The Symmetry of Bullying

There is an unfortunate connection to the words "symmetry" and "bullying". Symmetry implies there is a similar quality facing each part and/or that are connected to an axis. Stepping out of Math class and into the real world, it is no wonder that bullying happens as often as it does; and in the common settings that we see them play out at all ages. Several years ago I embarked on a multi-year study of bullying in adults. It was necessary to understand bullying at all levels because the psychology suggests that...

...bullies were not born, they were created.

There are no natural bullies. I've yet to see an infant bully another infant in the nursery. What I have seen is learned behaviors, social missed queues and shortcomings that led to bad behaviors. Bullies who are adults somewhere along the way learned to be bullies. It doesn't mean they were bullies in childhood. A bad relationship in their adult life may have given birth to a "new way of handing things".

Behavioral Specialist and Author James Lehman suggests that kids turn to bullying because , "it solves their social problems." Lehman suggests that it's easier for kids to bully someone then to work through their problems; manage their emotions; and learn to solve problems. As I've studied this complex issue I find parallels that are eerily similar. In my 2015 narrative study of Adult Bullying I found that of those respondents who admitted to being the aggressor in a bullying situation, they were brutally honest about not knowing another way to handle their problems. My findings concluded that adults who bully were in the same position as kids with one major difference - adult bullies can be more powerful and resourceful.

1 Parent vs. 2 Parent Households - does it make a difference?

There is a societal assumption that two-parent households create a more nurturing environment than in a one-parent household. The assumption and potential bias to a researcher is to assume that there would be a greater occurrence of bullying from kids who were raised in one-parent households versus two. In my research through the years it was not the number of responsible adults in the house that made the difference; it was the level and quality of adult engagement that seemed to impact how the child solved problems growing into their adult lives. 

The amount and quality of adult engagement in a child's life was directly correlated to the child's ability to solve social problems without resorting to bullying tactics.

I wish the formula was as simple as that conclusion - spend more and better time with children and we could eradicate bullying at all levels. It's not as easy as that. Aside from the role models at home that get a shot at influencing a child's behavioral and social skills; there are influences and inputs from multiple sources such as television, social media, society, and the list could go on.

If you do not know who Gabriel Taye is, you will only get to know eight years of his life. Gabriel Taye was the 3rd grader in Hamilton County, Ohio who in 2017 hung himself from his bunk bed two days after being brutally attacked at school from bullies. During the attack he was knocked unconscious. School officials failed to notify the Gabriel's mother of the severity of the attack. Two days later Gabriel's mother found him lifeless and hanging - he had taken himself out of his perceived misery.

I could show you all of the great things about Gabriel Taye so that you understand the good person that bullying took away. I could show you the sweet smile of a child who looked at the world so optimistically just months before the bullying started. That's not what I want to share with you on video. While interviewing countless number of families around the country over the years there is a common denominator...

...the pain a bully causes reverberates through the victim to the family, friends and community.

Below is a video from the funeral of young Gabriel Taye showcasing the after effects of bullying. If watching pain and heartache is not your thing, I would still recommend you to watch it. These people in this video were placed in this position. They are burying a child because other children set off a domino effect that led them to this dark place with no answers and no consolation. They cannot ever look away, and we shouldn't either.

I have often asked myself...

What do bullies really want? When will they have gotten to their win in the sordid circumstance?

I agree wholeheartedly with Lehman, bullies don't know how to solve problems constructively. When you're dealing with a child bullying situation, unfortunately child victims are also ill-equipped to solve the problems they are facing. In 8-yr old Gabriel Taye's case, he didn't tell his mom he was getting bullied. Through inquiries after his death, she has been able to piece together a better understanding of how she got to the point that she buried her third grade son. His mom has been fighting for answers and justice. That's the impact of a bully.  

It's more than what a bully creates in the moment, it's what the bully launches that lasts some people's lifetimes; and shortens others. This is the real problem.

