A quote that sums it up best says, “Hurt people hurt people!”
If you find yourself taking advantage of others and overpowering others in whatever means available to you, then you’re probably a bully. The question to ask your self is, “What lies behind my deep hurt that I feel a need to hurt others in order to feel better about myself?” You’re not the first person with this problem, so let’s look at the issues together…
The Making of a Bully
In 1895, at age six, two important events happened in the life of this young boy we’ll call “Al.” (Keep reading, his real identity will be revealed!) First, the unrestrained, carefree days he had enjoyed up to now came to an end as he entered primary school. Secondly, his father retired on a pension from the civil service. This meant a double dose of supervision, discipline and regimentation under the watchful eyes of teachers at school and his strict father at home. His father, now 58, had spent most of his life working his way up through the civil service ranks. He was used to giving orders and having them obeyed and also expected this from his children. The family lived on a small farm, so the children had farm chores to perform along with their schoolwork.
Al’s older brother bore the brunt of his father’s discontent, including harsh words and occasional beatings. A year later, at age 14, the brother had enough of this treatment and ran away from home, never to see his father again. This put young Al, age 7, next in line for the same treatment.
Also at this time, the family moved off the farm to another town. This was the first of several moves the family would make during the restless retirement of Al’s father.
But now at home, tragedy struck. Al’s little brother Edmund, age 6, died of measles. Al, the boy who loved warplay and its ‘pretend’ death now had to confront genuine death for the first time. It seems to have shaken him badly. To make matters worse, the little boy was buried in the cemetery next to their house. From his bedroom window, Al could see the cemetery. Years later, neighbors recalled that young Al was sometimes seen at night sitting on the wall of the cemetery gazing up at the stars.
His grade school years were coming to an end and he had to choose which type of secondary school to attend, classical or technical. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a civil servant and sent him to the technical high school in the city in September 1900.
Al, the country boy, was lost in the city and its big school. City kids also looked down on country kids who went to the school. He was very lonely and extremely unhappy. He did quite poorly his first year, getting kept back. Al wanted to become an artist instead, but his stubborn father refused to listen. And so a bitter struggle began between father and son.
Al began his second year at the high school as the oldest boy in his class since he had been kept back. This gave him the advantage over the other boys. Once again he became a little ring leader.
But now, for young Al, the struggle with his father was about to come to a sudden end. In January 1903, Al’s father died suddenly of a lung hemorrhage, leaving his 13-year-old son as head of the household. In Autumn 1903, when he returned to school after summer vacation, things got worse. Along with his poor grades in mathematics and French, Al behaved badly, knowing he was likely to fail. With no threat of discipline at home and disinterest shown by his school teachers, Al performed pranks and practical jokes aimed at the teachers he now disliked so much. Among Al’s antics – giving contrary, insulting, argumentative answers to questions which upset the teacher and delighted the other boys who sometimes applauded him. With those boys, he also released cockroaches in the classroom, rearranged the furniture, and organized confusion in the classroom by doing the opposite of what the teacher said.
One teacher later recalled young Al as one who “reacted with ill-concealed hostility to advice or reproof; at the same time, he demanded of his fellow pupils their unqualified subservience, fancying himself in the role of leader, at the same time indulging in many a less innocuous prank of a kind not uncommon among immature youths.”
One friend also recalled Al displayed an increasingly unstable personality with a terrible temper. At times he was quite reasonable but he was always prone to sudden outbursts of rage, especially when he was corrected on anything.
In February 1910, he moved into a home for poor men where he would stay for the next few years. Al sometimes earned a little money as a day laborer, shoveling snow and carrying bags at the train station. The utter misery of his poverty also deeply influenced Al. He adopted a harsh, survivalist mentality, which left little room for consideration of kindness and compassion – an attitude that would stay with him until the end.
“I owe it to that period that I grew hard and am still capable of being hard,” Al stated in his book, Mein Kampf.
That’s right, Al’s real name is Adolf Hitler! And the hurt he encountered as a boy with the isolation and loneliness of moving, the harsh disciplinary treatment from his father, and the death of his younger brother became fertile ground for his hardened heart and the subsequent bullying he accomplished on the world stage!
During the assembly of leaders when he first came to power as the Chancellor of Germany, his requirement for power was being resisted by some, and the scene played out like this:
“Meanwhile, Nazi storm troopers chanted outside: “Full powers – or else! We want the bill – or fire and murder!!”
