Saturday, April 30, 2016


Image description: The words 'stupid' 'ugly' and 'pig face' surrounded by the colour of bruise place around a torso. The words 'no because' are pointing at the words.
Over the last week, culminating with a workshop I did with people with disabilities yesterday, I have noticed a phenomenon which I don't really understand and which frustrates me at the deepest level. It began innocently enough with a discussion with a colleague about issues which affect the lives of people with disabilities and as such the topic of bullying came up. In short order I was being told that I have to understand that bullies often have been bullied themselves and therefore, to an extent, their behaviour is understandable. Later, in the same conversation I'm told that bullies have poor self esteem and therefore put others down in order to build themselves up. Huh.

Then, in another conversation, this time with someone who is a trainer on the issue of bullying, I'm told that it's important to remember that the bully often expresses deep felt anger and rage through their behaviour because they have no other way of getting the excess energy caused by their feelings out. I must have looked less than convinced so I was further told that I had to learn to feel compassion for both the bully and the bully's victim. Huh.

Bullying is an interesting behaviour. We have somehow disconnected it from what it is, social or physical acts of violence perpetrated by one on another, and turned it into an understandable psychological phenomenon wherein compassion for those who hurt often seems to outweigh compassion for those who are hurt. In discussions about bullying, I realize, I hear so much more about the 'poor' bully than the 'poor' victim. Everyone seems to be racing to explain bullying by creating within the bully a psychological need to do harm.

Perhaps it's because we need the behaviour to make sense. Perhaps it's because we often talk about bullying in relation to children, conveniently ignoring that bullying happens throughout our lifetime by adults all around us.  We seem to want there to be a cause, which is why the word 'because' is so often attached to the word 'bully' ... he's a bully because, she engages in bullying behaviour because ... there must be a reason. We don't want to acknowledge the seductive nature of cruelty, we don't want to acknowledge that one person hurting another may happen simply because one person chooses to hurt another, we don't want to open our eyes to the fact that bullying may reinforce itself as a behaviour simply because it feels good. But none of this matters. None of this is what I want to say.

What I want to say is simple:THERE IS NO BECAUSE.

We need to stop explaining away the behaviour of those who commit violence and further we need to stop asking victims to feel sorry for their victimizer.

We don't do it with other acts of violence.

He beat his wife because work was really stressful and on the way home he got a flat tire.

She called her little girl an ugly fat slob because she was really upset when she learned that she didn't get the job she wanted.

He punched the waiter because he was tired of waiting, he'd spent his whole day on hold.

She kicked her dog twice, hard, in his chest because she was just tired of everyone being late for dinner.


Violence is wrong. Full stop. I don't need to, I don't want to talk about it any more than that. I don't want to give those who hurt fall back excuses for their behaviour. I don't want people who are hurt by people who hurt excuses to make for the behaviour that they are experiencing. There is no because. Violence is wrong.

At the self advocate training yesterday, in discussing bullying, a lot of people independently brought up 'poor bully' statements about their self esteem, about their lack of education, about their past experiences ... What? Pretty much everyone in the room had acknowledged that they had experienced bullying and here they were saying what everyone says about bullying ... This what parents, shockingly, tell their children. This is what, astoundingly, staff tell the people they support.




A choice was made, hurt happened. I know lots of people who have horrible abuse backgrounds, I know that they would never, because of that experience, hurt another person. Having been bullied oneself isn't an excuse for bullying it's cause for enlightenment about bullying isn't it??

It saddens me that we ask those who are victims of violence. Remember bullying is violence, it's not a rite of passage for children, it's not a psychological phenomenon caused by stress, it's violence. It needs to be seen as a choice that someone makes, it needs to be seen as being, simply ...


Because there is no because.


There is no because.

And as a result those who are hurt by others who would commit violence have a right to be heard and have a right to be supported and have a right to have their feelings matter. Because, and here there is a because ... because they more than a punching bag for a 'because bully' ... they matter.



Frank_V said...

What David said. (Insert standing ovation HERE!)

Happy Turtle said...

If there is a 'because', let it occur between the bully and their therapist when they decide to change. NOT between the bully and the victim. It isn't the job of the victim to provide therapy and empathy for the bully.

Unknown said...

