Most of us, when we think about the term bully, think about a schoolyard. We think about some large, brutish kid, generally a guy, stealing lunch money and pushing kids around on the playground. But sometimes bullies grow up – in age, but not in attitude. Nobody has managed to intervene and teach him how to behave like a human being. His actions get him the results he wants, so he continues.
A bully is even worse when he grows up because he is harder to manage. If he has children then the disease spreads. He either bullies his children and wife or he teaches his children that bullying people is normal. They either learn to be victims or tyrants.
Now, it is important to say that women can be bullies too. Women can be abusive and manipulative and mean. But I have to pick a pronoun to use here, because saying “him or her” is tedious, so I’m going with the default male bully. Sadly, males are more likely to be bullies, but this post isn’t about gender so much as behavior and repercussions.
A bully will treat others that they are lesser than him because he needs this version of reality to prop himself up. A bully at the heart of it all is a weird combination of a narcissist with low self esteem. This seems contradictory. But if someone has a healthy sense of self esteem then he doesn’t have to keep shoring it up. A narcissist spends all his time thinking about his needs and how things affect him. He doesn’t care about what other people need or think unless it directly will affect him.
A narcissistic boss will get angry if an employee calls in when she is in the hospital because this means the project that she was working on won’t be finished on time. He doesn’t care that it means that she is suffering and that it has made things difficult at home with taking care of her children. It is all about him.
Bullies are narcissists sometimes. Sometimes they are also simply sadists. Either way, they don’t care about other people. Other people are simply a means to an end. It is all about their needs, and if other people get hurt, that doesn’t matter.
A bully who becomes a father will teach his children that they are lesser than him so that he can maintain a sense of control. He will try to show how important he is by making them dependent on him.
If he really wanted to show how awesome he was as a father, he’d teach them to be able to take care of themselves. The sign of a good parent is one who is able to teach his child how to be successful and happy and self sufficient. If your adult child has to move back in with you after her divorce, you haven’t done a great job. If your adult child has to constantly ask you for advice or money, then you haven’t taught her anything about what it means to be an adult.
Baby birds need to fly. If they don’t learn how to fly, how to leave the nest and go out on their own, then there is a problem. The same is true with humans, but somehow we forget that. Prolonged childhood is becoming normal. Some adult children (the term itself is a sign) don’t have the emotional, mental, or financial resources to live independently until they are in their 30s. How much of this is because of bad parenting? And how much of that is because of parents who they themselves aren’t mature? But I digress.
Imagine how terrified a bully is when he discovers his wife is very sick. He won’t have her around to push around or prop up his ego. It will all be about him. Her sickness becomes his burden. Her sickness means it isn’t all about him. She gets terminally ill, and he is no longer the center of attention. He either has to learn how to become a caregiver (not a natural role for a bully) or he becomes even more “helpless”. He will become passive-aggressive and “forget” to take his medicine. He will expect her to do all the cooking while he acts like a king during family gatherings.
He isn’t fooling anybody. Well, he is. He is fooling himself. He hasn’t figured out that the way to look important is to not feel the need to push other people around. It is to be self-sufficient.
Some people will be bullies all the way up to their death.
It is a sad way to die. It is even more sad to live this way.
Perhaps what bullies need is love. Perhaps they need to have people stand up to them and tell them what they are doing is wrong, too. But bullying is a desire for attention and a need for a good sense of self-esteem. Perhaps they need to be taught new ways to feel good about themselves other than knocking other people down. Perhaps they need to be taught that how their actions affect other people.
Perhaps the root of it all is that the bully was himself bullied, and just doesn’t know any better.
One of the strangest stories I’ve heard recently is from a man who was abusive to his sons who still tries to push them around through guilt and a mis-applied sense of service to him. He told me a story about how a current neighbor had a dog that he left outside all the time, regardless of the weather. He felt so sad for that dog, whining in the cold and the rain. Sometimes he would speak through the fence to the dog to try to comfort it.
Yet he didn’t see the connection between that dog and his children.
He didn’t see how his constantly talking down to them, belittling them, and beating them was abusive. He didn’t leave them outside in the cold or the rain, but he didn’t provide any warmth or comfort inside the house either.
There is a lot more to taking care of children than just providing for their physical needs. You can make sure they have food and a place to live, but if you neglect their emotional and mental needs, you are abusing them. You may not ever hit them, but if you don’t hug them either you are still abusing them.