The case of Miami Dolphins football player Richie Incognito's bullying behavior has brought controversy and outrage. Yet, the presence of these abusive patterns of behavior on a professional football team just reminds us that there are bullies and victims throughout society. Since Incognito's troubles were indicated in the past and he had pursued multiple forms of treatment to overcome his dark emotional patterns, his current situation shows us that successfully treating these issues can be a great challenge.
Issues of power and self-worth are important parts of our psychological development. When people are abused they often internalize feelings of powerlessness or low self-worth. When those deep feelings and unconscious beliefs aren't resolved it is common for a person to continually encounter circumstances that re-create the victim-perpetrator dynamic. The individual can sometimes go back and forth between those roles, being both the victim and the perpetrator, as it appears that Incognito has done over the years. Carrying resentment toward one's abusers can lead one to maintain anger and lash out against others. True healing involves coming to a state of forgiveness and acceptance of the past and of oneself and others. It also involves coming to truly love, appreciate, and accept oneself.
When we truly love and respect ourselves we don't have the need or desire to demean others. From the spiritual perspective, all beings are expressions or extensions of the same Source. In religious terms it is often said that we are all children of God. When that concept is fully embraced and embodied there is a feeling of compassion and empathy for others, as well as a sense that we are all loved and accepted by a higher power or divine source - regardless of how human beings may have treated us. We don't need to compete with others for power or status since we are all unique expressions of the ultimate power. Competitive sports may bring out or trigger some of our less conscious patterns of behavior since competition can challenge our sense of self-worth if we are not mindful and mature.
Healing on the spiritual level is a powerful way to break free from cycles of abuse. When people feel healthy and whole within themselves they are less vulnerable to being bullied. Bullies can be like energy vampires, seeking to empower themselves by making others feel powerless or triggering others to drop into a low emotional state. Just as a predatory animal grabs onto a weak or vulnerable animal for its food, bullies instinctively target those who are emotionally vulnerable and energetically weak to become their victims. People can learn to shift their emotional and energetic state to dispel the attraction of bullies. Successful interventions to reduce bullying usually include a focus on strengthening and empowering those who had been victimized, as well as helping bullies who have been victims heal their own experiences of being abused.
Psychology Today blogger and school psychologist Izzy Kalman teaches a bullying reduction strategy called "Bullies 2 Buddies." In this approach, people are taught that a deeper understanding of the Golden Rule helps us learn to diffuse most bullying situations. Treating others with love and compassion even when they fail to treat us with respect empowers us to influence them rather than letting them continue to influence us. If a person feels angry and retaliates against a bully this merely lets the bully know that he/she can successfully influence the way the other person feels. It does not remove the bully's anger or fears or preoccupation with asserting power. Fear of punishment does not shift the consciousness of bullies, it may just temporarily suppress their behavior.
Punishing or providing unpleasant consequences to a bully does not address the underlying feelings and beliefs that fuel a bully's actions. It may actually reinforce the bully's feeling of being unloved or mistreated. The bully is more likely to benefit when those in the social environment are modeling positive ways of treating others and demonstrating that it feels better to give and receive kindness than to give or receive abuse. Those who feel compelled to retaliate against or punish the bully are inadvertently feeding the negative dynamic. According to Kalman, there is a natural law of reciprocity that affects human and animal behavior, leading us to treat others the way they treat us. Instead of always acting in that manner we can learn to treat others the way we would like to be treated, with love and respect, even when they aren't acting that way. As a result, they can begin to reciprocate our kindness and empathy rather than our reciprocating their meanness.
The only exceptions to this approach are when dealing with people who are innate psychopaths, those who would be labeled by mental health professionals as having antisocial personalities starting from a very young age. Those individuals who are incapable of empathy toward others will fail to respond to the Golden Rule example and may require interventions to restrict their freedom in order to protect others from their actions. Even when dealing with psychopaths we can learn to understand their nature and not take their actions personally or harbor anger and resentment. Healing our own anger and experiencing forgiveness is for our own health and well-being, not a sign that we are excusing or condoning others' misconduct.