Making Sense of Aggression + Bullies: Their Making and Unmaking

Attend More and Save!  3 Part Series for $619.00  |  Promo Code NEUFELDSAVE79

Presented by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D.

On Demand | Available Now


18 Hours  |  Pre-approved for 18 CEUs



All course content (certificate, videos) will be available until April 1, 2021. Extensions cannot be granted under any circumstances. 

Registration will close on March 1, 2021

Join expert Dr. Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold On To Your Kids in this special three part online series. Each part consists of 6 hours of online course materials.

Making Sense of Aggression

One of the foremost interpreters of the developmental approach tackles one of the oldest and most perplexing of human problems, exposing its deep developmental roots and revealing why conventional approaches to the problem are so ineffective. There are many indications that this problem is escalating among our children and youth. What tends to grab our attention is the more violating acts of aggression but what is truly alarming is the ground swell of attacking energy within and between our kids that erupts in their interaction, music, language, play, games and fantasies. This attacking energy is also fuelling an alarming increase in suicide and suicidal ideation among children. Dr. Neufeld provides a way of understanding that not only explains what is happening around us but also provides insight into the individuals – both children and adults – who present with these problems. His approach is refreshingly sensible, historically accountable, and congruent with today’s science of the brain. His conceptual model has clear implications for practice and treatment and is applicable in any arena: home, school or in treatment.

Synopsis of the Material

The key to making sense of aggression is to get past the violating behaviour to the emotional experience of the child and to what is missing in the child’s processing or functioning. The underlying experience is one of frustration, not anger as is commonly supposed. What is missing are vulnerable feelings as well as a consciousness of anything that would counter the impulses to attack. Such children are inclined to attack when up against things they cannot change. Such children are also unable to benefit from traditional means of discipline such as correction, confrontation, consequences and isolation. It is only as the roots of the problem are addressed that aggression can be effectively cured.

Description of the Problem

Aggression is one of the oldest and most challenging of human problems and indications are, that in children at least, it is on the rise. What tends to grab our attention is the more violating acts of aggression but what is truly alarming is the ground swell of attacking energy within and between our kids that erupts in their interaction, their music, their language, their play, their games and their fantasies. It is the rare parent or teacher that does not encounter aggression in one form or another, be it tantrums, tempers, fits, abrasiveness, abusive language, rude gestures, hostility, racism, taunts, put-downs, bullying, fighting, shaming, belittling, name calling, vicarious enjoyment of violence or the self-attacking forms of self-deprecation, death wishes and self-harm. It is a sobering reality that the kids who fail to grow out of aggression by school age will most likely bring their problem into adulthood, unless the underlying dynamics are addressed.

Adding to this disturbing situation is the fact that aggression is so unresponsive to the typical ways of dealing with misconduct. The normal tools of socialization – rules, consequences, discipline, warnings, sanctions, withdrawal of privileges, time-outs, isolation – despite their sometimes immediate quelling effect, actually tend to make matters worse. Likewise, attempts to teach or train in anger management, self-control or prosocial skills work best with the kids who need it least and least with the kids who need it most.

The challenge in dealing with children who have failed to grow out of aggression by school age is to understand what one is up against. The emotional hardening in these children has left them invisibly yet significantly crippled: maddened instead of saddened by futility, lacking appropriate ambivalence and surprisingly unalarmed. In addition, these kids lose the ability to learn from consequences or mistakes and cannot adapt when things go wrong. Aggressive children are basically stuck between a rock and a hard place: unable to change what counts and too defended to come to terms with it. Battling against symptoms is futile; the roots of the problem need to be addressed for any significant change to occur. It is not a matter of teaching the child a lesson or nipping aggression in the bud or even improving prosocial skills, but of restoring healthy functioning and development. Until that can be accomplished, the challenge is to compensate for the child’s dysfunction in ways that can minimize incidents and take the violence out of the aggression. Much can be done towards this end – in the home, in the school and in the community.


This course is designed for entry level and as such has no requirement regarding previous exposure. For teachers, this course makes an excellent follow-up to the Teachability courses and as a companion to the courses on Bullying and Counter will and Attention Problems. Continuing education credit is usually arranged through the host organizations.


Bullies: Their Making and Unmaking

Once we understand how bullies are made, our attempts to unmake them can be truly effective and long-lasting. Most prevailing approaches to this problem assume that bullying is either learned behaviour or the result of failure to acquire social skills. In contrast, Dr. Neufeld dissects the bully syndrome to reveal its deep instinctive roots in the dynamics of attachment and vulnerability.

The Bully Enigma

Most attempts to change bullies, or even to teach them a lesson, are not only futile but counterproductive. The reason for this is that most interventions are blind, devoid of an understanding of what makes a bully in the first place. Part of the problem is that the bully is an enigma. There are at least three reasons for this. First of all, very few bullies would identify themselves as such or confess to the act. Secondly, bullies lack self-reflection and so cannot tell us about themselves. Thirdly, the violating nature of the bully’s behaviour distracts from the salient issues and underlying dynamics. The symptoms are social but the dysfunction is psychological. The arena of violation is in children’s relating to each other but the genesis of the problem is in relationship to adults. The demeanor is one of toughness yet the sensitivity to slight is acute. The behaviour is pushy and demanding yet the personality is highly dependent and immature. Unless we can shed some light into the internal workings of the bully, our interventions will inevitably be off base.

