What happens when bullies become adults?

By Devyne Lloyd
Staff writer

Everyone knows someone who has been affected by bullying during grade school. Most discussion about bullying revolves around the victim. However, there is another victim in this situation: the bullies themselves. While we encourage and nurture the bullied, we often ignore the bully, which can lead to them falling through the cracks.

Many people think bullies are dim-witted, large and over-aggressive, such as Helga from Hey Arnold! and Roger from Doug. In reality, most bullies are intelligent, popular and highly charismatic. They also may show traits of anger, aggression, hyperactivity and violence, according to Education.com, a privately funded site.

Just as victims might grow up to have issues later in life, bullies can also encounter issues. According to Utterly Global, an organization dedicated to anti bullying, children who were bullies in grades six to nine are 60 percent more likely to have a criminal conviction by the age of 24. A bully is also five times more likely than a victim to have a serious criminal record in adulthood. Even bullies who grow up to work in an office instead of entering the judicial system cause problems for others. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workplace bullying causes $3 billion in lost productivity and a staggering $19 billion loss in employment every year.

Matt DeLisi, sociologist and head of the Iowa State University criminal justice program, writes in an article for the for the ISU sociology department that as bullies age, they are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior. According to DeLisi, adults who were bullies as children are 10 times more likely to lie, six times more likely to fight and almost three times as likely to engage in harassment than adults who were not bullies. “Bullies are 11 times more likely to have had conduct disorder than non-bullies. That giant fact shows you that bullies are antisocial anyway. When you get into personality disorders, you’ll see that in anti-social personalities there is almost an eight times difference,” wrote DeLisi.

The bullies themselves are victims, too, and need help just like the children they bully. “Because bullies are so aggressive, they are viewed by peers to be so difficult to deal with, so they are rejected,” writes DeLisi. Many bullies experience some type of abuse at home, and bullying others is simply a coping mechanism. Counseling can be provided as an avenue for bullies to talk about their feelings. Bullying may be a growing problem, but we can stop it by treating all victims: the bullied and the bullies.

17 Responses to What happens when bullies become adults?

  1. catherine says:

    I was subjected to years of torment by bullies from 11 years of age until I left school. When I started work I had no confidence or self esteem, which is why I still seemed to attract bullying from others from time to time. I was wrong to assume that bullying ends when you leave school. I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone who is a bully,& if bad things happen to them in life, good! what goes around should always come around.

    • sylvia ann jenkins says:

      my mother was a bully, and I was bullied t school, because I was thin, then I was billied at work, because my work collegues wnnted to bully some one, so my message is, if you are bullied, don’t let them get away with it, because you will continue to be bullied as you will seek them out

  2. Anna says:

    I agree. I do not feel anything for a bully. I was all but tortured by a certain girl who targeted me. Not only did she lie, cheat and take from me she also threatened me constantly. The failure came with the schools not doing anything about her. Never addressing it and thinking it was normal to have bullies in the mist. Because of this she never had a chance to change. Her parents would have stuck by her no matter what anyway, as their baby could do no wrong.

    She ended up with a good job and nice family and lost it all because of her bullying. She also ended up in prison as an adult for assault with a deadly weapon. All because she could not get her way one day. I agree some bullies are abused at home but she wasn’t. She was spoiled and felt entitled. Then the walls came crumbling down and I can’t say I felt bad for her. It just wasn’t that big of a surprise.

    So I’m glad that bullying is being addressed today as it ruins lives. Maybe we can start punishing bullies so that they learn it is a harmful action and that they cause discord. Then and only then do they need to be “understood”.

  3. Hanna says:

    I was bullied by this seemingly really cool and beautiful girl and her entourage of gossipers and ratty girls. I now work as a director of a company with 8 digits assets, which I own half of it, at the same time currently the most sought jewellery’ designer who makes 6 digits yearly. Not surprised I am now more successful than them, I always knew the popular bullies picked me up to justify their insecurities. I feel extremely happy to know that the popular kind girls grew up to be just house mothers with zero working experiences, and the popular bullies queen bee grew up to be an unknown music DJ who does no DJ but just playing pre-recording and twiddling with volume buttons only for 10 years with minimal gigs a year (with a face which I feel not as beautiful- eye bags, skinny, evident of drugs use). Whilst the ratty entourage somehow ended up with bad career choices and own nothing. I shamefully admit laughing-everytime I think of them struggling to make a living while I enjoy my career, life, devoted husband and my diamonds. I love the fact facebook existed because I can see how ugly and unhappy they grew up to be. I seriously do not need to gloat and show off with photos uploads just because I can not truly stop looking down at them.

