Bullies just enjoy hurting you, according to research reported in Medical News: “Brain Scans Show Bullies May Enjoy Watching Pain“.
In their paper (“Atypical empathic responses in adolescents with aggressive conduct disorder: a functional MRI investigation“, Biological Psychology, Jan. 2007), Jean Decety, Kalina J. Michalska, Yuko Akitsuki, and Benjamin B. Lahey describe their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study which examined brain scans of boys aged 16-18 who had been diagnosed with aggressive conduct disorder (CD) (commonly called “bullies”), along with a control set of boys who were not overly aggressive, while they were looking at aggressive images. When the boys with aggressive CD saw videos of someone intentionally inflicting pain on someone else, the pleasure centers of their brains lit up like little fireworks displays. This didn’t happen in the controls.
So, what does this have to do with the office and your career?
If you are an empathic person who scores high in agreeability, this can be a game changer.
Empaths are usually excessively Agreeable individuals who want to please others and are especially sensitive to the feelings of others. They work hard to create a family-like environment around them, tending to the emotions of others because they feel these emotions themselves, sometimes even stronger than their own. They feel the pain that they inflict.
Office bullies feel pleasure from inflicting hurt or damage on you. This pleasure may be the result of a variety of factors, combining biological and psychological issues, but the root cause isn’t your problem. Especially if you are an Empath. What you need to constantly be aware of is that bullies take pleasure in abusing you.
Since aggressive conduct disorder in the young has been strongly associated with later full-blown sociopathy, the research on sociopaths is relevant. Sociopaths take special joy in taking down good, kind, hard-working people. It’s odd because for the most part their pleasure centers don’t even light up dimly most of the time. Sociopaths spend most of their time bored. But not when they’re hurting you! Finally, they feel great! It’s not that they get ahead of you or any of the many lies you have been told. Sociopaths just really get off on causing you distress. They finally feel alive.
You may believe that if you can just talk with the bully, let them see you pain, the bully will want to stop. This is rubbish.
Your office bully already understands that he’s hurting you: that’s why he’s doing it. They love it when you tell them how they are hurting you. It’s like a full-on display of their handiwork. You might as well be giving them an ice cream treat. In fact, what you’re giving them is a thousand times better.
Here’s the truth: At work, you will run into people who bully and many of these people will be doing it because they enjoy it. Since people with these types of disorders are apparently over-represented in management positions (at least in America), there seems to be a tacit understanding that bullying will be tolerated and is an accepted part of the “weeding out the unfit” process that occurs in most organisations. As if were all chimpanzees and not humans.
I have always believed that one of the reasons that Elliot Jaques’s findings are so controversial is that it removes the ability of bullies to operate freely. These people routinely take credit for other people’s work rather than doing their own. They lie about what they are doing, doing little but working long hours. Since they are accomplished liars and management is not holding their managers accountable for their work, they can always get out of the situations their lies create. In a Requisite Organization they have almost no place to hide.
Bullies exist. And by “bully” I mean “individuals that take great pleasure in hurting humans, especially ones that appear weak”. Keep that in mind the next time you head to the office.
Image Credit: “Black Dog being chased from the Admiral Benbow Inn by Captain Billy Bones” by N.C. Wyeth. From Treasure Island, 1911. Via Wikimedia Commons.