Bullies and self-esteem
I love it when I read something that makes me turn one of my views on its head. A good example is the Scientific American article 'Violent Pride', where the traditional attitude towards bullies and violent young men was truly trounced.
Low self-esteem theory
The traditional view in schools and social work, is that problematic, and often violent bullies, suffer from low self esteem. When Roy Bauermeister looked for research to support this view, he found zilch. Not content with this he went on to complete a thorough set of research projects to see if his hypothesis, that they have an overabundance of esteem, even narcissism, was true.
Bullies have high self-esteem
What he found was shocking. Far from having LOW self-esteem, they were egoistical with grandiose views of themselves. Their inflated sense of self-importance meant that, when threatened, or perceived to have been threatened, they turned to violence. Their views were confirmed when they extended their studies to prisoners, where murderers and violent offenders, on the whole had high scores on self-esteem studies. Alcohol often acted as a trigger as it boosts their esteem. In a series of clever trials he showed that threatened egoists and narcissists were the norm in bullying and violent behaviour, not threatened low self-esteem.
Tough on outside, weak inside?
Couldn't it be that their low self-esteem is just hidden, deep inside? The research here was also clear. Those who have studied violence, from playground bullies to gang culture, have found no evidence of hidden low self-esteem. "In contrast to a fairly common assumption among psychologists and psychiatrists, we have found no indicators that the aggressive bullies are anxious and insecure under a tough surface".
Two thirds of teachers have experienced bullying, one in four pupils and similar numbers in the workplace. The danger that lurks in many schools and institutions is that staff are encouraged to boost already bloated egos in the mistaken belief that they have low self-esteem. This is to inflate already overblown egos to become larger and more dangerous. Praise, in other words, needs to be tied to actual behaviour and performance, not dispensed freely. Could it be that our schools have become more dangerous because the bullies have been inadvertently molly-coddled?