The Bully Syndrome

The key to making sense of the bully is not in what the bully does, but rather in what is missing in the bully. When one gets past the violating behaviour to the underlying functioning, gaping holes become apparent. Firstly, the bully lacks a sense of responsibility. There are usually two reasons for this deficiency: a) a lack of an underlying sense of agency or b) the child is too defended against vulnerability to feel responsible. Both appear to be true in the bully. To spend effort trying to make the bully accountable does little to change this state of affairs and only convinces the bully that adults are against him or her, which hardens the bully even further. If the bully was capable of feeling responsible, he or she would not be a bully in the first place.

Secondly, the bully lacks adaptive functioning. The bully cannot deal with change and therefore seeks the familiar. The bully does not learn from mistakes, benefit from negative experience, or change as a result of failure. Bullies are neither resourceful nor resilient. Adults who are unaware of this dysfunction will inevitably insist on upping the ante: applying more consequences, teaching a lesson they hope the bully will never forget. If the child was adaptive, he or she would not be a bully in first place. Consequences work wonders for those who can feel the futility of a course of action. On the other hand, consequences only enrage and provoke those who cannot .

Thirdly, the bully lacks integrative functioning. Not only do bullies fail to mix well with others, at least not without someone having to do the accommodating to keep the peace, but they lack mixed feelings. That is the reason they are so untempered in experience and expression. They are impulsive, compulsive, rigid, brazen, dogmatic in their personality and inconsiderate and insensitive in their relating. This deficiency cannot be cured by training in social skills or by confronting the lack of empathy. This integrative dysfunction is deeply rooted in psychological immaturity. Unless these kids become unstuck they will remain untempered for life. If they remain untempered, they are also more likely to be uncivilized unless their behaviour can be orchestrated by someone they can look up to.

In addition to this lack of normal functioning, the bully does not properly depend upon those responsible for him or her and does not experience life in a vulnerable way. These missing elements when properly understood, tell the story of the bully and explains much of their personality and behaviour. When such children are mixed with others, bullying is bound to occur.

How Bullies are Born

The bully syndrome is the offspring of the union of two deep-seated problems. Each of the problems are fairly common and do not, in isolation, result in bullying. It is the combination of these problems that gives rise to the bully syndrome. One of the deep-seated problems is disordered attachments. Instead of seeking to depend upon those responsible for him or her, the bully seeks to dominate. This aberrant attachment pattern can be caused by a number of conditions that will be outlined in the course.

The second problem is one of emotional hardening or desensitization. Somewhere along the line, the sensitivities of a bully-in-the-making have become overwhelmed. The result is a child defended against the feelings of vulnerability and often perceptions that would lead to feeling vulnerable. There are a number of reasons this can happen, some within, but many outside, a parent’s control. A child who is defended against his own wounds is not likely to be sensitive to the wounds of others. Besides, when a child is too defended against vulnerability for ‘mad’ to turn to ‘sad’, frustration turns foul and leaves the child with a mean streak. Adding frustration to the equation in such a child only pours gasoline on the fire and puts others at risk for getting hurt.

How Bullies Are Unmade

Attempting to treat a bully without addressing the contributing conditions is at best ineffective and, most often, counterproductive. Key to the bullies unmaking is proper attachment hierarchy and a tolerance of felt vulnerability. Strategies are presented that are grounded in understanding and that can be applied in a wide range of settings.

Genesis of the Material

The experiential root of this material was working with young offenders. In the prison system, everyone tends to be a bully or a victim or both. Once the mystery was unravelled, the bully syndrome became readily recognizable in other populations and settings and in children as early as toddlerhood and the preschool stage.

The conceptual roots of the material are in an understanding of the dynamics of attachment, vulnerability and psychological immaturity. These three keys unlock the mystery of bullying and reveal how bullies are created. These dynamics also point the way to change and the unmaking of a bully.

The didactic roots of this material were in the desperate requests of educators for something with a bit more depth and psychological accountability than what is usually offered.


Attend More and Save!  3 Part Series for $619.00  |  Promo Code NEUFELDSAVE79

Fees are per person, seat sharing is not allowed. Please respect this policy, failure to comply will result in termination of access without a refund. For group rates please contact

Making Sense of Aggression

The following is the outline of the distance education and facilitated video course formats. The structure of the live onsite courses will be dependent upon the time available.

