Why do people bully anyway?

It's a good question, right? I mean, it seems important to understand why this behavior, that can have such a devastating impact on us, happens in the first place. Sometimes in order to move forward you have to look back. I don't mean that you have to dwell in the past, I mean that you have to understand the past so that you can learn from it.

First off, it wasn't your fault!

No matter the reason for bullying, even if you come up with 1,000 reasons to blame yourself, it wasn't your fault. I know you might be thinking things like, "I gave them the opportunity," "I let it happen," "I didn't do anything to stop it." It doesn't matter. You were a victim. And maybe it's difficult to think of it that way. Maybe it's easier to think that you were weak or vulnerable, than to think that you were a victim. Sure, there may have been things you could have done to stop or prevent it from happening, but the point is they took advantage of you and that is not okay.

The American Psychological Association defines bullying as:

A form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.

The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.

You see, the bully made a conscious choice to bully you. It was all them. You had every right to be the way you were. Maybe you were shy, different from the rest of them, or just didn't want confrontation. However you were you had every right to be that way and not be taken advantage of. We are all human beings and we all have the right to be treated with respect. Sadly, this isn't always the case. Let's look at why this isn't the case when it comes to bullying.

Reasons for bullying

A bully can be someone of any age, race, or gender, and there are many possible reasons for why someone chooses to bully another person. It's been thought, for the most part, that this is a behavior that is learned, not a way a person is born. There has been some recent research, however, to suggest that bullying behavior may have a genetic component. One study by Michel Boivin and colleagues published in late 2012 studied relationship difficulties in pairs of both identical and fraternal twins during elementary school. Identical twins share all of their genes while fraternal twins share about half of theirs. Researchers can compare how alike one twin is with the other on whatever variable they are studying. If genes influence variation in the variable being studied (relationship difficulties in this case), then identical twins would have similar experiences while fraternal twins would have less similar experiences. This is exactly the result that was found in this study. While these findings are interesting, it still seems that non-genetic factors may play a more important role because even if a child is born with a genetic makeup that supports the possibility of becoming a bully, other life factors can still shape the way that child turns out.

In this section we'll look at the most common non-genetic factors.


One need only look at what goes on in the world to realize that if someone young and impressionable is exposed to violence or people treating others badly that he or she will absorb some of it and it will shape future behavior. It's practically inevitable that someone will be influenced by the world around them and the people around them, especially for someone who is young and hasn't figured out who they are yet. The worst situation would be when they see someone else use bullying to get their way.

Family Life

This one is a biggie. Many people feel that it all begins in the home, or at least this is where the opportunity to prevent bullying behavior starts.

Studies have found evidence suggesting that children who become bullies usually come from homes that aren't very loving and supportive. A 2005 Swedish study by Sonja Perren and Rainer Hornung showed that bullies reported lower family support than those who were not involved in bullying. This study also indicated that bullies come from families that are more concerned with power over one another. A 2008 study by Debra Pepler and colleagues found those who bullied to lack a moral compass for their actions.

Various other studies have indicated that children who bully come from homes where they are not taught to respect the rights of others and they lack empathy and compassion. This leads into a third reason for bullying.

Social Environment

When a child comes from a home where they don't receive the right support they are more likely to feel insecure, which leads to a need for control and dominance in order to mask their insecurities. A study published in the Netherlands in 2012 by René Veenstra and colleagues found that bullies were motivated by a desire for attention and an increase in their popularity. Bullies tend to have friends who support their actions and this support only reinforces what they do. I think it's possible that these friends support them because they are afraid of becoming a target themselves if they go against them.

I've included the video below to provide you with even more insight into why kids bully.


I hope this post has been helpful to you and that it has brought you some insight into why bullies bully and that you feel less like you were bullied because of something you did. A bully's actions are intentional and can be due to a variety of factors. It may be what they watch on TV, the home they grow up in, the reinforcement they get in their social environment, or some combination, but the point is that one of those reasons is the cause for their actions and not you.

photo credit: Chesi - Fotos CC via photopin cc

What are your thoughts on why some people bully? Do you think it's genetic or learned? I would love to hear what you think so go ahead and leave a comment below. 
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