Understand Bullying: Angry Kids

John Bailey
4 min readMay 25, 2021

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 Accepting mistreatment

Last time, I promised to reveal how anger can turn dangerously into a self-sustaining system that works almost like an addiction — and what you can do to prevent or escape it. Remember I’ve said emotions are biologically faster than rational thought?

Have you ever experienced anger — and blamed someone — only to later realize that blame was misplaced — or that the anger itself seemed silly?

That’s what I’m talking about. Any weakness can inspire the emotion of anger. Once it’s upon us, we need an object to make sense of the experience. In our game of mental catch-up, we often pick the nearest person or thing and write it into our story as the “cause” so we can make sense of the experience.

When people act out or express anger, they usually wind up regretting it (don’t you?). They wind up in a weakened (demoted) social state or being ashamed over their actions. If they “swallow it” instead, that can result in everything from digestive problems, or yet another path into shame. Or it can become a ticking time bomb of violent revenge…

One of the greatest risks with anger as the gimme-extra-strength drug is that a nice jolt of it feels like a double-espresso — or a line of cocaine. And, people can get into a habit or pattern of seeking excuses for a fix of that. Cycles like these tend to be isolating, which can further entrench them as a reliable way to feel “good” — or at least “strong”.

You can find really obvious examples of this on social media — where someone you know posts things to be outraged and angry about every day — maybe several times a day — and usually followed by a ranting thread of “they should be killed” sort of talk. They may be an “anger junkie”…

In Motivational Literacy, we recognize several of these repeating anger patterns. We call one of them the “Anger and Blame Vortex”:

When a person enters an anger and blame vortex, they continuously move from anger — to blame — to feeling they are a victim — to the insecurity that creates — and from that weakness back into anger.

Anger is a universal emotion. We all experience it, and we all have to learn to cope and recover our grace after expressing it. Regardless of what a person claims “caused” them to feel angry, that emotion invites the bullying behaviors of abusing authority, and acting out aggressively — using those strategies to cope with feelings of weakness — whether the weakness is real or imaginary. Looking at things this way makes it much easier to understand bullying, and angry kids.

Just like fear and frustration, once we recognize the biological purpose and function of the emotion, we can acknowledge it as normal and universal. Doing that puts us in a position to manage it better; to become ever more skilled at that; and to be forgiving of others who are also learning to deal with this human challenge.

Manage anger in four steps:

  1. Acknowledge that it is natural — and have a sense of humor about it (not shame).
  2. Explore the weakness — identify it — see if it is even real.
  3. List resources that counter the weakness and put them to work.
  4. Create and acknowledge experiences of overcoming the weakness.

Adults can model this pattern, and teach and remind children to follow it. You can use the debriefing activity I’ve talked about earlier in this series to improve coping with anger across time.

Again, I’m going to recommend well-run martial arts programs as an environment where a good coach will help youngsters recognize weaknesses that aren’t real (perceptions only), and acknowledge (rather than deny) any real weakness so they can cope through building skills rather than shame and acting out.

If your child is displaying anger on a regular basis — or in ways you find troubling — get some professional assistance for them. It’s vastly better to build the skill of coping with a normal human emotion at an age where that skill should be built rather than waiting until the challenge trails them into their adult years.