Battling bulliesWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about influence. Not power, although the two are certainly difficult to define without each other. Power is intrinsically about balance and inequality. Influence is a much more fluid concept. Power and influence can be used for positive and negative purposes, but influence carries a gentler tone, up to the point where abuse pushes it into power territory.
I recently discussed these ideas via email with Frank A. DiLallo, prevention/intervention schools consultant and Diocesan case manager for the Diocese of Toledo. I have great respect for DiLallo; he has dedicated his life and talents to defusing bullies through such efforts as the Peace Project and Peace2U. Our conversation focused on bullies and power abuse.
MILLER: Bullying can go well beyond physical intimidation. Where does the line of asserting power in an imbalanced situation cross the line into bullying?
DiLALLO: There are many examples of individuals, groups and organizations that have certain power to assert influence over others. This assertion of power can happen in one of two ways; 1) In an altruistic way creating a helpful impact with and for others; or 2) In an egoistic way that can do serious harm, having a damaging impact on others. An individual, group or organization becomes an aggressor or bully when it intentionally uses its power to physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and/or spiritually oppress or harm the targeted individual, group or organization. The aggression is typically repeated and is an unjust use of power. Wherever there is gain for the aggressor at the expense (physical, mental, emotional, social and/or spiritual loss) of the target, that is considered bullying. An easy acronym to remember is RIP, which stands for Repeated, Intentional and Power-based.
MILLER: Explore the concept of bullying as it is connected to status, and the attempt to maintain and protect that status.
DiLALLO: Personal, organizational or social status holds a certain level of prominence within the culture or social structure in which it lives and/or serves. If this prominence is threatened or encroached upon in any way, altruistically or egoistically it can be perceived as a threat. When threatened, a natural response is to protect our territory, just like any other animal. Bullie,s however, use their power, less to protect and more from a place of entitlement. They aggressively treat their target as “less than.” Power structures are inherently set up to protect self-interest and do not altruistically consider others at all, or at least in a limiting way. If this were not true there would not be any starvation, homelessness, poverty, etc.
MILLER: Bullying is almost always a pattern, a repeated behavior. At what point does the victim need to consider a change in strategy from “turn the other cheek” to seeking protection?
DiLALLO: A hard fact to swallow is that we are all responsible for bullying. Bullying is a dynamic that cannot and does not occur without at least three main characters: bully, target/victim and bystander. If the target continues to respond or not respond them same way to the bully, he/she will remain a part of this mysterious and insidious covert dynamic. In order to get out of the encapsulated triangle, with the bully the target has to engage in more effective strategies that will prevent or protect them from continuing to be a target. Unfortunately, the target is often not able to see alternative strategies because of the enormous power structure created by the bully. One way to illustrate this is if you look at the “Bullying Triangle” as an inverted triangle with the bully and bystanders on the top-heavy side and the target at the point or “brunt.” The waves of bullying make it is very overwhelming for the target. The target is already at a disadvantage in some way because they don’t have equal status or power to the bully and his/her entourage. If they did, they would be less likely to be a target in the first place. The target needs to “move,” or change strategies that level the playing field, causing the bully to lose interest.
MILLER: It seems to me that taking a kid’s lunch money in third grade and using a team of $600/hour lawyers to intimidate is essentially the same behavior.
DiLALLO: We are all still kids, but just in bigger bodies.
MILLER: Why would anyone take satisfaction in bullying? What is the psychological root of that?
DiLALLO: I believe the psychological root of someone taking pleasure in someone’s pain is a way to delude oneself about their own pain. Most bullies have been targeted/victimized by someone. A bully is a person who overidentifies with their aggressor and acts out the mirror reflection of how they were mistreated. We all have a biological need to have the power to influence our environment. When I am rendered helpless or oppressed in one environment there is a deep psychological need to “right the wrong.” Unfortunately, without getting help for my own victimization I attempt to correct what was done to me by doing to others what was done to me, because it’s all I know. This dynamic is what keeps the cycle of abuse and mistreatment going.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Call him at (419) 241-1700, Ext. 223 or email him at email@example.com.