Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bullying Isn't a "Victim Problem," It's a "Bully Problem"

In an age during which "My unique, precious angel" has been elevated to nearly omnipotent status by mutually encouraged hyper-parenting, most of the attention given to the issue of bullying is being deflected away from the perpetrators in order to focus on the victims.  We see 'impact statements' and hear advice on how they should 'fight back,' but the cause of all this heartache (I was bullied as a child) is not the vulnerable victims, it's the bullies. 

We operate these days in a "politically correct" vacuum in which it is frowned upon to criticize anyone's "precious little angel," yet it's a few of those "angels" who mercilessly target the vulnerable.  Psychological studies have now proven that people with no to low empathy are all around us, regularly rising, through their relentless determination and lack of sensitivity, to boss-status and positions of power in politics and building businesses, yet these (often very high IQ) individuals did not magically have their EQ (emotional quotient) evaporate in adulthood, THEY STARTED OUT THIS WAY. 

It's also being proven that empathy can be taught to  low-EQ individuals if the lessons start early enough.  The real problem is their parents.  These kids tend to be 'difficult' to deal with at home already, so the parents aren't particularly open to hearing that they are problematic at school.  Finding this out not only is at variance with their loud inner voices that tell them their progeny are flawless, but it adds a new burden to the task of raising them. 

However, the only way to effectively tackle ANY deep-seated problem is by addressing the root cause, not the symptoms, and the root cause of bullying is the bullies, NOT the victims.  These predators take disturbing pleasure in eliciting emotional reactions from the most vulnerable of their peers that give them clearly demonstrable power.  They 'test the waters' from an early age with the kids around them, accepting the somewhat less cruel (but desperate to join a group) sociopath kids in as their 'henchmen' and zeroing in on the kids who react most dramatically to their psychological/emotional torture.

When we take into consideration the fact that the psychological/psychiatric community likes to cook up hard and fast, definitive 'disorders,' rather than recognizing that every disorder can exist in the presence of other disorders (every human brain is unique!) AND that each disorder is not a 'bucket,' but rather is a bell-curved 'spectrum' populated by those at the small 'pinched end' who are diagnosable (but with a ton of others on the bell curve who are close to that right-hand tip but don't have sufficient criteria to put them in the 'bucket'), we get a situation where the our society buys into the idea that there are very few, rare problematic individuals out there.  Recent work with psychopaths (reported on CNN) proves that there are as many as one in a hundred amongst us, yet that number ignores all of the people who have many of the traits, but aren't diagnosable.  Psychopaths most certainly are bullies, and their 'henchmen' tend to be sociopaths. 

Are there bullies who are not psychopaths or sociopaths?  Certainly.  I stood up to one in Grade 7 who had a dad who got drunk and beat him regularly, so he 'acted out' in school, trying to get back the control over others that was taken from him at home, but he was easy to confront and to turn around by offering him an empathetic ear.  If the combined population of psycho-/sociopaths is 2-3% at any school, we can be guaranteed those psychologically problematic, zero to low-empathy kids are going to be acting out inappropriately, doing so in the kind of experimental manner we'd expect of all unsupervised kids (no teacher or teaching assistant can monitor everything that goes on at school, much less on the way to/from school when I got bullied the most).  You can try standing up to a psychopath, but they feel little remorse and often little fear. 

I believe that the core of the challenge for us, as a society, is coming to grips with the fact that low-empathy children are present in every group and they need special attention.  They need to be identified and their parents need to be made aware that their "precious little infallible angel" is indeed 'special', so special that he/she needs special help (and as there's a high probability of genetic similarities, hence we can expect a defiant, low-empathy reaction from mom or dad, or both).  Keeping a politically correct, hyper-sensitive 'cone of silence' over the task of identifying low-empathy kids is at the root of the bullying problem and is preventing us from making any headway on this issue.

As was the case with supporting the breast cancer cause some years ago, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon these days to talk about the impact of bullying on the victims.  What we're seeing in terms of a solution are generic, across-the-board programs to talk about how bullying is bad in the hopes that these efforts to talk about empathy will somehow 'trickle down' to the few kids sitting in the audience who all the rest KNOW are the bullies.  Until we start identifying those specific kids, the "at risk to be bullies" kids, and start targeting them with empathy education programs, there will be little real effect.  Until these highly rational, but low-empathy kids understand that they ARE going to suffer real consequences for bullying, they won't stop.  The pleasure they derive from bullying is just too exciting, empowering, and addictive.

For more on my take on the problem with labeling people with personality disorders, click here: "The Problem with Labeling People"

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