Why We Bully

Polina Mogilevsky

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At some point or another we all have dealt with or will deal with bullying. For many people, it happens during their time at school, but it can also be experienced later on in the form of egotistical bosses and managers, or maybe toxic partners and friends. 

In 2018 alone, the NCES found one in five students ( five million people) experienced some form of bullying during the school year. The CDC found that “Youth who are bullied are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school”.  The US Department of Education reported that in 2019, “Overall, approximately 135,200 individual allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, or religion during the 15-16 school year”. 

While I find any form of bullying beyond appalling and an infringement on an individual’s right to pursuit of happiness, I also think that it’s time we take a closer look at why people bully. While yes, some people might just be plain mean, typically there is more going on behind the scenes. There are reasons why people actively choose to lash out and hurt other people. As Psychology Today puts it: “Bullies are made, not born.”

One of the major causes behind bullying, especially in kids and young adults, is simply the perpetrator modeling the behavior of someone close to them and trying to exercise control. From a psychological standpoint, if a person comes from either a chaotic household where they may not feel safe or in control, they are going to try to exercise that control in other areas of their life by releasing their pent up anxieties and frustrations on others. 

Also, it has been proven that kids tend to model the behavior they see in their parents or the people they look up to. So, if someone’s mom or dad is verbally or physically aggressive, there is a chance that child will repeat that same behavior outside the house because that is the only way they know how to express their emotions. 

Bullying may also be a way for the perpetrator to draw attention to themselves. Humans are hardwired to be pack animals– it’s an instinct that dates back to when we first walked the earth and fought for survival. In ancient times, humans had a much higher chance of survival when they were part of a group, and though we no longer need to fight for survival and shelter every day, that instinct remained. So, when we feel alone or neglected for whatever reason, we may lash out to draw attention to ourselves, to attract some sort of pack. 

So now that we have an idea of why someone may be bullying, what do we do? The natural reaction may be to fight back or ostracize the individual, and that is completely understandable. But, what would happen if we choose to take the compassionate route and try to get help? Mental health has only recently started getting the attention it needs and deserves. People are finally recognizing that disorders such as depression and anxiety are real and not just excuses for being “weak”. Instead of demonizing these people and casting them aside, what if we use these new resources to rehabilitate the bullies and help them walk a straighter and more healthy path?


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