I guess I see it a bit differently - understanding 'why' the person committed an act of bullying is a useful observation if you are working with the bully to change their behavior. Often someone who bullies responds "I dont know, I just did it" or some other not insightful response when asked "why" they did what they did.
Maladaptive coping behaviors (letting frustration build and then using physical and/or verbal acts against vulnerable others to relieve internal distress) is abuse. It is learned behavior, and can be unlearned.
Behavior changes when it hurts too much to continue the same behaviors.
When everyone focuses on understanding the bully, we commit 2 serious errors. We overlook the damage to the victim, and we enable the bully to continue the behavior.
Bullying is so pervasive in American life today (I hope less so for Canadians). Our business/work cultures rely on it. The end is often felt to justify the means, although very few people slow down enough to ask that question of themselves and others.

Unknown said...

Dave, this is a more personal response to this post. I grew up in a family where my father was a bully and injured me in all the ways that a angry man can hurt a little girl. My mother used the 'because' strategy to justify his behavior, and I learned very quickly not to question his behavior but to focus my energy on preventing the events in the household that set him off. When I was depressed and anxious with a toddler at home I started therapy, and antidepressants. I realized he was an alcoholic and learned the 'codependency' model of damage and healing. Two years later I began to remember much more of the damage, and wanted to die. (of my own shame, at that point). Deciding that I had to live and work very hard to raise my son without 'passing on' all of this toxic heritage. I'm still working at that..28 years later. And yes, I have learned to use my voice to stand up to bullies, sometimes.
I've learned that most people in the world don't want to hear about bullies, and holding them responsible for what they did and how it hurt people. Most people want to say it was long ago, he didn't mean it, you should be over it by now.
Thanks for being a truth seeker and a truth speaker. You end up being the target of more abuse, on behalf of the vulnerable. You shine a little light and provide some hope. Thanks. Clairesmum

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Happy Turtle has it right, and court-mandated therapy is sometimes what starts the process if the bully won't do it.

That, and the habit of people forgiving shooters and other criminals WAY too soon for the crime, gets on my nerves. It is WRONG. EVEN for committed Christians and member of other religions which emphasize forgiveness.

If there are no consequences, why would anyone refrain from doing some of these things?

Forgiveness is a long process, should not be undertaken lightly, and cannot be short-circuited: it must be gone through.

If you don't protect the bullied, what message are you sending THEM? That it was somehow all right? And asking THEM, vulnerable and bullied, to forgive someone who hurt them? Whoa! Not so fast.

SammE said...

Dave, this is so true. And because I was a child bullied within my own family, by my mother, I vowed at quite a young age never to be like her, never to treat anyone the way I had been treated. It was a choice I made rather than choosing to permit myself to pass on the hurt. Your writing today has helped me feel better in my choice of holding my mother accountable for her actions toward me. She made a choice too.

Sandra Fleming said...

Thank goodness for someone pointing out what I think is a very obvious fact. There is NO excuse for bullying. Others find ways of dealing with their problems and a bully must find their way to find a socially acceptable way of dealing also.

Kristen Milefchik said...

I guess I don't understand the logic of this argument. I get that bullying is horrible and sad and hurts people. I was bullied when I was a child and being disabled, I think bullying is still happening to me in a more systematic, social oppression fashion. However, I can't understand how trying to get to the bottom of bullying behavior is a bad thing. If punishing alone has proven innefective, you have to seek out the SOURCE of the problem and treat it to PREVENT future bullying and victimization of others. This doesn't mean there should be no consequences for behavior... This doesn't mean kids shouldn't get detention or suspension in some cases. It doesn't mean that people who commit assault shouldn't have to pay by jail time or fees or community service. But in addition to the negative consequences, analysis and treatment of the root problem is necessary to STOP the bullying. And when I tell my kid "They don't mean the things they say to you. They are just hurting and broken inside somewhere and want you to hurt like they do." that is not to diminish what was done to her but to give her some comfort... When she can understand that bullies are the ones that are broken and dysfunctional and hurting, she sees that their words and actions against her are a farce. That she is beautiful and perfect and they are the ones who need help...

Ron Arnold said...

Violence, neglect and trauma have a very real neurological effect on the brain. The limbic system of a bully being on a tripwire is one of them. There is a because - and the because can be preventable - but first it takes recognition, then it takes work. I've worked with folks in the forensic system . . . and a vast majority have childhood trauma backgrounds. It set their wiring to a tendency. Sometimes - that tendency is hard to overcome - especially if it's reinforced over, and over, and over.

There is no EXCUSE for violence and bullying - but there is a REASON. Once the reason is known - I do believe it is MY duty as a professional to offer whatever help I can. The question in a trauma informed community is not "What's wrong with you?" it's "What happened to you?"