by Izzy Kalman (October 2004)
In my seminar on bullying, I list a number of popular myths. One of these myths is that bullies are incapable of feeling remorse.
Why do I say it’s a myth? I have spoken to a number of people who identified themselves as bullies, and they told me they felt terrible when they realized they hurt people. There are books written by people who were victims of bullying when they were kids, and later ran into their bullies as adults. When confronting their bullies with the hurt they caused them as kids, the bullies were shocked and they apologized profusely. And I have read articles by adults who recalled having bullied other kids and felt terribly guilty about what they did.
And now I found support for this in an academic journal. In the article, An Ecological Perspective to School-Based Bullying Prevention, by Dorothy Espelage, PhD, in the Sept. ’04 issue of The Prevention Researcher (the entire issue was dedicated to bullying) the author writes, “Research suggests that self-declared bullies sometimes report feeling sorry after bullying their peer; however, many bully prevention and intervention programs assume that these students lack empathy.” (“Self-declared bullies” is what I refer to as “true bullies.” Most of the people who get labeled “bullies” actually experience themselves as victims, and their aggressive actions are the actions of victims.)
But don’t expect this to dampen society’s crusade against bullies. Despite the fact that this article in The Prevention Researcher reported that bullies can feel remorse, it was a strictly “anti-bully” article, as was the entire issue. Bullies will continue to be demonized because it makes us feel good. Why should truth matter when the cause is so popular?