Self Esteem and Bullying

For me, in my experience of life and the work that I do, bullying is all about self esteem. It is about the self esteem of the victim and the self esteem of the bully.

Other than in exceptional circumstances the bully has low self esteem. What they are trying to achieve, in the only way they know how, is to boost their own self esteem.

As humans we have found many simple, short cut, routes to making ourselves feel better. The most obvious ones are the behaviours that we most commonly call attention seeking.  An obvious example is that of sitting down next to a friend, letting out a long sigh, and looking generally down. The objective being to elicit the much needed “what’s wrong?” questions that opens up the opportunity to seek positive, morale boosting comments from your friend. We will all have done this and other similar ploys. The bully’s method is simply the cruel, crude, dark side to this human interaction. Perhaps the bully doesn’t have the necessary social skills to try the “poor me” ploy, or perhaps in reality they have already tried this before and did not get the result they wanted and found their self worth further eroded.

Whatever the reason behind it, both methods are quick hits for boosting ones self esteem. The problem lies in the temporary nature of the effect. We (Calm People) estimate the average boost to last about 30 minutes for those with low self esteem. After that time I have a choice. I can feel low and unhappy, or I can seek to get my self worth topped up again in a similar way. I am likely to choose the option with the least pain for me and so the cycle begins. This is why bullies continue to bully, because the top up only lasts so long.

The victim is in an interesting place also. It was often cited that bullies would pick on those weaker than themselves. In a physical sense this can still be true, but not all bullying is physical. In fact I would go as far as to say that the physical side of it is less prevalent than the mental bullying.

It would be easy to assume that the victim has low self esteem also and that the bully is choosing someone weaker than them to dominate and take power away from.

In my experience, this is not often the case. In fact, the bully is often acting out of jealousy and fear. Jealous because of their victim’s popularity, intelligence, and relationships with their parents etc Fearful that, if they do not do something to restore the balance they will forever be made to feel the way they feel in that moment.

So the victims perceived level of self esteem is higher than the bully’s and the objective is for the bully to bring them down to their level and below. What we know, of course, is that the effect of persistent bullying can be devastating to our self esteem which is why we need to take action.

My daughter was being bullied. It wasn’t physical but the intent, the method and the pattern was just as insidious. What I am grateful for is that she was able to talk to us about it rather than bottle it up. When we talked to her about it we asked her a question, “why do you think x is doing this?” Her initial response was “she doesn’t like me?” and our answer was “may be that’s it, why else could it be?” and we carried on like this until she got to the answer “because she is jealous.”

So we than asked her “what does she want to achieve?” by this time she was onto the thought process and her answer was “to upset me and make me look bad in front of my friends”

So the next question was “what happens if you give her what she wants?” and she thought about it for a few seconds and said “she wins and she will do it again and again”

“What happens if you don’t give her what she wants?” and she replied “she won’t do it again.”

Now we know that a bully doesn’t necessarily give up at the first hurdle. But we also know that if you give in they will continue and make your life a misery. So the only real option is to make sure they don’t get what they want.

Most bullying starts as simple name calling or attention seeking of a negative nature. In other words they are seeking a reaction. Once your children know that this is the case, it is easier to control their own reactions and not give the bully what they want.

So if I were to give tips to help your child combat bullying –

  • Encourage them to talk. Talk about anything. The more your children feel listened to, the more they will share. This is also directly linked to their self esteem because a primary need (or ego need) we all have is to be listened to.
  • Use questions to help them find the answers to their life’s challenges. They need to become problem solvers not problem givers. There is the famous saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”
  • Help them understand that when a bully starts on them what they are saying, without daring to say it openly, is “I am afraid, I feel powerless, I feel weak and I want you to feel the same as me.” When they understand that it is easier for them to deal with the emotional impact of a bully and not to give them the reaction they need.

If you would like to discuss your child’s behaviour in confidence Calm People West Midlands 07950344658 and ask for Pauls or Calm People East Midlands 07850614042 and ask for Julian

If you want to know more about the anger management, stress management, and emotional resilience courses run in Derby & Birmingham call the above numbers or click here

1 Comment

  1. EJ Apicello / April 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm /Reply

    As a teacher, this article was very insightful. I like how strategies for breaking down the bully’s behavior were mapped out. Parents are super stressed. This post will allow them to talk to their children about bullying in a matter of fact tone. Take the stigma away from it and show the real problem behind it.

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