Behavioural and emotional dispositions

Many of us have the potential to bully. Whether we do so, is often determined by childhood experiences.

Behavioural dispositions

Research has shown that bullies tend to come from homes in which early relationships were battles of power. They may identify with aggressors and learn how to dominate and control others and put them down. When they become adults they tend to assume workplace relationships are also based on those types of behaviours.

If children come from nurturing homes they are less likely to bully. However, traumas in life can also influence our potential to become bullies.

Emotional dispositions

Lack of boundary setting/emotional insecurity

If boundaries (see definitions) are not set in early years of childhood, a child can find no limits for his/her behaviour and emotions. This results in narcissistic behaviour - a grandiosity and illusion that ‘the world is all mine'. The child lacks the opportunity to learn to work through his/her anxieties in a secure environment and doesn't know where his/her boundaries lie. Throughout life, he/she has to test others to find out if they can be depended on and controlled.

Searching for recognition

With a lack of boundary setting in childhood, adult bullies do not have secure feelings about who they are, their ‘true’ selves (see definitions). They constantly search for recognition for themselves from colleagues. 'Recognition is that response from the other which makes meaningful the feelings, intentions and actions of the self'. ( see definitions - for further info) 

Lack of empathy

Research findings show that bullies may be able to read the emotional responses of others but lack empathy - that ability to relate to the feelings of others. 


Bullies are often inconsistent in the way they treat others. They are charming to some colleagues and evil to others.

The demands they make on others are also often inconsistent e.g. changing their minds at the last minute about plans. This is also a way of testing dependability. 

These behavioural and emotional dispositions create difficulties in the workplace for the bully and for his/her colleagues. It is not only victims who are affected by bullying. Engagement with work and well-being of employees who are aware of the bullying also deteriorates. Research shows that outputs fall in organisations where there is bullying.