  4. […] Lloyd, D. (2012). What Happens When Bullies Become Adults. Retrieved from http://news.jrn.msu.edu/bullying/2012/04/01/bullies-as-adults/ […]

  5. Katherine Daley says:

    I finally decided, after nearly 50 years, to look up my bullies from elementary school on the internet. These were boys who were the ringleaders of a group of boys who threw rocks at me as I walked to the bus stop when I was six, who would form a ring around me and pass me from one to the other with a punch or a kick, who once pulled off my boots and forced me to walk through cactus and then walk home barefoot, who repeatedly chased me on motorcycles when I was on a horse. One is a highly successful corporate lawyer, one works for the Department of the Interior, one is an art dealer, those were the ones with a distinctive last name. The other two were brothers, and their last name was more common, so I could not find them, but I wonder, if I met them at a party, or contacted them on Linkedin, would they even know my name? Would they even remember?

    • Natasha says:

      Hey,
      I just left a comment and then read yours, I relate too your story 100% except mine happened in about 10 different schools. I was trying too also get across that it’s not the same stereo type bully as it used to be, now it’s the popular pretty teachers pet that’s usually at the root.
      anyway your story gives me hope, unlike you I went completely the other way from my bullying and developed several mental problems (depression, anxiety, social phobia)
      And i am still battling them all because of being bullied. I guess i have severe paranoia because I’m always worried I look terrible or im doing/saying the wrong thing, everything i do i worry about and it’s all because of bullying.
      what I’m trying to say is if you went through it and have ended up this successful there must be some hope for me. 🙂

  6. […] school are 60% more likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24 than their counterparts, per an article printed by Michigan State University. Overall, they’re also five-times more likely to have […]

  7. sue says:

    Dear Devyne, i was wondering what becomes of bullies when they grow up. Evidently, many don’t. Can’t say i’m overly surprised…worldlings are going to be worldlings ;/ Thanks for posting this article.

  8. Nick says:

    I need help as an adult being bullied by family members it has caused mental health issues with me because of the way I am abused is there any help as police said they can’t do anything without proof that a crime has been committed. I’ve been tormented for my whole life and don’t know who to turn to or even trust with this issue I’m trying to start a new life but can’t because family are still bullying me what should I do

  9. Aandelen Kopen says:

    I dont think this is the same for everyone. Many bullies become friendly people and when they realise how it feels to be bullied themselves, and it happens to almost everyone, they will learn how to think.

  10. natasha says:

    At least the people who are bullied are not the cause of the bullys problems and you are justifying bullying because they have problems ‘too’ ….. The bullied wouldn’t have problems if they hadn’t been bullied!
    I moved my whole life, 14 different schools roughly, 4 different countries, and as a result of this i was bullied at every single school i went too because i was never given a chance too make friends or fit In, my nickbame was the same at almost every single school ‘New girl’ that was the name I had from day one, also ‘girrie’ in Spain because I was pretty, blonde and English and the spanish girls hated this, i got spat on regularly,
    Then there was ‘Pomme’ in Australia and wouldn’t you know one of there favorite things to do is take the piss out of the English, but in all these schools in all these countries there was one common denominator. . The prettiest popular girl… she has control over the ‘pretty popular girls’ which in turn have control over the ‘pretty popular boys’ which means if shes threatened or dosnt like you in any way, your effed, and boys are always interested in new girls so if you havnt been there from the start or arnt friends with somone, shes going to feel threatened and then your going to get bullied. Fact.
    other wise they are doing it too look good if the other person looks strange or something they make themselfs feel better by pointing something nasty out but also then make the others scared to cross her or they in turn then get treated like the others and bullied.
    It’s a terrible thing, as a result I am 25 years old and I have depression, severe anxiety, social phobia, no self esteem, always doubting myself, so scared for my children when they go to school i already have my son in taekwando and hes 5, the list goes on, everyday life is hard for me.
    bullying is something that cripples people’s life’s, it needs too stop now.