But one man arose amid the overwhelming might. Otto Wells, leader of the Social Democrats stood up and spoke quietly to Hitler. “We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible.”
Hitler was enraged and jumped up to respond. “You are no longer needed! The star of Germany will rise and yours will sink! Your death knell has sounded!”
The vote was taken – 441 for, and only 84, the Social Democrats, against. The Nazis leapt to their feet clapping, stamping and shouting, then broke into the Nazi anthem, the Hörst Wessel song.
Democracy was ended. They had brought down the German Democratic Republic legally. From this day onward, the Reichstag would be just a sounding board, a cheering section for Hitler’s pronouncements.
The Nazi Gleichschaltung now began, a massive coordination of all aspects of life under the swastika and the absolute leadership of Adolf Hitler. Under Hitler, the State, not the individual, was supreme. From the moment of birth, one existed to serve the State and obey the dictates of the Führer. Those who disagreed were disposed of.
Now, for the first time as dictator, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to the driving force, which had propelled him into politics in the first place, his hatred of the Jews. It began with a simple boycott on April 1st, 1933, and would end years later in the greatest tragedy in all of human history.”
(Taken from The History Place – The Rise of Adolf Hitler; website)
There are actually a lot of stories in Scripture about people bullying or being vengeful of others. In fact, we might say that it’s a primary way that we, as human beings, act toward one another. This is quite contrary to the ways the New Testament and Jesus himself tells us to show mercy and love one another. (For example, try looking up “one another” verses in the New Testament and see what you find is the spiritual way to act toward others rather than the ‘natural’ way we act without Christ.
This is a composite story of the man who ended up writing about 1/3 of the New Testament. His name is Paul, or some know him as St. Paul. But it didn’t start that way! In fact Paul, who was known as Saul, was a ruthless, zealous religious person, and a strong hater of Christ followers. They represented everything vile and offensive to him; they threatened his beliefs and identity by declaring a risen Jesus!
He made it his goal to capture these Christian “infidels,” then bring them to public trial and execution. This story from the book of Acts tells us of Saul’s presence when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed by an angry mob. Then Saul went door to door in Jerusalem, finding people who believed that Jesus is the Messiah.
“How stubborn you are!” Stephen went on to say. “How heathen your hearts, how deaf you are to God’s message! You are just like your ancestors: you too have always resisted the Holy Spirit! Was there any prophet that your ancestors did not persecute? They killed God’s messengers, who long ago announced the coming of his righteous Servant. And now you have betrayed and murdered him. You are the ones who received God’s law, that was handed down by angels—yet you have not obeyed it!”
As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God.
“Look!” he said.
“I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice,
“Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died.
And Saul approved of his murder.
That very day the church in Jerusalem began to suffer cruel persecution. All the believers, except the apostles, were scattered throughout the provinces of Judea and Samaria. Some devout men buried Stephen, mourning for him with loud cries.
But Saul tried to destroy the church; going from house to house, he dragged out the believers, both men and women, and threw them into jail.
Saul relentlessly hunted down the followers of Jesus. Nothing could stop him from his vengeful pursuit of people who believed in Jesus and exact a brutal punishment on them. He attempted to wipe them out completely!
“I persecuted to the death the people who followed this Way. I arrested men and women and threw them into prison. The High Priest and the whole Council can prove that I am telling the truth. I received from them letters written to fellow Jews in Damascus, so I went there to arrest these people and bring them back in chains to Jerusalem to be punished.”
This is the point where the stories of Saul and Hitler diverge drastically. And this is where a violent bully named Saul becomes absolutely transformed! On his way to find more Christ followers in Damascus, Saul had a personal encounter that changed him forever.
“As I was traveling and coming near Damascus, about midday a bright light from the sky flashed suddenly around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘ Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute,’ he said to me. The men with me saw the light, but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked,
‘What shall I do, Lord?’ and the Lord said to me,
‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything that God has determined for you to do.’ I was blind because of the bright light, and so my companions took me by the hand and led me into Damascus.
Acts 9:19, 20
Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. He went straight to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God.”
