So why do bullies choose the targets they do? Are there common traits? According to Vanderbilt University researcher David Schwartz, there is:

* Extreme shyness, e.g. failing to initiate conversation or make overtures to others

* Being super-agreeable, e.g. not making demands, requests or even suggestions

* Being “socially incompetent“, e.g. playing alongside other kids rather than with them. In other words: Shyness, Lack of Confidence and Passivity. This lethal trio is the psychological version of painting a target sign on your back

* People who are smaller and weaker
* Sensitive, cautious, and quiet  (often artistic types)
* Anxious, fearful people who are unwilling to fight back
* Visible vulnerabilities like sucking in sports, not having the latest whatever or being considered “slow”
* Crying and getting defensive
* Submissiveness, including those who hand over their money or other goods.
* Kids coming from overprotective homes (result: unconfident kids unable to deal with conflict)
* Deep shame and humiliation that keeps them from seeking outside help, including from parents


    • Hurt people hurt people.” – June Hunt, Counselor, Author & Radio Broadcaster
      “Where you got a fool, devil’s got a tool.” – Mynista (Formerly “Synista”), Rapper
      Everyone knows bullies prey on the “weak” or those they perceive as more vulnerable than themselves. The darker ones engage in what Germans call schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in someone else’s pain. But who are these funky little creatures really? Let’s look at the two main categories:
      This is the stereotypical and almost lovable (think overweight, freckled, red-headed) bully who simply has no control over themselves. They cry, yell, hold nothing back. They pummel whomever for whatever. They’re like a giant toddler throwing a nonstop tantrum. These are the bullies few like, and can themselves become victims of bullying since their drama and antics make them prime targets.How the Hothead Baby Works:These bullies are characterized by paranoia. They’re the kids (or grown-ups) looking under every rock for an insult or some kind of hostile action or intention.  They wear crap-covered glasses and there are no accidents in this bully’s world: instead, everything is a call to arms. God forbid you step on their toe or spill a bit of your drink on them.



      These are the slick, scary creatures who are masters of manipulation. As adults, they  may be astutely political and smooth liars. This type of bully may well be a sociopath (see Not Your Ordinary Bully: On Sociopaths and Scapegoating for more information on this funky breed.)

      What Cobras and Babies Have in Common:

      Neither of these types have empathy — they simply don’t get (hothead babies) and/or care about (cobras) other people and their feelings. It’s a lonely place to be.

      Other commonalities:

      Both types lack anxiety. While usually a good thing, the lack of anxiety can unfortunately propel bullies into behaviors that normal people would think twice about.

      *  Bullies, especially the cobras, look in the mirror and see a god(dess.) They have a superiority complex and have no clue and/or do not care how despicable their behavior really is. Their blindness to others is actually a bully survival technique, as is their self-confidence.


What is the basic antidote? Confidence! Genuine self-esteem. A niche skill or skills, which leads to friends. The willingness to stand up for yourself. Bullies can smell your new-found confidence a mile away and it frightens them in the long run. In the meantime…


  • A wise line of defense is avoidance. If you know the same bully corners you on the same corner in the same playground every morning at 8 pm, change up your routine. Don’t take mess if you don’t have to; don’t be a martyr. Remember that a moving target is harder to hit or catch. Also know when to walk away. Being picked on is not character-building.
  • Get funny! Ridicule is a serious weapon and humor is power! Make fun of yourself, the bully, whatever. Make jokes — at their expense, if necessary (see the chapter on Taking Back Your Power for more ideas on how to use humor.)
  • Don’t be afraid to get assertive and in their face. Bullies are cowards and predators and, just like with an animal, when you stand your ground, they’ll usually back down and move on to an “easier kill.” This is probably one of the best defenses with girls, who tend to shy away from direct confrontation. Call them out. Or tell the bully assertively, “Get a life. Leave me alone.” And walk away.
  • Recruit a friend. Having a buddy on the playground, especially with boys, is one of the best ways to avoid getting bullied.
  • Don’t be afraid to be friendly and build friendships. Just because the bully or bullies don’t like you, doesn’t mean no one else does! In general, seek out the friendly kids and build friendships with them.
  • Stop the dance. Often the bully and target feed off of each other in a kind of sick dance. Why? Targets sometimes want so badly to belong they figure even negative attention is better than no attention it all.  This isn’t true. Find real friends and refuse to be mistreated!
  • Most of all, be your own BFF! Tell yourself nice things, remember that God loves you, hug yourself and hold your head high. The friends will come!

Adapted with gratitude from Psychology Today.
Read more here.


As we all know, it’s not just kids who deal with big, bad bullies (sigh.) They’re as prevalent in the boardroom as they are in the playground. Fortunately the tips and techniques for kids apply here as well, so check out: See Handling Bullies.

In the meantime, here are some strategies specific for workplace bullies:


  1. Document and define the bullying. Is it actually bullying? “Women who exert ‘male’ leadership styles are in danger of being perceived as bossy. Men who do the same thing are often praised as decisive,” according to the Harvard Business Review blog. To gauge bullying accurately, look for patterns over time vs. isolated incidents, and privately document the facts and specific actions. Finally, look at your company’s culture. Is bullying or aggressive behavior rewarded?
  2. Consider your options and make a choice. If the culture supports or rewards bullying, seriously consider if this environment is for you. “Much of the repeated mistreatment that characterizes bullying relies on a poisoned, sick workplace to permit and sustain the madness,” according to WBI psychologists Ruth and Gary Namie. According to the Labor Day 2009 Survey conducted by the WBI, employers do nothing to correct the bully 53.6% of the time ,and 37% of the targets experienced retaliation for taking action.
  3. Nip bullying in the bud — carefully. Privately derailing someone who is yelling at you by calmly repeating their name can be highly effective. Not so when your boss belittles you in a meeting. (Never out a bully in public; it will surely escalate things.) Once bullying is successful it rapidly becomes a habit, so address it when it begins. For specific tips on Woman-on-Woman Bullying, read  Mean Girls Grown Up (Dellasega). This book provides concrete strategies for creating alliances, interrupting behavior patterns and moving forward effectively and productively.
  4. Grow a support system. Hire a coach, talk to a therapist, or find a mentor or trusted friend. It’s as important to get honest feedback about your experiences, perceptions and reactions, as it is to know that you’re not alone.
  5. Push back. Respond assertively (but carefully — see # 3) as soon as someone bullies you. Most bullies will start to push you gently and then gradually increase pressure. Bullies often respond best to assertiveness. They might not like you, but they will usually respect you and stop the bullying.
  6. If possible and appropriate, use “I feel” statements. Use a phrase such as: “When you shout at me, I feel demeaned. You will find that I work better when I am spoken to reasonably”. Using “I feel” statements makes it non-negotiable because that is, unequivocally, your point of view.
  7. Disarm with courtesy. If the above suggestion is too dangerous in terms of your career, then you can just say politely: “I would be grateful if you didn’t shout.”
  8. Remember your body language.When you are working with bullies, ensure your body language supports your comments. Make sure your shoulders are parallel with theirs and that you maintain high eye contact. If the latter is difficult, look at a spot in the middle of their forehead because if you are more than a yard away, they’ll think you you’re looking directly at them.

Adapted with gratitude from the Harvard Business Review blog and Career One. Read more here & here.


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