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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.
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