People, Politics and Bullies

As we mourn the passing of President George H.W. Bush it is instructive to explore personality and traits and their relationship to successful leadership. H.W. Bush was a man with the ability to bring together people with different world views something that is lacking now. What we have today is extremism based on selfish rigidity. In short, we are led these days by bullies.

Some people are born stubborn with tough personalities that can result in a personality disorder later in life. Research suggests that some, because of a combination of genetics and a rigid or stressful upbringing, are unable to handle the vicissitudes of daily living. To compensate they develop a pathological coping mechanism – they lash out, harass, intimidate or simply bully. Bullying is a default reaction that effectively allows these individuals to mask feelings of weakness by deflecting negative attention on to others and providing them a tool to manipulate people.

Bullies are likely to have been individuals reared in homes where yelling and antagonism predominate. They often have few loving people they trust and as a result they substitute anger for nurturing. Bullies were also likely to have been bullied themselves. They tend to have active and externalizing temperaments which allows them to be excessively self-protective and are quick to project anger which they use to garner what they see as more power for themselves.

Responding with aggression is a technique that bullies favor for coping with life’s problems and conflicts. It gives them pleasure to act out and enhances their false sense of potency and immunity from pain all while believing they are empowering themselves. They enjoy instigating, deflecting and creating a kerfuffle. They do so physically and verbally and some are expert at using social media to demean their targets calling them names creating lies to further empower themselves. Bullying often includes sexual harassment such as spreading sexual rumors spreading or groping. All this behavior begins at an early age.

As bullies grow up, their negative behaviors may be redirected and sometimes they grow out of their intimidating habits. They may develop warm and trusting relationships and begin to lose their need for aggression. They begin to realize that the demands relationships make are not always designed to hurt them and there is little pleasure in hurting others.

Some, however never get beyond the bullying. Unable to overcome their insecurities and fears they persist in lashing out punching back at minor and imagined slights. They may not be as physically aggressive as they were at younger ages, but they are certainly bellicose and use social media in combative ways. As they act out through their 20’s and 30’s these grown up bullies may go on to be diagnosed with a Narcissistic or Antisocial personality disorder. These conditions are part of a cluster of psychological ailments characterized by poor impulse control, chaotic, unpredictable behaviors and thoughts, emotions in disarray and irrational social interactions. They are abusers that target people to manipulate often by making promises to assist them. When confronted with the lies they tell they react aggressively denying and deflecting, blaming others.

As difficult as bullies are to their targets there are people who identify with bullies, even support them. In addition to the fact that like attracts like so bullies tend to cluster. Children occasionally identify with bullies either because they envy the power bullies appear to have and want to feel powerful just like them or they just want to be shielded so are hopeful that having a bully of their own will serve as a protector against others. These reasons for accepting a bully and their bad behaviors are also true for some adults.

If you are someone with a family to care for and you’re financially stressed, working long hours with no clear path to improvement, hoping for a break or just a supportive hand and someone comes along promising to fight for you a bully may seem like a magnificent option. That bully, seeking self-aggrandizement, will say things designed to advance themselves by adding to their cadre of followers. Their victims believe that they may benefit – “If it works for them it can work for me” – attitude. In fact, bullies will brag and repeatedly lie about how smart and wealthy they are, how they get away with abusing women and how women love them. It’s all smoke and mirrors when it comes to the tales they tell. Indeed, what they are doing is simply intimidating people into becoming followers by playing on weaknesses and fears. But bullies rarely deliver on promises because they want their followers only as a tool to amass their own power.

There are bullies in all areas of life but the many seem to be in politics. They may even be referred to as fascists practicing radical authoritarian power over others. Sometimes the control they exert is not overt. They brand it as improving quality of life, making things great for followers. They appoint cronies and loyalists, people who are supportive of their bullying, to support their manipulations and power grabs. They demand fealty and bend or break rules to fit their selfish needs. Even smart people are taken in by the deceit and overlook obvious signs of the treachery. Unfortunately, followers are likely not to wake up to the manipulations and if they do it may be far too late.

We are moving in the direction of accepting fascist leaders and there is a lot of bullying particularly in the political world. Supporters of bully leaders may rue their obsequiousness one day, but we will all be harmed if we do not take steps now.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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