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

Updated March 28, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Being on the receiving end of bullying can be very hurtful, and it can be difficult to comprehend why someone might consistently put other people down. Individuals who mistreat others might have a variety of reasons for their behavior, some of which they may not be aware of. For instance, a person who puts others down may have low self-esteem, childhood trauma, or past experience being bullied, among other possible reasons. 

If you are trying to make sense of relationships with people who put others down, learning more about some of these possible reasons for bullying may be helpful. It may allow you to better understand someone and determine how to support those in your life impacted by bullying. 

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Being bullied can be very painful

The psychology of bullying: Why someone may put others down

There can be many possible reasons why a person may feel the need to bully others. Some of these can include:

Wanting to feel superior to others

The desire to feel superior to others can be a common reason for some individuals to put others down. Those who feel this way may think that they need to knock others down in order to bring themselves up. By trying to make another person feel small, a person who bullies may feel bigger, more important, or more impressive, at least for a moment. 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 desire may come from an individual’s low or negative view of themselves, and the bullying could be a defense mechanism they have developed to try to shield themselves.

Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can be another major reason for bullying. This have some similarities with the desire to feel superior to others detailed above, but it can also have its own set of causes and dynamics. An individual with low self-esteem may feel the need to make others feel bad about themselves, too—they may want others to feel just as hurt as they do about themselves. This could also come from a desire to get any form of attention in order to feel more valued and loved, to make up for the low self-esteem. However, the negative attention gained from this type of behavior often makes the person feel worse.

Childhood trauma

Childhood trauma can have a significant effect on how people relate to the world around them as they grow up. Some examples of possible childhood trauma can include verbal and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, experiencing a natural disaster, or losing a parent. Children who experience trauma may experience a range of symptoms and behaviors including acting out in social situations, being aggressive toward others, or even imitating the traumatic event. 

If you are experiencing abuse of any kind, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also use the National Domestic Violence Hotline online chat system.

  1. Being bullied themselves

Research has found that people who have been bullied themselves may be more likely to bully others. For some, they could turn to bullying as a defense mechanism. After being bullied themselves, they may want to try to defend themselves from being bullied again by instead going after others. They may also want to take their rage and pain out on other people. They may feel that a bully appears to be strong and powerful, and they may long for this after having been bullied by others and made to feel small. 

  1. Lack of empathy

Sometimes, a person who puts others down may not even fully understand the way their words and actions affect other people. They may have very little empathy for others, and so they don’t feel very attuned to how they are making other people feel. They may find it difficult to relate emotionally to others, and they may be somewhat oblivious to the effects of their actions. They may be unaware of how their actions and words impact other people. This type of person might sometimes be described as having "no filter" or simply not caring about others.

  1. Underlying mental health conditions

In some cases, angry outbursts towards others could be connected to an underlying mental health condition. For example, some of the possible symptoms of depression include irritability, frustration, angry outbursts, and agitation. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more could be at play for some people experiencing difficulties in their relationships. 

Being bullied can be very painful

How to get help

Navigating a relationship with someone who puts other people down can be challenging, and while trying to understand the reasons for their behavior can be helpful, sometimes, you may want additional support. 

If this is something you’re experiencing, speaking with a trained therapist may help. Research has shown that online couples therapy can be an effective option for improving relationship satisfaction and mental health. 

Discussing relationship conflicts can feel very vulnerable and personal, and some people may feel more comfortable discussing these topics in a space where they feel most at ease, rather than in a new environment or office. With online therapy through Regain, you can meet with your therapist from the comfort of your own home.  


There can be many different reasons why a person may feel the need to put others down. Some possible reasons can include low self-esteem, childhood trauma, being bullied themselves, or a lack of empathy. If you are navigating a relationship with someone like this and would like additional support, you can speak with an online therapist for help. 

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