Author Spiegel

26.06.2020 17:50

Raising a Serial Bully

a toxic bully

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If you ever had the pleasure of attending any stage of school, whether it's elementary or middle school, chances are that you are one of the 71% of young people who say that they have been bullied at school. But if you're one of the lucky ones that managed to get out of high school without being bullied in the hallway or the locker room, the workplace cafeteria may not be the safezone from bullying. 

Why, you ask? Have you ever wondered what happened to that one kid who used to bully you or someone you know for a long time, that one person that never skipped the perfect moment to bring somebody down? Yeah that kid grew up, his name is Tim and he's the account manager at your firm, or Ashley working in the legal department. 

Serial bullying

The term serial bully was coined by Tim Field. When he directed the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line between 1996 and 2004, he realised there was a common character behind the majority of the cases that came to his attention. In a given workplace, there was usually a single person who would focus on their victim until they got away from the bully's environment. The bully would then focus their ridiculous and obnoxious behaviour on someone else and after the new target would eventually leave, another unwilling participant would take their place, hence the term "serial bullying".

The problem with most cases of bullying is the fact that some people view it as a rite of passage, like it's a normal thing to go through and everybody has to. But what happens when the bully gets away with his or her behaviour, do they naturally grow out of it? 

The psychologists would disagree with that statement. Since bullying is a form of domination and display of power, it is not an easy habit to break. Researchers indicate that persistent bullying is a dangerous behaviour that can become even more  problematic in adulthood. 

What shapes a serial bully

As we've discussed in the previous article, there can be dozens of reasons why children resortto bullying. Unstable households and neurotic traits could be the recipe for a disaster,  but we cannot neglect the role of the parent in a child's life. No one is born a bully, this is an acquired behavioural trait, either they have been bullied before and perceive the situation as "kill or be killed", or this ugly behaviour is encouraged by the silence of the parents. Again going back to the fact that some people perceive being a bully or being bullied as a normal childlike behaviour. 

So on the flip side, what do you do if you notice that you are raising a bully? What the behavioural therapist Marisa Peer realized was that there was a common thread between the bully and the victim - both have unmet needs. The bully needs to feel important and significant, while the victim’s unmet needs are to belong, to connect to their peers. She also points out that we should never ask kids why they bully, the correct question is always - “What happened to you that makes you want to bully someone?” Indicating that there is some connection of cause and effect when it comes to aggressive children. 

All too often, the main focus is always on the victim and never the bully, while both sides are in dire need of help and assistance.

Dr. Alan Hilfer said:  “Parents of bullies who are made aware of their child’s behavior should take the concerns seriously and seek help and treatment for their child, hopefully in the earlier stages so that alternative behaviors can be taught and reinforced before some of the more negative ones become entrenched.” 

When the bully grows up

We've all been to some awkward high School reunions where we pretend to like the person that bullied us, because it happened years ago and you were children and they changed, right?

But have they really? Of course the account manager Tim is not going to shove you in a locker at the age of 35 - along with the bully, the ugly art of bullying has also evolved. Small jobs about appearances and sarcastic comments about clothing still reveal that the bully hasn't changed, he or she simply adapted. The episode called “Nosedive” comes to mind, from the TV series Black Mirror, where Lacie breaks down at her friends’ wedding, revealing the fact that underneath their friendship that started from 5th grade, was the constant bullying from her “childhood friend”. The subtle bullying about her weight, where the bride assumed that Lacie was a size 4 (an extra small), just to make her insecure about her weight and anxious about the fit of her dress. 

A serial bully could be anyone. When they grow up they are attracted to positions of power and authority. But contrary to high school behaviour, the grown-up serial bully is a manipulator. He or she understands that they must behave differently to blend in with the regular folk, they cannot simply express physical violence in the workplace, so their tools have changed. The new methods are harder for onlookers to recognise, such as emotional blackmail, malicious gossip and one-on-one confrontations where there is no witness. 

Telltale signs

The most easily recognisable traits of a serial bully can be summed up to these few indicators.


  • Master manipulator and a convincing liar. In order to maintain their status and position they make up any story that fits their needs.
  • Cannot take criticism. For a serial bully criticism is something they deny and even return with retaliation. 
  • Toxic to be around. Usually this person never expresses positive thoughts or attitudes towards other people, since he or she feels constantly threatened. 

And we are not making this list of signs so you can tell if you're being bullied or not, the feeling is pretty extreme and unmistakable. We are telling you this so you may recognise the serial bully that did not target you, but is abusing someone around you. 

A person who is being bullied at the workplace often quits unexpectedly, goes on long term sick leaves to sort out personal problems, and have expressed severe distress or mental breakdowns in the workplace. 

“Take a joke"

Serial bullies will never admit their actions, how many times have you seen a grown person admit that they currently are a bully?

The usual excuses are that their actions are trivial and not even worth talking about. They are quick to suggest that the past is in the past and they should be able to take a joke and move on if they're feelings get hurt.

None of these statements are an excuse.

Serial bullying has been widely associated with antisocial behaviour, which can be so much more problematic than just simple teasing. 

In the journal of business ethics published in 2011, Clive R Body says: "Around 26% of bullying is accounted for by 1% of the employee population. Those we call corporate psychopaths". 

Speaking up about bulying is never too late. If you ever experience pressure from other people, seek asisstence from both peers and authorities. 


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