  11. […] It is easy to dismiss them, avoid them, and let them fall through the cracks, as this article from “The New Bullying” indicates. [6] This may be because bullies tend to come from homes where they are not taught well […]

  12. Marion says:

    In the past, I was bullied in subtle ways by so called friends. Not all, but a certain one would bitch about me and use me. I can’t even remember why I ended up in a “girl group” in the first place, as I am introverted and just a quiet girl. Anyway, on turning 19, I met my first boyfriend and left the “group” only to be laughed at and put down by them. It made me feel worthless as a human being and I’ve somewhat struggled with this ever since. Not so much that I haven’t been able to get on with my life, which I have.

    Since then, I’ve encountered the odd bully, and most recently I was bullied by neighbours. It all started, because I was introduced to one of the neighbour’s brother and after realising he was a piece of “beep” I told the sister (big mistake) and then realised I shouldn’t be associating with these people. I started to ignore all of them, but the grandma was the bully of them all. Who would have thought a 50 year old would be so cruel? Well she didn’t take being ignored lightly and she started manipulating other neighbours. I was then being harassed. The Police could do nothing about it without evidence sadly, so I left my home and moved away before it got any worse. The women that started the manipulation constantly moaned about work colleagues and not getting the job she wanted etc. From what I gathered from her was that she was the type of person who has to be in control. Hence why, when I started ignoring her, it hurt her ego more than anything and she had to gain control back in the only way she knew how. Manipulation and Bullying.

  13. Cloe Lynn says:

    This is interesting. I remember the cliques in 5th grade and betraying a friend to be in a club. I never forgot it and never felt good about it. It was out of character for me and I felt ashamed. I think many of us have done or said things to peers that were manipulative or hurtful.

    I was also picked on over the years. The biggest impact came from a cute boy in middle school who I had a crush on. I was 6th grade, he was 7th and we rode the same bus. He relentlessly called me “Cheryl Big-nose” for an entire school year. I hadn’t known my nose was bigger than my peers. For years I attempted to mask my nose through make-up, began figuring out the best angle to take pictures, and then started desiring a nose job in high school. Fast forward to college. I had rhinoplasty (nose job) my senior year. When I saw my family at break (I hadn’t told them) my older sister said, “Your nose was fine until David _____ started teasing you.” My nose now fits my very small narrow face. I don’t regret changing it but it would have been so much nicer to not realize it was “big” until I was older and more self-confident (or, even better, never think this at all.)
    Incidentally, David and I ended up getting along later but he was using drugs by the end of 8th grade and became a very heavy drug user/addict (opiates) by 10th grade and dropped out of school. He is very likely court involved/jail or dead at this point. Obviously other things were going on in his world. It was such a waste of an otherwise capable, funny and likable guy who probably had no idea how much his harassment impacted my self-image and life choices. I still struggle with self-esteem related to looks and aging in my 40’s has been very challenging. It really pulls me down.

    Incidentally, I’m a middle school counselor now. I love what I do and know I’m a bit better at my job because of David.

  14. Chris says:

    I was never bulled but im studing it and I am very sorry for people that people get bulled

  15. No one says:

    Spent a good chunk of my day trying to figure out how my sudden realization that my childhood “best friend” locked me in her downstairs closet multiple times and how all her physical abuse has shaped me. She punched me and hurt me. She put me down. She intimidated me. She forced me. She twisted my arm and fingers back so many times over many years so I would do her chores without her parents knowing. She would force me into telling her that she was my best friend and then return by saying, “well, you are not mine. My best friend is so and so..,”. I tried calling home multiple times to get picked up and was stopped.

    Her mom was aware and DID NOTHING and made me feel bad for being smarter or more hard working than her daughter.

    Her 11th sleepover birthday included her covering me in my sleeping bag with an ice cold bucket of water and a laugh and punching me until I cried in front of friends. Again, I’m pretty sure her mom knew and did nothing. That is abuse. This went on for over a decade. My trust in adults was shot.

    I have spent almost 40 years digesting this. I have been diagnosed bipolar, depressed, had severe eating disorders, etc. Fortunately, I have surrounded myself with good people, and all this has stopped.

    Some of these memories have been blocked until now.

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