What is Reactive Bullying?

beautiful arrogant and moody spanish woman showing negative feeling and contempt facial expression

young beautiful arrogant and moody spanish woman showing negative feeling and contempt facial expression isolated on grey background looking cocky and defiant

Reactive bullying happens when a victim has taken so much abuse for so long that when the pressure builds to the boiling point, the targeted person blows up or
‘snaps,’ lashing out at their tormentors.

In essence, the victim “bullies them back.” But is it the wisest thing for victims to do?

Believe me. I get that people can only take so much. I understand that you’re sick of it, and I’m with you. However, make no mistake. An explosive reaction is precisely what the bullies want.

They want you to snap.

They want you to blow up on them so they can then claim victimhood and make you look like the bully.

Understand that bullies are experts at baiting a target into a reaction, then using the justified response as proof that the targeted person is “mentally unstable,” “crazy,” “a dangerous person,” “too sensitive,” or a “drama queen”!

Bullies also use the victim’s normal reaction to guilt and convince him/her that it’s all their fault.

Bullying, friendship and people concept

Bullying, friendship and people concept. Girl patronizing screaming pointing finger at shy timid nerdy woman who is looking down

Bullies will make statements such as:

“Well? Maybe if you wouldn’t get so overly emotional, you’d have friends!”

“If you didn’t overreact to everything, people would want to be around you more!”

In short, bullies gaslight their targets with statements like these to make excuses for the behavior and deflect the blame back onto the victims. And sadly, it works like a charm, and bystanders and witnesses believe the target is unstable.

Note: A perfect example is a scene in the movie “Home Alone” when the main character, Kevin McAllister’s older brother Buzz makes a fake apology to his family, then sneakily calls Kevin a trout-sniffer during a family meeting after the fiasco in the kitchen over Kevin’s cheese pizza. Notice how Buzz baits his younger brother Kevin into a reaction!

If you are a target, I want you to understand that there is a name for this. It’s called gaslighting, and it’s a trick to throw you off balance.


Realize that every single human one of us is capable of losing our cool when we’re under that kind of pressure after we’re attacked and subjected to vile treatment for so long.

This is why teachers, supervisors, and others in authority must learn to distinguish between provocation and a reaction so that they will be able to identify the real bully and victim. And you must also learn to tell the difference between the two so that you can call it out when it happens to you.

Luckily, there are a few sure-fire ways of identifying the real victim who is only reacting to a provocation by a bully.

1. A victim who has only reacted always feels terrible about the way they acted once they’ve calmed down and is usually the first to apologize for it. A real victim will also not be afraid to admit they’ve made a mistake.

A bully, on the other hand, must always be right and will never admit they’ve done anything wrong. A bully will still place blame on the victim and be overly critical of the victim and the reaction. Bullies will also use the tiniest screw-up or imperfection and make it bigger than it is. They are also excessively dramatic.

2. A victim will also apologize, sometimes nervously and excessively.

A bully will never apologize. Because a bully is never wrong, even feels that it is their right to mistreat their targets.

Please note that if the bully is a smooth talker, he might even admit to a few minor mistakes or wrongdoings. However, they will always follow that with the claim that the victim is at fault.

So, always look for these signs, and you’ll be able to peel the mask off the bully, layer by layer! Moreover, you’ll be able to protect and care for the victim!

2 thoughts on “What is Reactive Bullying?

  1. This is some great advice, but I would suggest some things. One is putting in the need to further interview each kid separately and thoroughly. That should always happen.
    I was harassed (because that is another word along with “bullying” and “stalking”) when I was young until the age of 13. this was constant teasing, being followed across the playground, being called out in the middle of class just so they could get a rise out of me. That is what they wanted, you are right. When I stopped lashing out (yelling, throwing things, pushing, shoving, kicking), they stopped.
    However they did quickly find a new faucet to turn when a rumor was spread about me. They were not looking for a reaction, they were looking to bury me. They only wanted to talk about me, talk to me, follow me (i was sixteen at that point), and spread more and more ideas and lies about me. You need to bring this type of bullying up and emphasize that it is different and separate from reactive bullying. This kind was the kind where bullies/harassers/stalkers don’t always want a reaction, sometimes they’re just mean, nasty little sociopaths-in-the-making.
    Also, when this new batch of b.s. was made for me to deal with, not only did I not lash out physically or verbally, but I didn’t even report any of them. I didn’t do this because of the new landscape of bullying/harassment/stalking, which is that a lot of it happens online. You need to point out that lashing out at all can become a tricky thing to do in the first place, and sometimes impossible (because how do you contain it or even react to an anonymous message or post online?) There are many many roads to go down in this discussion!
    I am an extremely stubborn and defiant person, and when I was younger and being harassed I knew I was in the right (or mostly) when I used to lash out. Being extremely stubborn is a part of my personality ‘disorder’ (i don’t like the negativity of that word. I am also neurologically different). I do remember some gaslighting from bullies, and I do remember repeatedly pointing out that “you kept hitting me! so i hit you!” in response. I did feel bad and eventually would admit to “maybe i shouldn’t have hit them”, but i would always back that up with “but they kept hitting me first”.
    I don’t know if it was this natural defiance or the fact I had a clean track record at school and was unassuming in class, but somehow the real tormenter was always found out. My point is that adamantly denying any wrongdoing and then refusing to apologize are not the only signs to who is and who is not a bully. You should expand upon more points! (Although this was of course all when I was young and couldn’t argue the teachers/principal that “you need to be more involved because I will physically stand up for myself again if I have to.” If I could have achieved that simple bit of common sense in my arguing when I was very young, maybe I could have gotten the bully found out sooner and helped to prevent another innocent kid from being sent to the principal’s office, being questioned or getting in trouble just for standing up for themselves.)
    There is also the argument that people being bullied SHOULD be taught to stand up for themselves. I know you are not trying to say that kids/students/children/teenagers should not stand up for themselves, but there is definitely an idea of “turn the other cheek” that many, many adults have with kids, and it’s a horrible idea. I’m not sure how that fits in here, but I wanted to put it in because I know your advice is that lashing out is not a good thing with bullies becasue that is what they want, and your article is supposed to be specifically about reactive bullying. I think you’re trying to say that standing up for oneself is not the same as lashing out, but it isn’t clear.
    1. Emphasize that each child needs to be interviewed separately and more than once with an array of questions (bullies can be sneaky manipulative little jerks, as you point out in your article)
    2. Point out that those who don’t necessarily want a reaction although they probably wouldn’t mind it, are not the same as reactive bullies. (some just want a punching bag. others want a reaction because they just want to see what happens and how far they can push someone.)
    3. Talk a bit about how different bullying can be now compared to 30 years ago (and I am 30!). What is the mindset of someone who wants a reaction from the child they are bullying, but they don’t want to be seen or found out? What is that when they want to watch the person explode from the sidelines while only being technically directly involved?
    4. Standing up for oneself is not the same as lashing out!

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