Saul became known as Paul, and he became a merciful, loving, completely-sold-out-to-Jesus man who told the story of Jesus wherever he went, and he traveled a lot for that day! The vengeful bully became an apostle of Jesus Christ, and his anger and vile behavior were transformed into a deep passion for loving people with the love of Jesus!
There is hope for bullies! Just because you are mean and dominating toward others does not mean that you have to continue being that way. Cry out to Jesus and ask him to meet you and change the hurt in your heart! Remember the story of Saul turned Paul. Jesus transforms bullies into people who bring healing to others.
- Have you ever bullied someone? If so, who was it, and what were the circumstances? What was the result?
- Have you ever thought of Adolf Hitler as a bully? Some of you have even been stationed in Europe. Did you ever make the connection between where you lived, and it being a worldwide response to a world class bully almost 70 years ago?
- What seems to be the key for Paul changing from being a bully on Christ followers to becoming a person who spread the message of God’s love? Do you think that’s possible in peoples’ lives today? What would that look like? Do you know anyone like that?
Soften the hardened hearts of bullies. Tame their harsh tongues when they threaten and puff themselves up. Restrain them in their haste to tear others down. This is too big for me. I give you the pain. I am too small to handle them. I feel too small to shine your light in their darkness. I do not feel equipped. Let the love of your Son Jesus Christ dwell in the hearts of all your children. Let bullies cease their desire for control, which creates chaos and disunity. Let your love rule in our hearts, let us let Jesus be our Lord who guides us, and let your love unite us all.
Being aware of the reason for someone’s actions is often the first step toward change. If you think you may be a bully, talk with an adult about your concerns and hurt, and, remember, God is there for you too. Take a moment and tell him what you think about yourself. How you see yourself in the mirror (both literally and figuratively) He sees you as his precious beautiful child and you can be certain of his love for you!
“For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below—there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison.
I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed.
Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing:
The LORD’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,
Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.
The LORD is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.
The LORD is good to everyone who trusts in him,
So it is best for us to wait in patience—to wait for him to save us—
And it is best to learn this patience in our youth.
If you take a look around the web it’s hard to find things from the perspective of a bully. That can be pretty frustrating if this is something you struggle with and are trying to understand more. Here is an article written by a man who in his younger years bullied others and now reflects on his understanding of why and how bullies come to be. Consider as you read this, how a relationship with Jesus Christ changes “the game.” God loves you and promises to take your life and heal, renew, and restore you to his original purpose.
This is what God says about you and your future:
“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11
Reflections of an Ex-Bully
By D. Brian Burghart
This article was published on 08.18.11. on newsreview.com
I’m a bully. Reformed. I was bullied. In fact, in the small town in Nebraska where I grew up—I’m 49 now—I feel I lived in a culture of bullying and violence. And it started young, with parental corporal punishment a simple fact of life. I was a weirdo from day one, and I think that the other kids (and adults) sensed that I rarely felt at ease.
Bullying, from my point of view, is about power. It’s about the powerful exerting their influence through abusive actions to force the less powerful to conform. “Less powerful” can mean smaller, shyer, nicer, heavier, weirder, more sensitive, smarter, effeminate or butch—any individual who doesn’t fit into the bully’s unbridled definition of acceptable normality. That’s why the new kid sometimes gets bullied. He or she is outside the bully’s experience, and therefore different by nature. It is truly nothing personal.
This is the first point: Bullies are not born. They are created by other bullies.
The bully culture is underpinned by the American culture of survival of the fittest. Schools are almost without exception designed to create a hierarchy, a rich environment for bullying to take place. First, there are the teachers who are tasked with keeping order and have wide latitude in how they enforce discipline and correct behavior. Some of the emotional and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of teachers—one nun in particular—would probably get the teacher jailed today. But often, those teachers and coaches set the stage for other bullies by singling out a student for “socialization,” insinuating that the other students exert peer pressure to bring the student into line.
But children and young people do not understand social indoctrination, and I don’t think most have the self-awareness to understand how their own behavior affects others. This includes both the bullies and the bullied. As insane as it may sound, bullies often think they are helping the people they bully.
Here’s an example: In the hierarchy of high school, seniors are larger physically, have more experience fitting in, and have more hormonal control than younger students, particularly freshmen. They are tasked by adult administration and teachers, sometimes tacitly, sometimes overtly, with showing the younger students how to act. My school had a formal night where the seniors took the freshmen out and treated them poorly, although I think the tradition died the year after I took part. Seniors only have their own experience to inform them how to get particular behavior out of their subordinates. And in this structure, it’s likely they suffered someone who was better at getting an action though violence, teasing and threats.
