Helping You Cope With & Stop



What Drives Bullying Behavior?

The bully is often not aware of the irony of their behavior. They perceive the target as a threat to themselves. They feel the target is more powerful in some way, so they attempt to take control of the target due to their own feelings of low self worth. When bullies sense a target “has more” such as the target being perceived as having more intelligence, compassion, the ability to connect well with others or even the ear of the boss or co-workers, this creates a form of separation anxiety for the bully. The bully actually feels abandoned and uses “power-over” techniques in order to control the target to not “get ahead” of the bully.

It is ironic because the target is not a threat at all. In fact, the healthier our self-worth, the more we are able to realize that no one poses a true threat to us. The threat the bully feels is perceived as real for them but it is also a delusion.

So what is self worth? It is knowing that you “have what it takes” and believing you have value.

Here’s What Happens:

  1. The delusion increases the anxiety.
  2. The anxiety comes from the fear of exposing the bully’s low self worth.
  3. Delusions are deep irrational beliefs.
  4. The anxiety is only alleviated by inflicting suffering on others.
  5. Inflicting pain on others was probably learned by the bully early in life as a coping mechanism and maybe even rewarded in the workplace through promotion or not being held accountable for their behaviors.

Understanding Anxiety:

  1. The bully feels anxious due to their unworthiness and envy.
  2. The bully becomes delusional fearing the perceived threat of the target.
  3. The bully over-reacts with bullying behaviors as a self-protective attack; in fact it becomes a compulsion.
  4. Anxiety based in anger becomes destructive causing persistent negative attitudes, random mood swings, irrationality etc.
  5. Interestingly, male bullies will use more overt, hostile forms of bullying such as overt verbal attacks, strong tone of voice and threats.
  6. Female bullies will generally resort to more of a passive bullying approach for example: manipulation, deviousness, vengefulness and exclusion.
  7. These behaviors become obsessive to the bully as they are now ‘addicted’ to the fix of having ‘power over’ someone as opposed to facing their original lack of self worth and value from early on.

Bullies have internalized and locked into their psyche the belief of ‘I am not worthy’. Unfortunately, other people’s successes and happiness becomes a magnet for their misery.

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19 responses to “What Drives Bullying Behavior?”

  1. Bully Free at Work: Valerie Cade says:

    This is a very unfortunate way to have to work – and for 38 years. I’m sorry you are in such a situation. I might suggest, since it has been so difficult for so long, getting supported by some knowledge with regard to “bullying” and why people do what they do – the main reason would be so you can begin to be free from the affects of such behaviours – even if they continue to exist. It can certainly be very difficult, especially when we are not treated with the respect we deserve in order to perform our jobs. Some people have found that the more they get into studying this area, they become more empowered, they realize they are not alone and the best news, they are able to build some strength even if the other person doesn’t change. Certainly wishing you al the best – feel free to read the rest of our blog and also Bully Free at Work is a step-by-step system for the support you deserve. Here’s the link if you wish to check it out and know we are in your corner.

  2. A J says:

    So after nearly 40 yrs in this hell hole. And being bullied. Thinking this is just the family business as usually. My husband took most of the bullying. Until his niece started working. It’s like she got the ok from her mother to bully me. She would tell her mother I was touching their stuff. I never got the memo everything belonged to them. I asked my husband what he thought was going on. “Oh don’t pay any attention.” I didn’t get the phone fast enough. I was scoffed at when waiting on a customer and I was not racing her to that customer. She would harass me about my conversations on the phone. She would watch me all the time. And I would get scoffed at and stink eyed if I looked at her. So the stuff she had been doing to me alone happened to me and my husband in front of a visiting bank president. Like Jackal and Hyde. She had been bullying me for more than a year by then. No one would help me. I was told to ignore. They are mommie dearest and daughter. Mother was upset that someone had asked her a question. So that meant I was talking about the business. The daughter was harassing me as well. Calling me a yard slave. Then she said are you going to hit me ? I said no I’m not going to hit you. She kept asking me if I was going to hit her and was backing up like I was chasing her. Crazy I didnt I wasn’t and I have never. I do everything I have been working with my husband for over 38 years. She told me I do nothing. I know nothing. You are nothing. But now I’m a bully because I guess she thinks I am going to hit her. Priceless.

