Understanding Relationships With People Who Put Others Down: Psychology Of Bullying

Updated November 24, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Galyen, LCSW, BC-TMH

As much as we like to categorize people that bully as bad, those who mistreat others rarely do so for no reason. There are a variety of causes for this type of behavior. Many factors make people put others down. Psychology says trauma from childhood, low self-esteem, and insecurity are a few major causes.

If you want to understand relationships with people who put others down, psychology can help explain the complexity to you. When you are armed with the right knowledge, you will be able to support better those in your life that might struggle with being bullied or being the bully. As always, knowledge is key.

People Who Put Others Down: Psychology Of Bullying

You Don't Deserve To Be Bullied, And Neither Does Anyone Else
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There are many reasons why a person may feel the need to bully. Some of these include:

  • The need to feel superior to others
  • Childhood trauma
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • A poor home life
  • They have been bullied themselves
  • Insecurity
  • Poor Education
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Underlying mental health issues

The Need To Feel Superior To Others

The need to feel superior to others is a major cause for people who put others down. Psychology says those who feel this need bully to knock others down.

By making another person feel small, a person who bullies feels bigger. They may feel superior in that they can assert their dominance over another person. It could also make them feel strong or powerful to beat another person down. This need comes from a lack of stability regarding this person’s self-worth, and the bullying is simply a defense mechanism they have developed to shield themselves.

Unfortunately, the effects of this solution to feeling inferior are short. The damage done to others is much longer-lasting. If you are in a relationship with someone who puts others down, consider taking other routes to help them feel good enough. Offering supportive words and affirmations are just a couple of ways that you can implement this easily into your routine.

Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma has a great effect on how people relate to the world around them as they grow up. Verbal and mental abuse are among the things that most people consider childhood trauma. These are not the only things that cause this type of behavior, though. Sexual abuse, being involved in a natural disaster, or losing a parent could also cause this type of behavior.

The reason childhood trauma causes people to bully others comes from stress and anxiety inflicted as a result of the trauma. For people who put others down, psychology can help. The traumas that have happened to a person don’t have to define their futures. You can go on to be a happy person that brings love into the world instead of negativity. With the right guidance and support, anyone can learn how to adopt more positive interactions with others.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a major motivator to bullying. This goes along with needing to feel superior to others in a way, but it also has its own set of causes, as well.

Having low self-esteem causes people to bully others because this person may feel a need to make others feel bad about themselves, too. This could also be to get the attention that they need to feel valued and loved. The negative attention gained from this type of behavior often makes the person feel worse, further aggravating their need to bully.

This is a vicious cycle for people who put others down. Psychology says with some positive attention and reinforcement, these habits can be changed. To affect this type of change, though, the person who bullies must want to do so.

A Poor Home Life

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Most people grow up to be a manifestation of their parents. Whether we realize it or not, the home we grow up in has a lot to do with the way we deal with stress in our lives.

If someone were to grow up in a home where ample amounts of violence occurred, these are the coping mechanisms that will result. Verbal abuse at home begets verbal abuse at school and in life as a child grows.

This is why it is so important to pay attention to the way we talk to our children. Always assume that the words you speak to them are the same ones that they will speak to others. Strive to show love and support to your children to encourage them to show the same to the people in their lives.

They Have Been Bullied

Studies have shown that people who have been bullied are far more likely to bully others.

The reason for this is simple: it is a defense mechanism. The person that bullies seem to a victim to be strong and unaffected by the thoughts or opinions of others. This behavior is duplicated to escape from the sadness that results from getting bullied.

The best thing you can do if you have a loved one in this situation is to show extra support and love. The emotions we feel when getting put down can drive many people to make many bad decisions. While it may not make sense to you the reasons your loved one has for becoming the bully, understand that they do have their reasons. Try talking to this person to get to the bottom of how they feel. Once you have a good feel for the root cause of the issue, you can work to fix that first, and the rest will follow.

Poor Education

Poor education or the lack of access to quality education is a leading cause of bullying.

Social skills and moral responsibility are among the first things we learn when we are in school. If a person doesn’t have access to a good school system with teachers that care and want to guide children, the children are at a disadvantage.

Moving to a new district or enrolling a child into a new school can help with access to better education. If these options aren’t available, social programs and community centers offer the opportunity to learn new social skills and avoid bullying altogether. The result will be a happier and more confident child who shows love and kindness to others.

Lack Of Empathy

If a person doesn’t understand the way their actions affect others, bullying can result. A lack of empathy means the compass inside that tells us what might hurt people is broken.

If this is the case, the person doing the damage to other people may not even realize they are doing so. They will be ignorant of the fact that their actions and words have any emotional impact on other people. This type of person might be described as having “no filter” or simply not caring about others. The truth is, if they have a lack of empathy, this isn’t their fault.

You can’t control whether you understand social cues that imply the way another is feeling. What can be controlled, though, are the behaviors one displays. If behavior like bullying is beginning to become more frequent, attention should be called to the problem, and the proper steps should be taken to fix it. If the person bullying others doesn’t understand empathy, being a kind person can still be learned. It may take a bit more effort than it would for someone that has it built-in, but it is not impossible.

Underlying Mental Health Issues

Underlying mental health issues such as depression or anxiety are common triggers for people who put others down. Psychology explains that the way a person’s brain works has a lot to do with the way they act.

When you have a condition like depression or anxiety, your brain isn’t working the way it should. This can cause irritability, constant anger, and decreased control over emotions. All of these things can lead to an outburst of negativity that brings on bullying.

The good news is, this doesn’t have to be the case. Depression and anxiety are not easy to deal with, but they are very treatable. As long as you are willing to get the help needed and dedicate yourself to the programs, this can be in the past. Underlying health issues don’t have to be negatively impacting to your life forever. You can overcome it!

When To Get Help

You Don't Deserve To Be Bullied, And Neither Does Anyone Else
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Sometimes, no matter what is done, the negative behavior of bullying can’t be solved without a helping hand.

The guidance and advice of a licensed counselor or therapist can be just the thing to help you. The counselors at ReGain are trained and help people in similar situations get through similar problems. The counselors are fully accredited and boast thousands of hours of experience, too.

The best thing about ReGain’s platform is that it is completely online. Therapists and counselors are available for access at any time of the day or night with just the click of a button. It has never been easier to reach out and get help – take advantage of the options available to you today!

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