The Psychology of Adult Bullying

By Nicole Beaver


We all have heard it, seen it, and maybe experienced it personally. Bullying was that rotten thing that existed somewhere in between grades 1-12. We’re over that though, right? Well, according to the Canadian Bullying Statistics department of the CIHR, it’s been reported that 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis. Yup, you read that right. Even as an adult, bullying can still occur. It happens especially to people of colour, the disabled (like yours truly), those who are at economical differences, or those who identify as LGBTQ+. We’re all adults now, right? Shouldn’t we be over this immaturity by now? Nope. I have personally had to deal with bullying this past semester and it even got vicious at times. My previous experiences inspired me to take a look into this.

An article done by Psychology Today titled “8 Keys to Handling Adult Bullies” states that an adult bully “can be an intimidating boss or colleague, a controlling romantic partner, an unruly neighbor, a high-pressure sales/business representative, a condescending family member, a shaming social acquaintance [etc].” According to James F. Masterson (author of The Search for the Real Self), adult bullies often have some level of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

I’m going to take a step back and briefly explain what NPD is. Narcissism is probably a word you recognize; in many cases, it’s a shorter and fancier way of describing someone who is self-absorbed. NPD, however, is a personality disorder in which there is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by NPD often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood and occurs across a variety of situations. Often, you can associate this with bullying, though there are other reasons for bullies acting the way they do. These include abuse and/or bad home life. Sometimes, they themselves were bullied or suffer from anger management issues.

When it comes to adult bullies, some are borderline to having a personality disorder, often some type of NPD. They don’t think anything is wrong with them and they continue to hurt those around them. It is not because they are evil, but it is because something, again, isn’t wired right in their minds. I will mention, though, that this disorder is very rare, and it affects maybe 1% of our population. As well, there are several types, some of which can be further read on in Psychology Today’s article of “Meet the Real Narcissists.”

According to psychologist Craig Malkin, people who are bonafide narcissists have “their thoughts, behaviors, and statements [that] set them apart from others, and this feeling of distinction soothes them, because they’re otherwise struggling with an unstable sense of self.” This leads to them developing depression or anxiety disorders. It is important to note that people who have NPD are humans like the rest of us, but like their counterparts who suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder (something I will discuss in an upcoming article), they are unable to feel empathy the same way most people do. What makes them unique, sadly, is that they feel self-gratification by sacrificing the feelings of others to push themselves to the top. Unfortunately, there is no specified way of therapy to help those afflicted.

I will conclude this article with a note for those of us being picked on still. Your feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and depression are very valid. You are being manipulated, threatened, and intimidated by someone who has not yet matured. This should not be happening to you. We are not kids anymore. There are many resources you can use to get help, and I wish you the best of luck and safety through the rest of your days.

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