How Adult Bullies Find and Encourage Each Other on Social Media

How Adult Bullies Find and Encourage Each Other on Social Media

 

© 2024 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Adult bullies have traditionally been kept on the fringes of society by families, communities, and legal systems that won’t tolerate their bullying behavior, as I explain in my new book Our New World of Adult Bullies: How to Spot Them – How to Stop Them. However, with the advent of social media, they are finding like-minded bullies and encouraging each other in their negative behavior rather than encouraging each other to use more positive behavior. This article addresses three ways in which I see this happening.

Dysfunctional Interpersonal Behavior of Bullies

As I describe in the book, most adult bullies appear to have traits of three personality disorders: narcissistic, antisocial, and borderline. This means that many of them have dysfunctional interpersonal behavior with tendencies toward being domineering, vindictive, and intrusive. (Wilson, et al, 2017) In the past, most of these potential bullies would have learned that their bullying behavior is undesirable and, in most cases, unacceptable. They may have received consequences for their behavior that made them try to restrain themselves to the extent possible.

Social media has changed all of this. Now isolated bullies have found other people who share their interpersonal dysfunction and formed a sense of community around it. Rather than supporting each other in a process of positive behavior change, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, some are supporting each other in defending and justifying their undesirable behavior instead.

For example, author and psychotherapist Alexander Kriss believes that many people with borderline personality disorder can improve and that the diagnosis itself is unhelpful. He is particularly concerned that online communities are forming and reinforcing the negative behaviors of the disorder. For example:

Such communities, Kriss fears, can “pervert” B.P.D. into a self-serving justification for misconduct. He cites the musician Abby Weems’s posts about her relationship with the podcaster Dustin Marshall: “He made it so easy to rationalize his behavior, telling me ‘that’s just what happens when someone has BPD.’ His personality disorder made up so much of his identity that any abusive behavior fell under the umbrella of his condition. (Singh, 2024, 24)

Of course, this is not to say that all people with a diagnosis or self-diagnosis of borderline personality disorder behave this way. There are many who are working hard at recovering from this disorder, including treatment groups such as those using the skills of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). (Dimeff & Koerner, 2007)

Political Polarization and Bullies

One of the big concerns around the world today is: Why are we so polarized politically? The same media and social media dynamic appears to be taking place. Traditionally, political power was something that grew by building relationships with many differing people who were able to agree on enough shared values and policies to hold themselves together. There is a pro-social element to such political power. It is built around the middle ground that brings the most people together. This has been the nature of political parties around the world—in the past.

Today, through the influence of high-emotion mainstream media—which constantly promotes conflict, crises, chaos, and fear—everyone is more anxious and open to more extreme policies and more extreme groups. As I explain in my book, when people in polarized groups just talk to themselves they become more extreme, not less. Social media enables groups of extreme and anxious people to find each other and join together and strengthen their extreme thinking.

So, in a two-party system, such as in the U. S., the parties used to be center-left (Democratic) and center-right (Republican) in order to get anything done. With social media, they are pulled farther and farther apart by the most aggressive people and get very little done beyond getting attention and reinforcing each other’s extreme thinking and behavior. This is happening worldwide. The extreme groups are getting more attention in the high-emotion media—mostly mainstream media and social media—because bullies have the most emotional personalities and the biggest drive to get attention. These social connections legitimize their behavior as ordinary and necessary politics, with bullies as “ordinary” leaders.

The result is that the more extreme players can form the strongest bonds with each other and are able to energize each other as they promote more and more extreme values and positions. Politics has become a process of finding your support group in extreme opposition to others rather than finding your support group in agreement with others who may disagree on a lot but are willing to work together on a larger common agenda.

Mass Shootings

I used to think that individuals who committed mass shootings (three or more deaths) were lone wolves, isolated from society. Recently, however, those who study such shootings say the shooters tend to be between the ages of 18 and 21 and belong to social media groups. Apparently, they encourage each other. As one researcher said:

“These are young guys who feel like losers, and they have an overwhelming drive to show everybody they are not on the bottom,” he said. “In the case of the Buffalo shooter, it was about trying to impress this community of racists he had cultivated online. In the case of the kid in Uvalde, it was about going back to the place where you felt disrespected and acting out violently.” (Thrush & Richtel, 2022)

While it is hard to believe, such behavior seems to have a social purpose in the distorted thinking of the shooter. When such young adults connect with other like-minded young adults, the potential for danger can be very high. Peer pressure and the drive to belong are very powerful at this age. Ideally, they would have pro-social activities to engage them and give them a positive sense of community and purpose. Unfortunately, when left on their own to fill their time exploring the internet, their social needs may get met by social media of the most negative type.

Conclusion

Social media is not inherently good or bad. But by creating accessibility to like-minded people wherever they are in the world, social media becomes an enabler for the most antisocial members of our society. Because of the immediate nature of it’s communication, people with dysfunctional behavior can use social media to instantly react to and reinforce their negative instincts without taking the time for any reflection and without making any effort to engage in pro-social behavior. Until all of us figure out how to set restraints on these platforms, we will see more and more negative behavior building on itself. Bullies are not by nature happy people. As a society, from families to workplaces to community organizations, we need to find ways to engage adult bullies in pro-social activities rather than simply leaving them to their anti-social devices.

References:

Dimeff, L. A., and Koerner, K. Dialectical Behavior Therapy in Clinical Practice, (Guilford, 2007).

Singh, M. “Read the Label: How psychiatric diagnoses create identities,” The New Yorker, May 13, 2024, 20-24.

Thrush, G. and Richtel, M. “A Disturbing New Pattern in Mass Shootings: Young Assailants,” The New York Times, June 2, 2022.

Wilson S., Stroud, C. and Durbin, C. Interpersonal Dysfunction in Personality Disorders: A Meta-Analytic Review, Psychology Bulletin, July 2017; 143(7): 677-734.


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Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. is a lawyer, therapist, mediator, and worldwide trainer for professionals managing high conflict situations and personalities. He is the author of over twenty books, including Our New World of Adult Bullies: How to Spot Them – How to Stop Them, released in June 2024, which emphasizes successfully setting limits and imposing consequences in many of the 60 examples described. 


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