  3. elliot syme says:

    wholy moly every word in this is true i have expierianced this first hand it sent a shivver down my spine. I will never bully again thanks for this it is a life changing experiance and things like this only happen once it brings a tear to my eye when i read these words. For this i’m uplifted and greatful there truely must be a god after all there is a light at the end of the tunnel amen. thank you again

    Elliot Syme, 81

  4. Camille Ann says:

    Valerie, I am so grateful to you, getting such valuable information from your website. This has 95% stopped my bully boss from his manipulating acts. Of course, only by notifying the Director and all members of her department, they were able to stop him. But as I know that nobody changes from one day to another, I am certain that my bully boss is already preparing another scenario. At the end he will only make things worse, and this can cause the end of his career.

  5. Magdalena says:

    It would be nice to see a definition of more tacit / subtle cyber-bullying published. For example when some one writes you a question with 4 or 5 question marks behind it. This should be defined as ‘demeaning, unnecessary, and unprofessional’ – in my mind this translates as a message that you are stupid or incompetent. It’s also a form of screaming – as, I believe are multiple exclamation marks. There should be something written about what sort of language is appropriate or not appropriate even via e-mail in a professional context so that anything that which is not in line with this can be defined as inappropriate or ‘bullying’. Another issue is using ‘red ink’ when writing or responding to e-mails. It’s a very aggressive colour that connotes anger or danger / warning. It should be limited to exclusively highlighting very important information – if used at all. Bold face can be used for this purpose better – or ‘note’ or IMPORTANT etc…

  6. Cassandra says:

    I learned to watch for red flags during the interview. If someone seems disingenuous, a cheerleader or
    too good to be true, especially if they say “we are one big happy family,”
    watch out, as you will be expected to join their cult. In my latest
    interviews, I asked specifically about management style/philosophy so there will be no (or fewer) surprises. You need to choose your boss carefully. Don’t let the economy or desperation force you into a bad situation. Don’t feel you have to stick it out for years and destroy your health. Now that so many people are leaving our office, headquarters is starting to ask questions about what is going on with management. That is the only way to take care of bullies; without consequences, they will keep getting away with their behavior. Now that there is clearly something wrong, higher ups are starting to ask questions and dig for answers. I felt so sorry for two new female hires who will be our resident bully’s next victims because she acts so NICE when you are first hired. Watch out for phony, exaggerated enthusiasm when you are hired because you will eventually be knocked off the pedestal. These two poor women don’t have a clue what they are walking into. I am sadder but wiser, and so relieved to be leaving.

  7. Mary says:

    I am here not to talk about what the bully feels, do, and understand the bully. I am here because I lost my job like many others and there is nothing done against the bully. They are out there, thank you very much happy in their world and I am here suffering for the rest of my life, talking. I think that there should be some kind of actions taken against all those who attack innocent people. They have a job, a salary and they can afford to put a slice of bread on the table whereas I am alienated between four walls, talking on my own. Looks like no one cares. Why should any one care anyway. Have a great day if you can!

  8. Maria says:

    Wonderful website, and very useful bulletins. Your advice has helped me cut out of the endless bully-victim cycle. I pass on the word to as many people as possible. From my experience most people have been vitims, or bullies. We all need to learn! Keep it up!!

  9. Margie says:

    I am so grateful for the information and support on this site. Until I found it, I thought the problems I was having with my boss (and her boss as well) were my fault. But I am good at what I do and fit the “target” criteria perfectly. Just acknowledging the source of the problem has helped tremendously. It is also helpful to know that I’m not alone. I had no idea this was so prevalent, even though I have seen it happen before, just not to me! I plan to leave this job as soon as feasible because the stress and negative affects on my health are significant. HR has really been no help to me. Thank you for the encouragement and the awesome website!!!

  10. jacqueline Leigh says:

    I too have experienced bullying for many years whilst in employment and in relationships. I havelearned to take responsibility and not be a victim. This was very hard for me because it meant learning new ways of being. Bullies always lie and blame there victims, I had to learn to see through this, learn that bullying is systemic (some work environments are a system totally of bullying) giving myself options and reading Tim Fields book on bullying and learning about narcistic personalities too. Believing it is not me and learning the patterns of bullying and using NLP visualisation too. Now I can see the early signs and know how to give myself options – simply they are not good enough for me to spend that amount of energy on. There is hope and there are many people who are not bullies, my aim is too support awareness and help create systems for dealing with emotional violence in schools and work place. Bullies are sick, why do we accept this as a way of life. We do not need too, for me I will not as it is time to create change NOW!!!!!