All this creates fear and uncertainty. Younger students never know when their behavior is going to be corrected or even which behavior or unchangeable aspect of their looks or personality is going to be judged wanting.
This is the second point: Bullies are afraid. This is true on a couple of levels. First, the bully was taught fear by parents, teachers, and older bullies. Second, there’s the fear of the “other” among the bullies—that new kid, for example. And the randomness of the bullying creates fear among the bullied, but more than that, it spawns a situation where the kid loses confidence in him- or herself, sometimes blaming themselves for the bullying they suffer. The problem is the things that are most likely to draw the bullies’ attention are completely outside of the bullied person’s control: No one can help their newness, their acne, their skin color, their knock-knees or perceived sexual orientation.
And the fear begets anger. The frustration caused by not knowing where, when or even why discipline is going to be administered creates a constant feeling of unfocused resentment—which can be exhibited in self-destructive behavior, acting out, and continuation of the bullying cycle.
I have never experienced the Facebook-bullying phenomenon, but I find discussions of it analogous to the relationship between a child and emotionally or physically abusive caretakers. When the bullying takes place at home and at school and on the cell phone, the student—for whom years are interminable—can lose hope. And those tragedies are the stories we are hearing and reading about so much these days.
For the parent of a bullied child or for the child, an awareness that bullying starts at the top of the systemic structure of schools, home and society may be enough to temper the horrible feelings of powerlessness and inevitable loss of self-esteem. The best way to combat bullying is to go after the teachers, coaches and administrators who generate the bully culture though approval or ignoring the bullying that goes on under their noses, and if the parent or student does not get relief, to move up the ladder. The answer to proactively combating bullying is constant awareness and training for administrators, teachers, parents and students.
Bullying’s effects are lifelong—even if it’s only the guilt someone carries about the torture they inflicted on others when they didn’t have the self-awareness or empathy to recognize that they were hurting others and themselves.
1 John 3:15
2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 John 2:9
1 Peter 3:8-9
Small group guide:
One of the biggest challenges, and the newest, facing kids today is online communication, namely cyberbullying. It’s tough to know when you’re crossing the line or when you’re actually a target. You don’t wanna seem like a whiner or like a fraidy-cat to your friends and family. If you aren’t sure where you stand (whether you’re nervous you’re the bully or the one being bullied) the best thing you can do is get the opinion of someone older and with more life experience like your parents, leader, or chaplain. You might feel a little uncomfortable but it’s worth it. They have a perspective that you may have never considered. Take a look at this video from ABC News and pay attention to what every older person thinks (regardless of whether or not they themselves are attractive)
Large group guide:
- If you’ve bullied someone in the last month, ask God to forgive you. Then go to them or write them a note telling them you’re sorry.
- Try talking to a trusted adult in your community about ways you have bullied others. Get their perspective on your actions and ask them to help you change your behavior.
- Sit down with a piece of paper or your computer and write down some things in your past that have hurt you that might be reasons for your bullying. Pray for God to reveal things to you. Can you think of a few things (like a parent who hit you, or a broken family where you felt blamed, or the loss of someone very special, or confusion about your new home, etc.) to write down? Find a youth leader or chaplain to open up to about this, and remember to thank God for showing these to you.
One of TVs most popular bullies right now is Sadie Saxton on MTVs Awkward. She is like a master samurai delivering her death-blows in one liners followed by her ever famous “You’re Welcome.” Despite how hilarious this character can be, if you watch closely you can see how much pain she is really in every day, and how she uses her humor and cutting observations to cover up her own fears and hurt. Now think for a minute about the things you do to cover up your own pain or insecurity. Make a list of 5 or more things and then pray over them. Ask God to help you remove them from your life and replace them with security in his love for you. He wants to heal you and help you see yourself the way he sees you. Take a look at these Scriptures to find out about God’s love for you and how he is with you through all things:
“He heals the broken-hearted
and bandages their wounds.”
“Do not be afraid—I am with you!
I am your God—let nothing terrify you!
I will make you strong and help you;
I will protect you and save you.”