We define bullying as “social sorting through despotic means”.

In that way of thinking, we could liken attempts to bully as someone trying to seize the role of “casting director” for the social “play” at hand.

Refusing to be cast into the role of victim (either outwardly or in one’s own thinking) is something I call “identity resilience”: maintaining one’s own identity both internally and outwardly, regardless of forces that may challenge that identity.

This includes coping with both internal forces like fear and external forces like others trying to act “as if” you are someone other than the best…


Humans have intuitive, unconscious, evolved awareness that being mean can be socially profitable. If we want to stop group bullying we have to face this reality and deal with it as-is.

Empathy standing in the way of cruelty-based social profitability. It gives us a troublesome sense that cruelty is just … wrong. Our innate sense of morality gets in the way. If we’re going to profit from meanness, we need a way to escape our empathy and morality.


Why do Bullies Gang Up on Targets?

We define bullying as “social sorting by despotic means”. In group bullying targeting a specific person is a natural part of people trying to sort a social group.

In that frame, there are three reasons for a group to gang-up on an individual:

  1. The individual is a member of an identified out-group (enemy).
  2. The individual is not yet established as a member of the in-group (newcomer).
  3. The individual is a member of the in-group, but breaking some social norm of the group (law-breaker).

In adult society, these things are formalized, with the military…


Shame is the most potent and concerning emotion related to bullying and the centerpiece of the emotional system that drives the three actions of bullying:

• taking Advantage of power
• using Aggression
• and Accepting mistreatment

Shame places people at risk both for being targeted and for engaging in bullying. And according to psychiatrist James Gilligan: “Shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence”. According to Gilligan: “What is most needed is a non-violent means to protect or restore self-esteem.”

Institutional environments like prison (and public schools) are massively shaming. …


Shame is the centerpiece of the emotional system that drives bullying. It is the most common, and most powerful of the related emotions. It flows from, and also reinforces the greatest number of other emotions driving the three actions of bullying behavior:

  • taking Advantage of power
  • using Aggression
  • and Accepting mistreatment

Shame places people at risk for being targeted and also for bullying.

It is important to understand what we mean by shame — something far past embarrassment or guilt. Shame is beyond DOING a wrong thing; it is the state of BEING wrong.


It’s time to understand Bullying and the role of sadness and how that emotion activates the three actions of the bullying system:

  • taking Advantage of power
  • using Aggression
  • and Accepting mistreatment

It might seem that sadness would only influence the third action of bullying — acceptance of mistreatment. But, according to the Motivational Literacy™ model, shame and surrender both tend to lead into sadness.

That model also asks us to notice anger is a common exit from sadness.


Welcome (back?). Last time, I promised to disclose why some surrender to being bullied, and how that choice can lead to shame, sadness, and depression — even becoming a life-long narrative of victimization — or even harm to self or others.

Motivational Literacy considers surrender as an emotion — that of giving up or accepting defeat. In the context of bullying, this is the third action of the bullying system: Accepting mistreatment.

Surrender is the most common navigation from frustration by American youth — and the second-most-common by American adults. …


Welcome (back?). This installment is about Angry Kids — or really about the function of anger and the role it plays in the bullying dynamic.

The change you want to see is waiting — for you to make it happen.

All that’s left is to gain an understanding of bullying and the emotions that run it — and apply that understanding in your daily modeling and communicating with young people.

Let’s look at the emotion of ANGER, and how it works with other emotions to encourage the three actions of the bullying system:

  • taking Advantage of power
  • using Aggression
  • and…

If you’ve been following the series, you may remember how action-and-results-focused other installments have been. I’ve mentioned how things like reporting (statistics), judging (labeling), postering (kitschy sayings), and punishing don’t create real and useful change.

Anything that doesn’t build coping skills or shift culture isn’t going to make real change.

To achieve real change, we must understand the mechanics, and then commit to doing things differently. Adults must come to talk differently, to act differently, and to expect different behavior from our own children. That’s the definition of “shifting culture”. …


Most of what I find written about bullying falls into four categories:

  • Statistical reports
  • Labels and value judgments
  • Posters and Platitudes
  • Punitive actions

Statistical reports help us notice that bullying is universal across time and human culture, but provide no suggestions for useful strategies.

Labels and value judgments make us feel better, and allow us to create a frame to imagine our name-calling is somehow different than what bullies do on the playground, despite the fact that the empathy-destroying effect is the same. Like statistics, labels are not that helpful for finding a path forward.

Posters and Platitudes are well-meaning…

John Bailey

Live life at 100 smiles per hour!

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