There are a lot of reasons why bullies bully, but basically it comes down to this. They are being rewarded for it. I realize this sounds A LOT like victim blaming, but it isn’t. Because the reward might not be coming from the victim!
A couple of years ago – Salon ran a series of articles – Interview with My Bully – http://www.salon.com/2012/02/14/interview_with_my_bully_when_i_confronted_my_bully_about_racism/
What is striking about these encounters is just how little the victim played into the mental landscape of the bully at the time they were being horrid. The victim was traumatized. The bully stands out larger than life in their memories. The bullies? They were focused on other things. If they remember their victim at all, it is usually fondly. The victim was someone who was nice to them, despite them being horrid.
There is no one standard reason why a bully bullies, but what they all have in common is control. Bullying gave them a sense of control. Because that is what bullying is. It’s controlling a social dynamic through aggression. The value of that control has very little to do with the victim and everything to do with the social situation the bully finds themselves in.
Bullies bully because they gain social status from it. Deny them that social status. Make them look bad, and you remove their reward, most of the time anyway. By standing up to a bully, using your words and body language, you make the bully look bad. They aren’t tough if someone stands up to them. They can’t create fear if someone stands up to them. If someone stands up to them with compassion, the bully looks bad. That’s how you beat them.
Even in situations where the victim are victims because of something they have done, this still works. By making the bully look bad for bullying, you deny them their ability to make you look bad. People who can stand up to bullies with confidence, aren’t outsiders, they are brave individuals!
Standing Up to a Bully With Compassion
So what does standing up to a bully with compassion actually look like? It looks like calm matter of fact with eye contact standing. Have something to say – planned in advance. Short and sweet – that lets the bully know what they did wasn’t ok. No value judgement here – just – that’s not how civilized people behave, or something along those lines. You aren’t fighting them, you are just saying that their current behavior is not appropriate. You do this in a monotone voice – eye contact if possible and then wait.
Normally a bully will try another insult – since insults have always made people upset in the past. Repeat your – that’s not how civilized people behave line in a monotone voice and continue to make eye contact. Eventually – the bully will retreat. Their tactics aren’t working and they are starting to look bad.
Yes, they will continue to try and hassle you. Yes, they may up their levels of aggression. That is to be expected. Just keep standing up to them with compassion. You expect them to be better behaved.
Every time you do this you are removing their reward because you are refusing to be controlled by them and you are actively demonstrating to others, they don’t control you. That’s all you have to do.
Bullying isn’t about the victim. It’s about the bully. Deny them the control they seek and you are doing them and yourself and all their other victims a favor.