The Truth About Why Do Bullies Bully

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated October 04, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Alicia Fiske, LMSW


Everyone has heard of bullying by now and the horrifying results from it happening all over the world. What is a bully? A bully is someone who is physically or verbally abusive to someone else or has repeatedly shown hostility or aggression to control or manipulate someone. Over three million children are victims of bullying every year and 30% of adolescents from 12 to 18 years old say they have been bullied at school.

A report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that one in three students are (suggestion: is) bullied in school annually. We have all seen the heartbreaking consequences of bullying, which can be as simple as missing school or getting bad grades, to school shootings and suicide. But, where do bullies come from? Are they born that way?

Why Do Bullies Bully?

Is it possible that some people are just bullies from birth? Experts and the media have debated this issue for many years, and the majority of professionals believe that bullies are made and not born. In fact, most bullies are victims of bullies themselves. Over 60% of those who bully others are either physically, mentally, or sexually abused by their parents or someone else in their household. Also, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), these behaviors are learned before the child turns five years old. If the natural aggression in toddlers is not handled as it should be, they learn that they can get what they want by being aggressive and it just gets worse from there


When bullies are targeting their victims, they may seem powerful, dominant, or in control. However, this is merely a facade. You see, people who are truly confident and comfortable in their positions do not have to bully or demean other individuals to feel good about themselves. Cutting someone else down won't make you any taller and dimming someone else's light won't make yours burn any brighter. At their core, bullies are extremely insecure and small individuals. Their malicious targeting of other people is their way of attempting to mask their insecurity. Furthermore, bullies usually feel threatened by the people they choose to follow; this feeling can be conscious or subconscious, but it's very real.


Although sociopathy is not a regular occurrence, it is a potential explanation behind certain individuals who choose to target and bully others. Sociopaths are clinically incapable of empathizing with or connecting with other people. They also lack a human conscious and have no problems with harming or hurting individuals around them simply for the heck of it. Bullies who happen to be sociopaths are particularly dangerous because they may resort to more extreme behaviors just to see what happens or to get a rise out of people. Not all bullies are sociopaths, but many well-known sociopaths have been known to target or go after those who they perceive as weaker than them or unable to defend themselves. When studying bullies, it's important not to rule out sociopathy as a potential culprit.


Bullies are not happy individuals. If they were, they would not have to go after other individuals and make their lives miserable. Happy people do not spend their time trying to tear others down and crush their self-worth and self-esteem. In many cases, bullies choose to go after people around them due to their unhappiness. They could be dealing with a stressful or upsetting situation at home. The bully at hand may also be going through a rough time, or they could have some resolved, pent up resentment towards someone or something in their lives. Instead of constructively managing this anger, their solution is to lash out at others. As the old saying goes, "hurt people hurt people." This is especially applicable regarding bullies.

It's important to note that anger, tough times, trauma, etc. are never acceptable excuses for bullying other individuals. Everyone has their cross to bear and mountains to climb. This does not give us the right to lash out at others and be the perpetrators of someone else's hurt or pain. Bullies who are acting inappropriately as results which are happening need to find a constructive manner of handling themselves. Going after other individuals is not the way to handle things.


Fear of Becoming a Target

When bullying takes place, there are usually bystanders. When bystanders witness someone being bullied, they have a series of options. Bystanders can either observe and do nothing; they can alert a higher authority of what's happening, or they can join in on the bullying themselves. What a bystander chooses to do greatly depends upon the situation, the dynamics, and a plethora of other factors. Unfortunately, there are times where bullies join in on targeting someone because they don't want to become victims of bullying themselves. This is a more common occurrence than most people realize.

It's important to note that bullying is never OK or acceptable. Bullying someone else because you are afraid of becoming a target yourself does not excuse the act or erase the negative and traumatic effects which bullying has on others. Regardless of the reason, bullying is always a mean-spirited and cowardly act. If bystanders witness someone else being bullied and do not want to become the next target, they should alert a higher authority to what is going on. Bullies need to be stopped; as long as they are allowed to go on, they will continue to feel empowered to go after other people.

Are You or Someone You Know Being Bullied?

If someone is bullying you, you have to tell someone. Whether you are a child or adult, bullies can be anywhere, and they get worse as they get older if they have been getting away with it. Talk to a teacher or parent if you are a child. If you are an adult and the bullying is happening at work, talk to your human resources office or your boss. It is illegal to harass someone, so if it continues you can contact the police department, and they will help you.

Long-Term Consequences Of Bullying

The long-term results from being bullied can be devastating and debilitating. For example, children who are bullied at school often skip school, become withdrawn, and tend to be aggressive to their younger siblings or other relatives or friends. Over time, bullying can cause anxiety and severe depression. If you feel you are being bullied or someone you know may be experiencing it, you can talk to a professional online or by phone for more information and advice.

In fact, there are over 2,000 licensed therapists and counselors on BetterHelp that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and you do not even need an appointment. Also, if you would rather talk to someone in person, they will find a professional in your area that you can see. So, do not wait until something bad happens, talk to someone and get some help.


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