  11. Marian says:

    I love your weekly news letters and found them very valueable to employ anti-bullying tactics when the moment was right! The hard part is to try to remember what I’ve learned and when to apply that in the proper sequence! Often i’ve been fortunate enough that a weekly letter will have something in it that I can use in a very short period of time. Timing is everything and I also found that the calmer you are when dealing with a bully scenario, the more agitated they become, which infuriates them quite a bit! As long as I handle my bullies in one on one conversation and try to catch them alone so they don’t feel so threatened, the results have been very positive! I also do alot of visualizing different scenes I might have with the bully and how I can respond in an adult way without lowering myself to thier level. This way when something comes up, even if the visualization is not exactly the same I have practised what they may or maynot say which keeps me ahead of the bully by a step or 2 and not caught off guard as often!

  12. Frank says:

    This type of bully has a narcistic personality disorder. Maybe 80% of the bullying-bosses may have this. My boss wanted women and saw men as a threat. Most of the women loved him.
    I think that often gifted professionals are bullied by their bosses because they see them as a threat.

  13. Stephanie, says:

    Your weekly newsletter is a god sent! I work for an alcoholic bully who would like to see me quit, because I am a threat to him. To make matters worse, he has an assistant who works in the same room, sitting behind me, watching me all day. This person rarely works more than 3 to 4 hours during the day. She is the bully’s buddy and “partner in crime”. They are both insecure with their jobs, and make me their target, since I am a threat. All I want to do is do my job and do it well. I believe that you should work your 8 hours, and not use company time surfing the internet, and other personal chores, that should be done one your own time. It’s bad enough that these two people play games all day, but they have gone so far as to sabotage my work and hide things from me. I would like more tips on how to keep the bully’s from distracting me with their daily gossip sessions, and put downs of me and other people throughout the day. Is there something I can say that will take them off guard, and shut them up. They are always into everyone else’s personnel business, and go so far as to search the internet to find out personnel, financial and family history on myself and others.
    How can I stop them, when the one participating with the lazy assistant is going along with what’s she’s doing on work time? I have faith that the owner of the company will eventually fire these two, but what can I do in the meantime in order to block out their constant chitter chatter about everything from the news, to why is so-and-so looking so tired today? Any and all suggestions would be welcomed.

  14. Karen says:

    I finally had to quit after six years. The bully was my boss-who is very successful at what he does. He has always had a target and when his late target left two years ago–he started on me. I was losing my sanity and my health; I took another job.

  15. Nick says:

    April 24th,2008 at 9:54 am

    Whether consulting and/or engaging with employees,Dept.Mgrs.or HR folks, this topic seems to be ‘top of mind’. Finally there’s a qualified sourcre-your web site,I can recommend. Please continue to keep this on the front burner, promoting awarenress,practicle solutions and a safe place to learn more. Thanks…

  16. Tommy says:

    I’ve seen with my own eyes the promotion of “smaller bullies” within my department by the director bully. The director bully praises openly the smaller bullies for their gruffness and meanness towards others, while withholding all acolodes for non-bullies. Some non-bullies have even resorted to “kissing up” in order to get along. This bully really makes me angry but I’m beginning to realize my sanity depends upon how I move forward with confidence rather than react.
    Thanks Valerie!

  17. Irene says:

    Finally a one-stop-shop site for workplace bullying. I have been receiving your weekly tips for over a year now and I read every one of them. Your Blog lets me know I am not alone. I would like to chat with other targets of workplace and office bullying.

  18. Kathy says:

    I relate to your comment that bullying becomes compulsive. I have been the target of bullying in several organizations, including religious/Christian organizations. In the last place I worked, I learned after I left that my bully boss continued bullying every employee that came after me, often over very personal issues that had no relation to work. Until that time, I had not realized that bullies repeated their behavior. I had felt for a long time that it was all my fault, and only when others began coming to me asking questions about what happened and sharing what was going on with my successors, did I realize the extent of her compulsion. So I am glad you point out that bullying becomes a compulsive behavior. What really threw me when it began, is that when I started in my last position, things went well for the first year, and then the “real boss” came out of hiding and blindsided me with her abusive behavior.

  19. Randy says:

    I think that this is valuable information – I really wish that I knew just how to put it into practice in my situation. Will keep reading and learning and visiting your information. Thank you very much..

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Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

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