Reactive bullying happens when a victim has taken so much abuse for so long that 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.”
Believe me. I get that people can only take so much. I understand that victims are sick of it, and I’m with them. However, targets don’t realize that an explosive reaction is precisely what the bullies want. They want the target to snap. Bullies want the victim to blow up on them so they can then claim victimhood and make their victims look like the bully.
If you are a parent, teacher, supervisor, or manager, 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 and 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, we snap and act a fool.
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 targets must also learn to tell the difference between the two so that instead of erupting, they can call it out when it happens.
Luckily, here’s a surefire sign to look for:
A victim who has only reacted always feels terrible about the way they acted once they’ve calmed down.
The real victim 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, always has to 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.
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!
With knowledge comes empowerment!