Frustration, Attachment & Aggression

  • a working definition of aggression
  • the many faces of aggression, including suicide
  • recognizing the nonviolent forms of aggression
  • the role of frustration in aggression
  • the role of attachment in aggression
  • the role of peer orientation in aggression

Tears, Temper and Attack

  • aggression as problem of adaptation
  • impulsiveness, integration and the aggression problem
  • the displacement effect in aggression
  • the flight from vulnerability and the temper problem
  • the role of the prefrontal cortex in aggression
  • why some children fail to grow out of aggression
  • why aggression is normal in toddlers and preschoolers

Handling and Reducing Incidents & Violence

  • why conventional approaches backfires with aggression
  • why consequences and time-outs are counterindicated in the treatment of aggression
  • how to differentiate between aggressive behaviour and an aggression problem
  • differentiating between incident management and addressing the aggression problem
  • guidelines for incident management
  • why aggressive behaviour needs to be `bridged`
  • how to facilitate safe eruptions of foul frustration
  • how to reduce attachment frustration

Facilitating Alternate Outcomes to Aggression

  • how to shift the focus from aggression to frustration
  • how to foster a relationship with frustration
  • how to uncover frustration from the camouflage of behaviour and emotion
  • how to help children form nonviolent intentions
  • how to address impulsiveness
  • how to prime adaptation and help futilities sink in
  • how to soften defences against vulnerability

Bullies: Their Making and Unmaking


  • How bullies are begotten: the overview
  • Bullying rooted in instinct and emotion
  • Bullying as alpha instincts gone awry
  • The modus operandi of the bully

The Bully’s Vulnerability Problem

  • The making of the bully’s vulnerability problem
  • The traits deriving from the vulnerability problem
  • The bully and immaturity

The Bully’s Attachment Problem

  • The making of the bully’s attachment problems
  • The traits deriving from the attachment problems
  • The union of the two problems – attachment and vulnerability
  • Peer orientation and bullying

Challenges In The Unmaking of Bullies

  • Bully behaviour – the tip of the iceberg
  • What doesn’t work
  • The unmaking of bullies
  • Best prevention
  • Keys to raising children: right relationships and soft hearts

Making Sense of Aggression

  • to uncover the psychological roots of the aggression problem
  • to recognize aggression in its many forms
  • to provide a working model of aggression for purposes of assessment and intervention
  • to appreciate the roots of the gender differences in aggression
  • to learn to `read` aggression effectively
  • to reveal the role of the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex in aggression
  • to differentiate between incident management and developmental progress
  • to outline three basic steps towards addressing any aggression problem
  • to provide an appreciation of the inverse relationship between adaptation and aggression
  • to provide an understanding of why aggression is increasing among children and why aggression is a part of so many syndromes and disorders
  • to outline six pivotal points of intervention in the aggression problem
  • to provide an appreciation of why the conventional methods of behaviour management don`t work with aggression
  • to equip participants to handle personal attacks
  • to equip with strategies to help the immature grow out of their aggression problem

Bullies: Their Making and Unmaking 

The primary objective of this course is to make sense of the bully from inside out, and from this foundation of insight, prepare the way for change.

Course objectives include:

  • to provide a working definition of bullying that will enable participants to recognize the bully dynamic in its myriad manifestations and across a multitude of settings
  • to make sense of the bully from inside out and from a foundation of understanding, to outline the steps required for lasting change
  • to create an understanding of the role of escalating peer orientation and of current parenting practices in fostering the bullying dynamic
  • to convey why conventional discipline and social learning approaches can make matters worse
  • to provide the conceptual tools – specifically attachment theory and vulnerability theory – to dissect the bully syndrome and uncover its instinctive roots
  • to provide basic guidelines for addressing the bully problem that can be employed in a variety of venues and settings
  • to outline the most significant factors in keeping students safe

This course will help shed light on:

  • the 12 traits of the bully syndrome traced to their roots
  • the role of the limbic system (emotional brain) in bully making
  • the nature of the dark union that begets the bully
  • the attachment problems of bullies
  • common pitfalls in the treatment of bullies
  • how bullies & bullied can be cut from the same cloth
  • why schools are becoming bully factories
  • why conventional discipline backfires with bullies
  • why bullies are driven to dominate
  • key target points for effective intervention

Education and Clinical Professionals: K–12 Classroom Teachers, School Counsellors/Psychologists, Learning Assistance/ Resource Teachers, School Administrators, School Paraprofessionals including Special Education Assistants, Classroom Assistants and Childcare Workers. All other professionals who support students including but not limited to: Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologists, Clinical Counsellors, Family Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Pathologists, Addiction Counsellors, Youth Workers, Mental Health Workers, Probation Officers, and Early Childhood Educators.

Parents, Caregiver, Foster Parents, Grandparents, and Extended Family raising a child.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld is a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist with over 45 years of experience with children and youth and those responsible for them. A foremost authority on child development, Dr. Neufeld is an international speaker, a bestselling author (Hold On To Your Kids) and a leading interpreter of the developmental paradigm. Dr. Neufeld has a widespread reputation for making sense of complex problems and for opening doors for change. While formerly involved in university teaching and private practice, he now devotes his time to teaching and training others, including educators and helping professionals. His Neufeld Institute is now a world-wide charitable organization devoted to applying developmental science to the task of raising children. Dr. Neufeld appears regularly on radio and television. He is a father of five and a grandfather to six.

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  • Canadian Psychological Association
    The Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers (NLASW) accept CPA-approved continuing education credits