hate change. They would rather intimidate the students into submission and return things to normality than to withstand a doubt that these new students will one day turn against them. They cannot afford both the nagging doubt and the thought of being dominated.
Another mechanism will be violence. Bullies and other individuals who suffer from extreme low self esteem cannot afford to face the fact that they cannot have control over other people, things or situations. They will go to great lengths to retain the sense of security that they so highly revered. In the minds of the bullies, if intimidation doesn’t work, physical violence will. It is not so much the pain inflicted on the victims that gives bullies pleasure but the sense of power that the bullies feel in the process of exerting violence. In the bullies’ eyes, they are the hunter and the victim the hunted. They are the predator and the victim the prey. They are the initiator and the victim the reactor. In short, bullies are less of a sadist but more of a narcissist. Control is their prize, not pain.
Thus, to deal with a bully, we need to understand this.
Having understood this, we can then proceed to the approaches on dealing with bullies. What needs to be done is simple. There are two approaches that we can use:
Stand up to the bully (not by fighting him but) by verbally informing him that the act of bullying is wrong and it does not help in increasing their sense of security and control. Advise them to increase their self-esteem by participating in teamwork and in accomplishing/achieving something. Encourage them to add value to other people’s life and in turn, add value to their own. Give them a sense of self-worth and more importantly, let them feel that they can make a positive difference in people’s lives. It is important that this should not be attempted by a student or a group of students on a solitary basis but rather, the onus of doing this should fall on the shoulders of educators who have the higher degree of maturity to handle the situation. Because of the disparity in social status/responsibilities between the educators and typical students, bullies are also thus more inclined to listen. Coupled with the fact that educators are entrusted with the task of educating, bullies are thus more inclined to change their behaviour for the better. There will be a few bullies that are beyond advice or control. They should be referred to specialised counsellors.
On the part of the students, they should not confront any bullies should they encounter them. They should report this matter to any educators in the school privately without alerting the bullies, else the students’ actions might be met with severe repercussions. Since bullies are prevalent in schools, all students in educational institutions at all levels should be informed about the causes of what causes bullies to bully and given a full understanding of why bullies bully. This is to evoke sympathy and understanding on the part of the students towards the bullies, and thus reduce these students’ tendency to retaliate (which is always a wrong move). In addition, by enabling these students to understand the psyche of bullies, the bullies might be moved into changing their behaviour. Of course, this takes time and requires consistent communication between these students and the bullies, which is highly unlikely. But even for this communication to happen for the first time, it is often very impactful and life-changing for the bullies.
At the end of the day, the best way to deal with bullies is not to discriminate, punish or isolate them. It’s to educate both educators and students on the fact that bullies are not born bullies, that the reason(s) behind their bullying can often beattributed primarily to their family background and childhood experiences. Most importantly, we should understand that like us, they are also humans looking for love and care.
The act of bullying to secure the power and control that they so desperately look for is merely their form of self-expression in their search for love and care.