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Further Tales of True Bullies

by Izzy Kalman (April 2002)

In the previous newsletter, I told the story of a “true” bully, one who doesn’t consider himself to be a victim. What I am trying to show is that while we have demonized bullies, it is really victims who commit acts of evil. A true bully is usually not as evil as we would like to imagine. (Did you ever stop to think that the word “bully” – based on the animal bull – conjures up a figure with horns and a tail, just like the devil?)

I recently had an interesting experience that was cause for some optimism. I presented a workshop on teasing and bullying to a group of 25 school psychology graduate students in New York City. At the very beginning, I asked them a question I had never asked a group before. I asked, “If you have to choose between being a bully or being a victim, which would you choose?” To my surprise, everyone answered “bully.” Even though this group initially thought of bullies as the bad guys, not one person preferred to be a victim. Why did it make me happy? Because it showed that the gut feelings of these young men and women were healthy.

Well, here is another story of a true bully.

I’ll call her Linda (not her real name). She is a young woman, a senior in high school, who sees me for a problem totally unrelated to school aggression. However, in describing her social relations, she said, a bit sheepishly, that she is a bully and enjoys it.

Linda is tall, thin, pretty, talented, and extremely popular. She is amazed that other students actually fear her because she certainly doesn’t look like Chyna (the female wrestler) or even like Xena. But whenever kids in school feel intimidated by another student, they approach her for help. She goes over to their tormentor, makes a really mean face, and threatens them that they better leave “so-and-so” alone or else… And then the tormentor leaves the kid alone.

The role Linda plays is the same role that leaders in nature play. They become the leaders not only because of their ability to intimidate their own members — they are also the first to defend the tribe from enemies and to keep order within the group.

Linda’s friends love her, are loyal, and are very concerned when she seems unhappy. She is a natural leader, and I’m sure she will make a great boss if she ever is in such a position. The ironic thing is that when she goes home she loses her status and becomes a victim. She becomes the victim of a younger brother who annoys her terribly, and she hasn’t been able to stop him no matter how hard she has tried.

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