I write about all things interpersonal narcissism - from emotional drivers, bullying, lateral aggression, revenge, archetypes, beginning to ending toxic relationships, burnout to models of hierarchical power dynamics.
You will have also noticed that I don’t refer to anyone as a ‘narcissist’ but I will refer to people as showing frequent narcissistic behaviour, being a bully, acting like an asshole and other terms that describe dominating, controlling, anti-social and overpowering behaviours.
In light of recent events in my professional life along with a suggestion by my friend and fellow Substacker
According to the Anti-Bullying Alliance UK, bullying is:
“the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online”.
I will also suggest that bullying can occur without an intent to hurt the target because the bully is unaware that they are reacting to their own experience of feeling insecure, inferior and is trying to subdue what they perceive is a threat.
One person can wreak havoc in a group gathering, online forum or in a workplace setting and it can appear as if they’re singlehandedly controlling a group’s behaviour.
This inspires the questions I want to ask you, dear readers, and they are:
Can a bully be powerful without anyone’s help? If so, can you give an example of what they were doing to show singular power?
If not, from your experience, what are they doing to build their power and enable them to target one or a few individuals in repetitive, damaging ways?
Leave a comment to share your thoughts!
It could be useful to all of us if you can describe the very first things the bully is doing when they meet someone new in a group that wields power, and what they are doing in a group to derail its purpose.
I’m looking forward to a robust discussion on this topic!
Leave a comment
Thanks for reading, sharing your ideas and sharing this post,
Nathalie Martinek, PhD
The Narcissism Hacker
In my professional experience, the bully never acts alone. By definition, he/she is a cowardly and mediocre individual who hides behind his/her position of power to act in a destructive and treacherous way. Deep down, he/she only has power and he/she uses it against his/her favourite target; the one who "overshadows" him/her and exposes his/her scandalous and widely known mediocrity and incompetence. Of course, he/she always does so under the daddy "umbrella"/protection of a power system that defends him/her and even encourages him/her to act in this way. Without that toxic transfer of power they would never dare to do so of course. The worst are not the bullies, but their bosses (very often psycopaths) who support them so that they can do the dirty work for them without having to get their hands dirty. The combo pysco-covert narcissistic bully is letal.
Wilful blindness is a big part of the issue: "I didn't see anything", "I didn't notice", "Not in my experience", "They [bully] have always been nice to me" etc.
Often, individuals have no idea of the wider context to a situation, and even if they do have an idea of the wider context, they may simply go along with the person who has 'perceived power' for their own personal gain/out of worry that they may be the next target/so they don't go against the 'family' 🤮
Someone asked me some time ago what I thought the reasons for bullying were, part of my response:
- Mob mentality- blindly supporting others and being unkind to someone intentionally when full context or truth is not known, when one is not judging someone or another group of people based on their own experiences rather they are judging based on what others have said.
(Wanting to fit in rather than stand out.)
- A pay off- for example, 'if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours'. Perhaps someone who takes part in unkind, bullying or harassing behaviours against a particular person, especially when someone has perhaps raised a grievance or issue previously (whistleblower), gets some kind of reward from someone else: given money, extra work/clients, given a pat on the back, a promotion, recognition/awards etc
(Prioritising personal rewards over integrity.)
The trick in taking individual responsibility for your decisions and not being wilfully blind is to use your critical thinking skills when:
- Someone tells you something negative about someone else.
- Someone tells you they are 'concerned' about someone else and their behaviour (setting up the narrative of 'crazy', 'unstable', 'drama queen' etc).
Can someone wield power alone? It's unlikely and not something I have seen take place. In my experience there are always enablers, pawns and alliances.
Could write a thesis on all this!.....
I never experienced bullying personally until adulthood thankfully. My younger brother was a victim of serious bullying as a child/teenager. Not a single adult or person of authority ever did anything to help him or stop it from happening. He almost ate himself to death before his 18th birthday.
My experiences with bullying happened in a corporate/office setting multiple times and then most recently in recreational team sports. Bullies surround themselves with enablers, then use them as tools. I believe it is done subconsciously. Enablers are happy to comply in exchange for inclusion into the group. What they don’t understand is the second they have an independent thought or idea, they will also be bullied themselves from the group. They are being used and they won’t admit it. The group is corrupted and only has one direction to go. How fast they go down depends on how much they are willing to dig their heels in. A self-proclaimed leader with mediocre skills at best will destroy the group eventually every single time.