As I studied victims, I also saw a symmetry between child victims and adult victims. My data concluded that over 80% of adults and 92% of child victims were at a loss for how to handle bullying directed at them; who to report it to; and how to resolve it. It is the wild-wild west for bullies because their victims are already at a disadvantage.It seemed that people simply freeze up, at all ages on how to effectively handle bullying. Before I started this endeavor to better understand bullying I felt that children took their leads from the adults in their lives. The reality - if adults cannot handle bullying well, how can they teach the younger generation to handle it better? The answer is discouraging but true; they cannot.

We have to stop blasting the problem without identifying and implementing solutions.

I see campaigns that address bullying. Most preach ending the bullying without saying how to actually end bullying. If it were only that easy? My first order of business was to gain an understanding through research. Through focus groups, interviews, narrative data collection, and a review of what's called extant data I began looking both microscopically and macroscopically at the issues. In research, "extant data" is existing documents/evidence that was not gathered by my team through inquiry, but available for review such as reviewing incident reports, witness statements, published school policies, etc. Here's a quick summary of my findings:

#1 - Organizations/Schools widely differ on their definition of bullying.

#2 - Procedures for identifying and reporting bullying lacked substance.

#3 - Students who had documented issues as victims of bullying were hesitant to identify bullying as an issue. They seemed afraid to elaborate on the issues in general and in relation to them personally. Students widely differed on their definition of bullying.

#4 - Parents were strong on wanting bullying to stop. Parents widely differed on the definition of bullying.

#5 - Bullying that was addressed by schools seemed widely ineffective in preventing a recurrence of bullying with the same student.

As a researcher and performance consultant there are many red flags with our findings. First, among all groups there was no shared definition of bullying. I'll ask the the question...

" can a group of people - schools, parents, and students solve a problem they cannot agree on what it is?"

The sad part is that upon further study, most groups didn't even know they had different understandings of the definition and prevalence of the problem in their communities. It's a step everyone assumed others understood in their same way.

The first rule of a change initiative is gaining agreement on the problem to be solved. When you fail to accomplish this step, you cannot expect success at the end of the change initiative. In essence, everyone is moving around the room working toward a different picture of success because they are working to solve different problems. This led to the reason interventions in schools and even campaigns designed to restore safety in schools have accomplished moderate success at best. 

We get an "F" in the first step of solving bullying in schools.

The uncomfortable conversations are the exact activities that need to take center stage in this change effort. Surveys, new policies, extra law enforcement only create small gains, but does not make strides toward eradicating the problem. The goal is eradication, not just reduction.

Children and even adults are taking their lives because of being bullied. In 2017, Michelle Carter was found guilty of manslaughter for persuading her boyfriend via text messages and phone calls in 2014 to commit suicide. Carter, 17-yrs old at the time, knew her boyfriend, 18-yr old Conrad Roy had attempted suicide in the past. Both were in fact under the care of physicians for mental health issues and prescribed medication. Carter sent dozens of messages to Conrad Roy on the day he ultimately committed suicide encouraging him to kill himself. Bullying and the games people play can have long-lasting and in some cases irreversible consequences. While Carter's case raises both legal and societal questions, I found the most compelling impact of this case was that society got a glimpse of the power of pervasive bullying.

RELATED: see "The Things They Do - Weaponizing Twitter"

We are afraid to accept that it's bad out there. Conrad Roy, was the first case of it's kind that garnered national attention. How many others have we missed? How many other mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters have laid their loved ones to rest because we failed to address bullying?

Children fail in bullying situations because the adults have failed them.

Please, don't get me started about grown adults attempting to bully other adults. It is mind boggling that an adult would prioritize a childish game of "I'll Show You" over other more pressing and "adult-like" problems they could be solving. But here we are and those cases are right in front of us on social media. Just go to Twitter and search the phrase, "list of people I hate" and your jaw will drop. If you can muster up the nerve, search for "I will kill you" and you'll see the confusing, abusive, and outright punishing messages that flood timelines.

