Ever wonder why bullies bully? What’s their problem? That’s exactly the point… they are struggling with a problem. Bullying is an act of violence, and violence is an expression of anger. Bullies have an anger problem. What is it that underlies the bully’s anger? In my opinion, it’s a sense of insecurity towards themselves and anger towards those responsible for bringing about the insecurity. This anger is often channelled towards anyone and anything that triggers that sense of insecurity (confidence, success, good looks, etc) as if the trigger is responsible for the insecurity’s existence.
Following Karyn Hall PhD’s thoughts (2012), the bully’s anger serves a few possible purposes: to protect himself, to control, and to connect:
- Emotional Shield: Bullies fight hard to protect themselves from feeling powerless. As former victims themselves, they’ve had their share of feeling powerless. Anger is an empowering feeling that pushes them to break that all-too-familiar barrier of paralyzing fear. They find comfort in it.
- Source of Control: Bullies fear to lose their victim as a scapegoat, which they desperately hold on to. Through anger, they can intimidate and manipulate others into submission to play the game by their rules.
- Safer Connection: Dr. Hall paraphrases Steven Stosny’s words on core hurts from his book Treating Attachment Abuse (1995): “He identifies core hurts, some of which are feeling ignored, unimportant, accused, guilty, untrustworthy, devalued, rejected, powerless, and unlovable”. These core hurts are the result of serious narcissistic injuries. The core hurts give rise to difficult emotions, such as fear, sadness, depression, vulnerability, etc. Anger then becomes a way of connecting with other people without having to deal with those difficult emotions.
Dr. Hall argues further that the anger can sometimes stem from entitlement and not insecurity: “exhibiting a narcissistic anger – she does not feel insecure, she feels entitled” (Hall, 2012). The sense of entitlement is a strong trait of a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). On that point, I would argue that the bully’s sense of entitlement itself may stem from insecurity as well. The insecurity gets triggered when people don’t respect the narcissist’s sense of entitlement, thus bursting his narcissistic bubble whose sole purpose is to protect him from feeling vulnerable and inferior. The narcissistic anger is unleashed as a result of the narcissistic bubble bursting (or threatening to burst).
Since bullies tend to have a sense of entitlement in varying degrees, they also have varying degrees of narcissistic rage even though they may not qualify for an NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) diagnosis.
In his book Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited (2008), Sam Vaknin explains the nature of narcissistic anger. He says that “narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage” (Vaknin, #10, 2008), often controlled with explosions here and there when their poor self-perception is triggered by internal or external sources.
He explains that this untamed anger essentially has two layers: “The first layer, of superficial ire, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, incorporates the narcissist’s self-aimed wrath” (Vaknin, #10, 2008). The narcissist targets those who trigger his injury in any way. Thus he uses his victim as a scapegoat on whom to vent his anger and to project his loathed insecurities in a powerful, yet subconscious, attempt to rid himself of that injury. Dealing directly with the injury is his key to healing, but it is what he fears the most. Rather, he chooses to run from it by projecting himself in his victim’s strengths, which he both hates and loves. He hates them because they expose his insecurities and he loves them because they are what he longs to possess himself.
The narcissistic injury is a trait that narcissists and bullies share that explain the underlying anger to their abusive relationships. The anger is sometimes open and explosive but more often passive-aggressive, which makes it more difficult to identify and deal with.
What makes this shift from anger to victimizing seems to be envy. Envy is the subjective and sometimes delirious perception that others enjoy happiness that we are unable to attain. It is the engine that drives the bully to target and attack, all in the hope of depriving his victim of happiness. Since he can’t assimilate that happiness, he would rather see the coveted happiness destroyed (cfr. Hirigoyen, 1998, p.159). If he can’t be happy, he can’t let others be happy.