Our world is full of people enabling poor behaviour because the majority of people don’t stand for or on anything rooted in truth. Truth doesn’t need defending. If you’re defences are up because of something someone did or said, it’s most likely because the idea/belief you’re holding onto isn’t truth. People will bury themselves in lies before admitting something they believe might just be wrong or incorrect. They don’t care that they take the group or others down with them. Pride is definitely our biggest downfall and Satan’s greatest asset.
Hurt people, hurt people. This is a basic truth. If you haven’t made peace with your past, traumas or shadow side (healed your inner child), your wounds will bleed into every single thought and relationship you have. This is why it so important to do your inner work. It is irresponsible not to. Period.
A bully usually starts by ignoring the new person while showcasing their "importance" to establish the "hierarchy". They then use every situation to remind you they are in control. Then the first "tests" of the bully start. They will try and taunt the new person in hope for a reaction so they can showcase their "talents" and display their control. I find that a bully is someone who craves control and power and it comeq usually from a place of lack. "Its chaos within, lets take control outside". A bully is hurt and therefore hurts constantly. A new bully is a small scared person that feeds on validation of the group until he/she grows into this "advanced" bully who believes he really rules a room. But put a bully alone and his bubble will burst.
I think about the shadow self as the parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable. In the case of the bully, i find it fascinating how they choose their victims, it is as if they target their shadows. Is it possible that bullies hate their shadow self so profoundly they dont only push it down but project it outside themselves and punish it?
They recruit others via Stockholm Syndrome- their colleagues don’t want to be targeted so they low-tow to the bully and do their bidding, which means participating in their unkind behaviors or supporting their actions.
Hi Dr. Nathalie, I got an email notifying me about this post, but the link to "leave a comment" was connected to your workplace burnout post instead. Anyway, to answer your question, I'd say that a bully is powerful with the help from others. It may not seem direct, but when people (the majority) "enable" the bully's behaviour, they are helping the bully. Not standing up, not calling them out/dysfunctional behaviours out, not holding them accountable for their harmful words/actions, not having support to enforce better rules/emotional safety. This ultimately perpetuates the cycle.
It's Leadership 101, a leader requires followers, it's an exchange. IMO, bullying is a form of leadership. The followers receive the benefits of being associated with power.
In my experience they often build power by going after the low-hanging fruit, those that are low ranking on the spoken/unspoken social hierarchy. The service bullies provide for the organization is to keep the social hierarchy in place.
They do it by using the standard of perfectionism when commenting on the target's work. The target's work is never good enough, always suspect, or taken over and owned by the bully because they 'improved' it somehow. They exclude the target by not including them in conversations, social events, and insider news. For example, taking the first 10 minutes of a staff meeting discussing events at a happy hour where the target wasn't invited too. The two primary weapons are ridicule (of work, looks, etc.) and exclusion (of social events, information, etc.)
Question, I'm considering upgrading to a founding subscription. I recently subscribed. If I upgrade, would it be pro-rated?
Another question for everyone:
if you could go back to the beginning of a bully's first encounter with someone who will become their loyal follower, what would be happening in the interaction to 'recruit' them?
No, bullies never work alone. But the people who support them have different motivations.
1) Some people hope to redirect the bully towards people "weaker" than themselves so they can avoid being the target of the bully's wrath. At a social level, this is often true of the people from marginalized/oppressed groups who take the side of the dominant group.
2) Some people also have a bully in them that's enabled by the presence of a bigger bully, so as long as they bow to the big bully, they can indulge in bullying themselves.
3) Some people who have been bullied or abused in the past are driven by shame at the powerlessness they felt. A bully gives them permission to feel powerful again by punching down on others.
4) Some people hope to profit from the bullying behavior while keeping them "under control" and hoping that the bully does their dirty work for them. This rarely works out for those people because bullies don't just stop.
5) Some people hope to appease the bully by enabling their behavior, hoping they'll stop when they have what they want. Also rarely works out.