Help and Strategies

Characteristics of Bullies

This list of characteristics of bullies is not exhaustive however it does include the most common characteristics. Please don’t be alarmed if you notice that you or a good friend have some of these characteristics. We can have one or two of the characteristics and not be a bully. The more characteristics the person exhibits, the more likely that they will have a destructive impact on the lives of leaders and individuals within the church and the congregation as a whole.

#1 Superficially Charming

  • Bullies can be leaders, coworkers or those you serve (congregation members). They are found in all walks of life – business, politics, law enforcement, health care, schools and universities, financial sector and the church. They tend to continue to be charming as long as they get their way. When their plans are derailed, they show their true colours.

#2 Masters of impression management

  • Bullies tend to make a good first impression on others, often appear very likable and remarkably normal. Bullies can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists and are always ready with a clever comeback. They often tell a convincing ‘sob story’ about some event in their lives when they first meet you to elicit empathy. This helps them identify who will be most susceptible to their charm and manipulation.
  • When exposed for who they really are, or their plans are derailed by you, the mask will slip and you will see their true nature.
  • It is common to find those who loyally defend them while at the same time another group describes their destructive traits.
  • Because of the mask that they wear you may be hesitant to believe stories that others come to you with about their behaviour.
  • Many bullies have the ability to present themselves as devoted Christians.
  • They have an ability to ‘read’ people and instinctively know the kind of person you would be drawn to. They then present to you the image or mask of that type of person.

#3 Always have an agenda

  • To bullies, life, including church life, is like a chess game. They want to ‘win’ at whatever mission they are currently on.They are skilled at maneuvering to accomplish their goals and will seek to eliminate any program, person or ministry that gets in the way of their agenda.

#4 Pursue power and influence

  • Bullies are only interested in their own position of power and influence and are not truly concerned for anyone or anything else.
  • They don’t necessarily hold a formal position of leadership in the church but they aspire to exert significant influence.
  • They sometimes take breaks from their bullying activities but they are always planning their next move for power. They form power alliances with those in leadership or within the congregation who they perceive as weak. They use charm, persuasive communication and persistence to build alliances.
  • Anyone in a position of power or influence who opposes them becomes an enemy.

#5 Arrogant with an inflated sense of self importance

  • Bullies have an inflated sense of superiority which often comes to light in the demeaning comments they make about others. They often view others as ‘stupid’ or ‘incompetent’.
  • They are convincing yes men to their superiors but secretly despise them, convinced that they are far superior and more important than their bosses or those in leadership. As a result, they do not see themselves as bullies but rather heroes.
  • They may display an attitude of entitlement.

#6 Habitual liars

  • Bullies love to tell you what you want to hear. Lying is just part of their vocabulary. You will often hear subtle inconsistencies in their stories. When caught in a lie they seldom appear perplexed or embarrassed-they simply change their stories or attempt to rework the facts so they appear to be consistent with the lie.

#7 Create havoc and divisiveness

  • They have their definite ideas about what should happen on a committee or in the church. If they are unable to persuade others to follow their plan of how things should go, they will create division and havoc that eventually will ‘blow up’ the committee or the church.

#8 Poor track recordjumping-frog-110310-ga

  • Bullies usually leave a trail of division and destruction behind them, as well as individuals who have been deeply affected by their behaviour. They tend to be church hoppers, leaving a community when they get forced out or get bored (they have a high need for excitement).
  • They make their exits without resolving conflict with church members or church leaders. They often carry their negative ‘propaganda’ about their last church into the new congregation and are willing to tell anyone who will listen about how ‘bad’ it was there.
  • When it comes to business, interpersonal and romantic relationships they leave the same path of destruction. They often have a history of several broken marital engagements, jobs, friendships, marriages and business relationships.

#9 Irresponsible actions and decisions

  • Bullies are very high risk takers with little regard for what belongs to others. When put in charge, they may make irresponsible decisions (especially about finances) and will behave in ways that show a great degree of irresponsibility.
  • Their ability to manipulate people will show up here as they convince others to join them in these irresponsible decisions and actions.
  • Routinely offer excuses for their reckless and often outrageous actions, placing blame on others instead.

# 10 Lack of realistic, long-term goals

  • May be someone who changes jobs frequently without any long term goals. Or, they may be ‘dreamers’ having long term goals that are so grandiose that they are impossible to achieve.

#11 Parasitic lifestyle

  • Even if gainfully employed bullies tend to benefit from the resources of other people. In a workplace they often take credit for work that others have done.
  • They may manipulate individuals (often those of the opposite sex) with a story of some hardship they have experienced thereby eliciting empathy and gaining financial support from that person or a group of people. They don’t hesitate to spend other people’s money on things that normally would be seen as extravagant.

# 12 Do not respond to correction or church discipline

  • Bullies feel that they are above rules including the law. Church discipline means nothing to them.
  • Using their impression management skills they may appear repentant but change never happens or is very short lived.
  • Often they will blame others for their behaviour rather than taking responsibility for their actions or poor decisions.
  • They believe that the end justifies the means.
  • They rarely learn from their mistakes or benefit from negative feedback, and they have difficulty inhibiting their impulses.

# 13 Lack of conscience

  • Bullies may show no signs of remorse or guilt. They often believe that the targeted person got what they deserved.

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2 Comments On “Characteristics of Bullies”

  1. All too familiar. My former priest, even went so far as to try to take me to court, claiming that I’m a “domestic terrorist.” He also perjured himself under oath. And yet neither the church vestry aka board, nor the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, sees anything wrong with his behavior. (Please note identifying information has been removed from this post by the administrator of the website)

    • I am so sorry to hear about your experience with your former priest. Unfortunately this type of person can be in the pulpit as well as the pews. There will always be a group of people who will defend them and believe in them. My hope is that you have found some help in overcoming this wounding experience.

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