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Why do People Bully?

There are a whole host of reasons why one person bullies another, from an internal tendency towards aggression and lack of empathy to external forces and events in the home and at school which influence the development of bullying behaviour.

The overriding rationale for intentionally picking on someone who is smaller or weaker is to hurt and isolate them and in so doing gain a sense of pleasure, popularity and power. Bullies often suffer from low self-esteem and lack of confidence themselves and are driven by jealousy and envy to engage in aggressive behaviour in order to get attention, to “look cool” and in control and to show off to friends. By believing they’re better, stronger and smarter than another person, they feel really good about themselves.

Bullies will not stop their behaviour unless they lose their circle of support or face consequences for their actions.

Some of the main motives for bullying are:

Home Factors

  • Lack of attention, affection, approval, care and support;
  • A family environment which is too strict, too lenient or has inconsistent discipline;
  • Excessive physical punishment and cruelty;
  • Life changes such as a bereavement, parental separation/divorce, a new partner or baby in the family, or moving house;
  • Health, financial or other stresses on the family;
  • Witnessing and imitating violence by older role models, believing it to be acceptable;
  • Conflict with neighbouring families;
  • Firsthand experience of being a victim of bullying themselves;
  • Violence on TV, cinema, computer and video games in conjunction with conflict in the home and neighbourhood.

School Factors

  • Lack of attention from teachers;
  • Struggling academic performance;
  • Lack of appropriate adult supervision;
  • Smaller schools and streaming by ability;
  • Inconsistent and inflexible rules;
  • Punishment that is too harsh, abusive or humiliating;
  • Poor staff morale;
  • Few incentives and rewards for non-aggressive behaviour;
  • Curriculum that affords few feelings of success and achievement;
  • Lack of acknowledgement or confrontation of bullying behaviour.


What about the Bystanders, or witnesses?