I often wonder how someone could ever intentionally bully another person. Numerous thoughts flutter through my racing mind…

         “It’s impossible to be so cruel.”

         “How can people act so terribly towards others?”
         “Being kind is so simple.”

         “If we all just treated each other with respect, there would be no such thing as bullying.”

This all sounds reasonable and right.

But it isn’t so simple.

Bullying is complicated

It dawned on me the other day, just how complex an act of bullying can be.

I was with my father and we read something together. It was The Remarkable Rocket, a short story by Oscar Wilde. It was brilliantly written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

One particular part caught my attention.

The pompous, self-righteous Rocket is dribbling on and on about his father’s incredible performance in the sky, which was (apparently) highlighted in the newspapers afterwards. At the end of his tiresome monologue, the Rocket says this – and see what follows:

“ ‘Indeed, the Court Gazette called him a triumph of Pylotechnic art.’

‘Pyrotechnic, Pyrotechnic, you mean,’ said a Bengal Light; ‘I know it is Pyrotechnic, for I saw it written on my own canister.’

‘Well, I said Pylotechnic,’ answered the Rocket, in a severe tone of voice, and the Bengal Light felt so crushed that he began at once to bully the little squibs, in order to show that he was still a person of some importance.”

My first reaction was, why would the Bengal Light take out his anger on the little squibs? It isn’t their fault he is upset. That’s not fair at all.

But bullying isn’t fair, now, is it?


This part of The Remarkable Rocket story demonstrates a situation in which one character causes another to become upset, angry and extremely frustrated. Instead of expressing his emotions and communicating those feelings to the character who caused them, the Bengal Light takes it out on the small, harmless fireworks sitting next to him.

What comes next is even more fascinating (and disturbing).

Oscar Wilde writes that the Bengal Light did this “…in order to show that he was still a person of some importance.”

This is what psychologists call displacement behaviour: a person uses this defense mechanism to redirect a negative emotion from its original source to a less threatening recipient.

In addition, the act is committed in order to achieve personal gain in form of social status. According to Stop Bullying, for students aged 12-18 who reported being bullied, 56% stated that they thought those who bullied them had the ability to influence other students’ perception of them, and 50% thought their bullies had more social influence.

All kinds of triggers and behaviours

Displacement is just one possible underlying reason for a bullying incident to occur. The source of the negative emotion might be a parent, a teacher, a friend, or someone you thought was a friend.

The point is, and the issue is, it doesn’t end there. That negative emotion isn’t spoken about, discussed or challenged at the time of occurrence. It is carried off, held in, festered and mutated until it rears its ugly head in a displaced manner.

And so bullying begins. And continues.

Additional triggers and underlying issues that cause people to bully others include:

  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Tendencies and habits of aggressive behaviour
  • Low self-esteem
  • They’ve been bullied themselves
  • Troubled home life
  • Low education
  • Poor and insecure relationships

Muddy spokes

Picture a bicycle wheel.

The centre, the hub, is YOU.

The rubber wheel is your world.

The numerous spokes that extend out from the hub represent the various pathways, interests, relationships, experiences and factors that comprise your life.

Now imagine that your bicycle wheel rips through the streets after a big storm. Your hub, spokes and wheel become covered in mud. The mud is the bad stuff. The jumbled information. The stress. The bad treatment that lowered your self-esteem. The pressure you think you feel from peers to be aggressive so you continue to appear “strong”. The misery and disconnectedness you feel in your home… The bullying acts you commit as a result.

Not all hope is lost, however.

Your bicycle wheel is still good.

You have a hose and running water, and the mud can be sprayed away. Even areas that have become hardened and ingrained in your being, can be dislodged with a sponge and some soap.

But you have to put in the work.

The easiest and most effective way to start de-mudding your wheel is to begin talking. Choose someone to be your person. Tell them what you’re going through using whatever words you can. In time, you will start figuring out your feelings. You’ll identify your triggers and what they lead to. You’ll start getting back to your hub – the essence of who you really are. It’s through this process that you’ll end old behaviours and adopt new ones. Ones that make you, and everyone around you, feel good again.