Behavioural and emotional dispositions

Many of us have the potential to bully. Our emotional and behavioural dispositions to bully are very much determined by childhood experiences.

Behavioural dispositions

Research has shown that bullies tend to come from homes in which early relationships were battles of power. Bullies learn how to dominate, control others and put them down. As adults they tend to assume workplace relationships are based on these behaviours.

If children come from nurturing homes they are less likely to bully; however traumas in adult 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 an expanding elation, grandiosity and illusion that ‘the world is all mine’. That child lacks the opportunity to learn to contain and work through anxieties in a secure environment. In adult life, he/she will spend time testing others to check that 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 (see definitions).

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.


As bullies lack emotional control their behaviour tends to be inconsistent. They are charming to some colleagues and evil to others. Their demands are also often inconsistent e.g. changing their minds at the last minute.

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 evidence, gathered over many years, shows that in organisations where there is bullying, outputs fall.