Bullying Symmetry Revisited
As we fail to solve the child bullying problem, we all but give a free pass to adults to continue because the problem was never solved when they were children. There's a vicious cycle that is in place between adults, children, and bullying. Remember, adults are the examples to children so these adult bullies (who we failed as a child to help them through bullying) become the examples to the next generation of bullies.

When we fail to address the adult bullying problem, we subconsciously breathe life into the next generations of bullies.

Bullying is a problem, it is not a hashtag in a social media post and a slogan. It is a social ill that has spread without boundaries or limitations. People have physically died because of bullying. Human beings have been mentally damaged because of the attacks directed at them from bullies. The system feeds itself until we come together to make a change.

I'm tired of reading about these cases. I'm tired of watching unrestricted hate and pain plague people around the globe. I come from a family of heart disease. I've watched people I love leave this earth at young ages. Our lifetime is short. I cannot accept that we would allow ourselves or the people around us to behave in a way that regresses who we are and what we can become to each other..

Bullying is society's flesh-eating disease - we kill off our own - children (our future); and adults (our brightest minds) for the sake of undeserving and trifling power. We cannot allow this seemingly bottomless issue to drag us down any further. I've posed this question before, "what will it take?" Lives have been lost but the masses are not outraged enough. One of the main issues I see - society as a whole is never confronted with the totality and gravity of the problem. If you watched the video above you saw the impact of the problem. Bullying is destroying lives - we have all become the victims.

What Can You Do?
As an individual, don't participate in a bullying circumstance. It takes two to tango here. A back and forth can never create progress for anyone. Work on being the better person if you become entangled into a bullying circumstance. Each day remind yourself of your purpose, and then live your purpose. I guarantee you that your purpose on any given day was not to have the best "clapback" (that's the modern day comeback). "Clapback" and "comeback" implies that you're down and need to be restored. It places you in a position that the bully was trying to put you in - the back! Think about it. To respond to a bully, you have to go backwards in your own progress in life to address what is typically a figment of the bully's imagination. That's not a game you want to play - no one wins.

They can't distract you from behind

It's so simple and yet so many people turn around (placing their back to their own future) to address someone who is behind (or beneath) their goals, dreams, and aspirations in life. It makes zero sense, and that is the impact of society's flesh-eating disease called "bullying". Why do people turn around? Because their ego's sometimes tell them to defend themselves. But the reality is that defending yourself to someone is rarely going to garner a win on either side. There's nothing you can say or do to convince the other person. And yet the squabbles in person and online ensue.

Conversation, education, and communitization (transferring the problem and responsibility of the solution to the community as a whole) gets us moving in the right direction. 

No matter the age, we can all learn something new. In K-12, students, teachers, and parents must begin teaching and making available resources to change the conversations. We must move past the campaigns without the work of a true change management life cycle. The problem must be identified and agreed upon. Working together means the community leaders, influencers, and members organize to tackle the problem. Organizing allows our sentiments to be collected, evaluated and heard.

Bullying will never be solved in an article, with a post, or even an impassioned plea. We must begin the conversations that will grow into universal education and the transfer of responsibility to all of us in the community. Dialogue on the issue is important. I would love to hear your thoughts below. Let's be the change we're interested in seeing by stepping up and getting involved.



The Thibeaux Company® takes bullying seriously. If you, or someone you know is struggling with a bullying circumstance, please seek assisance. is a great resource available online with connections to several other resources and tools. 

Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux is an American author, publisher, speaker, and entrepreneur. Leading The Thibeaux Company®, drJ hopes to impact human performance in a variety of industries. Working with executives and key influencers in Fortune 100 companies, drJ has developed a keen sense of performance in action. Earning business and education advanced degrees, drJ continues to insert intelligence into the performance conversation. Hosting and appearing on a variety of radio shows, podcasts, and other broadcast mediums, drJ has no "stop" in sight. To find out more about Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux or products and projects from The Thibeaux Company®, be sure to visit


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