Psychological Profiles of Bullies and Victims

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Until I began to search literature on bullying, I used to think that an average class, at the most, has one or two bullies.  I was wrong.  In fact, a class of the size of thirty children, on average, have four to five bullies.   Psychological studies on middle school children show that fifteen percent of middle schoolers act as bullies one time or the other.  Who falls in that fifteen percent category?  What do we know about them?  How can we control bullying at school and help bullies themselves shun bullying?  To answer such questions, experts are asking what aspects of their personal background shapes bullying behavior.  Experts are attempting to answer why some children want to dominate or intimidate their peers as opposed to winning and influencing their peers with qualities, such as charisma, humor, assistance, and cooperation,    

 A study conducted by The Center for Adolescent Studies at Indiana University, on five hundred and fifty-eight 6th to 8th- graders, offers some interesting insights.  The study compared bullying children and non-bullying children regarding their home environment and personal behaviors.  Here are the salient findings about bullies:  

1.  They watch more violent TV at home.  

2.   They misbehave at home more frequently.  

3.  They spend less time with adults at home. 

4.  At home, when they are disciplined, they face more forceful parental discipline.   

5.  Bullies have fewer positive adult role models.  Perhaps, they don't get adequate opportunity for watching a lot of adults in their environments trying to win friends and influence people through communication, persuasion, or negotiation.  Consequently, they don't get adequate opportunity to role model for ideal social skills.    

6.  Likewise, bullies have fewer positive peer influences.  Perhaps, the peers with whom bullies identify are also trying to dominate others by fear and coercion.  

7.  Bullies also get into more fights.         

 The researchers in this study also identified children who were "high-scale bullies;" based on behaviors such as, hitting, hurting, and humiliating other children.  Following observations resulted from the analysis of the family and social environment of high-scale bullies:

1.  Thirty-six percent of them came from single-parent homes.

2.  Another thirty-two percent had step-parents.

3.  They had easier access to guns.    

4.  They had more exposure to gang activities.  

 Looking at the above information in another way, less than one-third of the high-scale bullies lived with both their natural parents.  More than one third did not have both parents living under the same roof with the child.  Beside the lack of two-parent rearing, many children are exposed to abuse.  Kathryn Jens, a school psychologist from Denver, says that fifty percent of bullies come from an abusive environment.  They simply hand out to others what they personally receive.  

 All bullies are not alike.  While some are defiant, impulsive, and hungry for domination and power, some just want to connect with others.  Unfortunately, not knowing any better, they do it in an unhealthy way.  Often, high scale bullies have "lieutenants."  Lieutenants don't bully others until the main bully is present; they seek  approval of a parent-figure, however distorted that may be from our point of view.        

 Let's take a look at the victims of bullying.  What is their profile like?  According to Garrity, another school psychologist, some are passive and loners.  They cry easily.   They lack self-defense skills.  They aren't able to dodge a conflict with humor and don't think very quickly on their feet.  About ten to fifteen percent of victims can be described as, "provocative victims."  These children are restless and easily aroused emotionally.  They are teasers.  They fight back against bullies and come back for more.  Less skilled in fighting than bullies, they mostly lose those fights.

 The majority of children don't get caught in the game of a bully.  They fend off bullies with humor.  They are quick to offer compromises when a bully tries to bully them, thus  creating the impression on the bully that they want to be nice guys and get along.  They move around with friends unlike the typical victim of bullying who is passive and stays alone.    (File: "Bullying  index:child devpt.)        

 The profile of a bully indicates that if parents don't spend adequate time with their children, they may compensate for that attention by "extortion."  They may seek it aggressively and gratify themselves with power and domination over children weaker than themselves.  Beside spending more time with their children, parents may also review what messages are they giving them with regard to anger control and fighting.  The profile of a victim indicates that children who are very isolated need to be specially monitored for the possibility of bullying.  They should be taught skills to socialize with others.        

 By the time a child graduates from elementary school, he or she will have watched more than hundred thousand acts of violence, and about eight thousand murders on the screen.  A bully will have watched even more acts of aggression on the screen and perhaps at home, than an average child.   

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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