Understanding the Challenges Bully-Victims Face

School boys (10-13) in classroom fighting, one boy hitting the other, bullying
Getty Images/Relaximages

Even though there are various types of kids who bully, perhaps the most perplexing of these bullies are bully-victims. Not only have they been bullied, sometimes ruthlessly, but they also bully others as well. Most people would assume that a victim of bullying would instead have empathy for others and not inflict pain on those that are weaker. But this is not always the case.

Understanding Bully-Victims

Bully-victims are often born after being repeatedly bullied. As a result, they are attempting to regain a sense of power in their lives. The victims they target are usually more vulnerable than them, which allows them to feel powerful and in control.

What's more, bully-victims are more common than you might think. In fact, a large number of bullies also have been victimized themselves. Bullying other kids is a way for them to retaliate for the pain they experienced.

Other times, bully-victims come from homes filled with domestic violence. Or they may suffer abuse at the hands of an older sibling. In these cases, bullying is a learned behavior.

Additionally, most bully-victims are typically loners or are at the bottom of the social ladder at school. This fact contributes to the bully-victim's sense of powerlessness and anger. As a result, they often appear hostile, which keeps them in a position of low social status and perpetuates the cycle of bully-victim.

Research suggests that both their bullying behavior and the frequency of which bully-victims are targeted by other bullies leads to social isolation.

Consequences They Experience

Being both a bully and a victim is not easy. Consequently, it is not surprising that bully-victims often suffer significantly. Here are six ways bully-victims are impacted. 

Suffer Psychological Stress

Compared to other types of bullies and more passive victims, bully-victims suffer more emotional stress than any other type of bully or victim. They also suffer more from anxiety, depression, and loneliness. As a result, they may be at a greater risk for emotional problems including psychosis, substance abuse, and anti-social personality disorder.

Have Trouble Fitting In

Bully-victims often have a harder time socially than their peers. They also are less cooperative and less sociable than those around them. And, they are more likely to be avoided by their peers. Most of the time, bully-victims appear to be loners because they often have a few, if any, friends.

Struggle in School

Some research suggests that bullies who also were victims of bullying are more likely to feel unsafe at school. They also are more likely to assume that they don’t belong or fit in. As a result, these kids often have trouble following classroom rules.

They also are less engaged in their studies because of the emotional turmoil they are experiencing from being both a victim and a bully.

Wrestle With Emotions

Often, bully-victims may unintentionally prompt children to bully them again because they react intensely to name-calling, threatening behavior and conflict by lashing out. Because they struggle to manage emotions, control anger, and deal with frustration, they are often predisposed to be bullied over and over again. They then turn and inflict pain on others, and the cycle continues to repeat itself.

Respond to Stress Aggressively

Because these kids have been bullied extensively and often respond aggressively, researchers have found that bully-victims are more likely than other bullies to carry weapons. They also might believe it is acceptable to bring a knife or a gun to school.

What’s more, these kids have a general lack of trust in the goodness of the other people and appear more high-strung in their relationships. For instance, a bully-victim lives in a heightened sense of awareness, waiting on another person to attack or bully them, and preparing to respond with aggression. This makes them appear defensive, hostile and unfriendly and isolates them further from others in school.

Experience Consequences of Both

Bully-victims often experience the same effects of bullying as other victims. For instance, they may struggle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. They may even contemplate suicide. Likewise, they also experience all the dangers and risk factors that bullies experience.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

​A Word From Verywell

Overall, being both a bully and a victim is not an easy situation for a teenager to be. If your child is both a bully and a victim, it is important that you find a counselor or another expert to help your child deal with the conflicting emotions surrounding their situation. 

Was this page helpful?
0 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • "Long-term effects of bullying," National Institute of Health, February 10, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4552909/

  • "Psychosocial Profile of Bullies, Victims, and Bully-Victims: A Cross-Sectional Study." January 14, 2014. National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891170/

  • Yang, An. "Bully-Victims: Prevalence, Psychosocial Adjustment, and Responsiveness to Intervention." University of Turku, 2015. Nhttps://www.utupub.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/113780/AnnalesB406Yang.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y