Do The Bullied Grow Up To Be Bullies?


I was watching the show, “Criminal Minds” the other day and an interesting point was brought up. The “bad guy” on the show was bullying, doing criminal acts due to the bullying/torture he experienced as a child. It brings up a point that I had heard somewhere before, which is do those that are bullied when they are young grow up to bully others as adults.

Psychologically it makes some sense. Given a child’s weakness in defending themselves as a young person, once they are older, do they then bully those that are weaker than them. I brought this up in a previous post about “perceived threat syndrome”. There have been some occasions in the past where I have been accused of bullying as an adult. I often wonder if that was the truth or not. Certainly from my perspective I would never intentionally bully anyone. But I can see where I might have acted in a way that another might feel that way.

So, I am wondering if any studies back up this idea. I cannot on initial search find research that shows that a person who was bullied as a child has a higher percentage of being a bully as an adult, but I wonder if any studies have been done. Certainly I see a good amount of workplace bullying stories going on around cyber-space. I have even dealt with it myself. Power and PowerPlays are nothing new in the adult world. We just need to look at most wars.

Anyone know of any data out there or have an opinion on this theory?

4 thoughts on “Do The Bullied Grow Up To Be Bullies?

  1. I saw this episode as well, and I had some major problems with it. I appreciate the idea of the contrast between the teen being bullied who chooses to lash out in violence, and the main character who was bullied in school, but who dealt with it by opposing violence. The problem I had with it, is that how many people who haven’t dealt with bullying are going to remember most strongly the mature and non-violent bullied main-character? I think that most people who haven’t experienced severe bullying would over time forget that aspect of the main character, and only remember and have reinforced the stereotype that bullying targets have poor social skills,are unlikeable, prone to violent outbursts and mal-adjusted.

    How screwed up as a society are we that we look on those who are bullied as the defective ones, and those who engage in bullying i.e. cruel, abusive, and harassing behavior as “self-confident” and “well-adjusted”?

    The truth about bullying targets is well summed up in this quote from bullyonline.org

    People who are targeted by bullies are sensitive, respectful, honest, creative, have high emotional intelligence, a strong sense of fair play and high integrity with a low propensity to violence. Bullies (who lack such qualities) see these as vulnerabilities to be exploited. Sometimes, behind the stereotyped “victim”, is a child with a higher-than-average level of emotional maturity and a capacity to communicate maturely with adults. I prefer the word “target” to indicate the deliberate and intentional choices that bullies make. The word “victim” allows the bullies’ army of supporters, appeasers, apologists and deniers to tap into and stimulate other people’s preconceived notions and prejudices of “victimhood”.

    http://www.bullyonline.org/schoolbully/myths.htm

    I will not deny that there have been a few cases where bullied children caught between society’s strong message of “standing up for yourself,” combined with our culture of retribution and the amount of grief, anger and shame that bullying causes–which, I will note, is an amount of grief, shame, and anger that many adults don’t have the skills to handle well, much less children–end up choosing to lash out in violence.

    However, the greatest majority of bullying targets choose to inflict the violence of their grief and pain not on anybody else, but instead choose to inflict it on themselves. Which, the same site that I quoted points out, is a remarkably heroic act compared to the cowardice of the bully.

    I would ask you to consider for yourself, whether those who have accused you of bullying, might not be bullies themselves. Bullies are masters of manipulation, and particularly manipulating guilt and shame in their conscientious targets.

    If your appraisal is that you actually were guilty of bullying another, I would strongly urge you to get help in dealing with your issues from childhood, school, and the workplace. Although your willingness to thoughtfully admit that it is possible you were guilty of it does not strike me as particularly consistent with the psychological needs and behaviors of an actual bully.

    I don’t know what the statistics are on how many are bullied as children or in the workplace and how many of them go on to bully or lash out at others, but I think an entirely different focus is needed.

    I think instead, the focus that is needed is on the vast majority of bullying targets who despite their scars, the wounds to their self-esteem, and the unfortunate chipping away at the highly-developed social skills that they once possessed, still manage to contribute positively to society.

    I wish that more adults who have gone through especially school bullying would be more vocal about their experiences, the effects that it has had on them, the fact that bullying is a stupid euphemism anyway that disguises its true nature–bullying is abuse pure and simple, and why and how we need to stop the vicious cycle. Numerous studies have indicated that those bullied in childhood carry remarkable injury, yet despite numerous resources for adults wounded by workplace bullying (when their resources and coping skills are much more developed than a child’s) there are either no or very few resources for those no longer in school who suffered childhood bullying at a time when psychologically speaking, they were much less equipped to be able to handle it.

    There are plenty of sites for parents of bullied children and for children who are currently being bullied, but it seems as if society thinks that the day we graduate high-school all psychological wounds automatically heal.

    I apologize, my comment became longer and rambled much more than I expected it to.

  2. I was a female victim of bullying in a small rural school. I am now sixty, consider myself well adjusted, but I still remember being victimized. One of the bullys became a teacher and proceeded to criticized my children who were students in her classroom. My children’s memories of school are not very pleasant, so much in fact, that they will not attend their high school reunions. I realize that some of the core of bullying may be jealousy, especially for girls. Maybe a girl is receiving to much male attention, and the bully is not receiving the attention from that particular male or males. Bullies do grow up and still are bullies, and I think they don’t even realize it, they believe they are right in all their assumptions.

  3. I am 45 and because I am disabled I am not getting over the bullying. I am still bullied today as people with invisible disablites are not treated well as adults either. People hate people like me merely because I am on SSI but I wouldn’t even be on SSI if I wasn’t bullied so much it caused mental illness which made overcoming my other problems impossible.. I am going to write a book about it some day because people are now well aware of the suicides but not aware of the walking wounded mentally ill BECAUSE of bullying. Many people up to recently were quick to argue that mental illness isn’t caused by bullying -you must have weak genes prone to mental illness or something. But I am `100% certain my illness was due to being bullied and I think about it every single day

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