Schadenfreude: The Key to Identifying a Bully.

“It’s those who laugh, at the common man’s gaffe, who hide hate inside, that satisfies.”
-Jake McGrew

Kids are pretty clever. They’ll manipulate us. They’ll mislead us. And contrary to anything we’ll accept from the outside world, we’ll buy every bit of it. Why? The power of unconditional love is unconditionally powerful. We turn our heads and pretend our children are perfect little angels. Surely, whatever malfeasance ills the world suffers couldn’t possibly stem from our stem cells. But often, the stank is right under our nose.

Bullying is a buzzword in today’s society. I know firsthand being bullied sucks. It sucks a lot. For you skinny mean girls blessed with semi-good looks, and bros with the gift of above-average height, I can attest that being bullied is the most depressing, degrading, suicide-inducing feeling you could ever ever imagine. You’ll feel worthless. Unimportant. Uninspired. Words alone can take the air right out of you, leaving a helpless and hurting shell behind. But the marks last much longer. It’s a hot-spot I refuse to tolerate —  as a parent or as an outside observer.

So you can imagine my surprise when I figured out what’s ailing my two remaining teenagers. Turns out they’re both bullies, but of a different sort. And these little sons of bitches were honing their skills in a never-ending war against each other. It’s been eight years of someone calling someone something, and someone getting someone else in trouble for whatever. My epiphany occurred last weekend.

Apparently, Child 2 was repeatedly tossing wood mulch at Child 1 while waiting an hour to get a table at a busier-than-usual local restaurant, in which Child 3 was waitressing. Child 2 was told that his behavior was unacceptable and to stop, and he did. But Child 1 was angry he wasn’t doled prison time for his infraction, and she wasn’t going to lose this battle. Child 1 proceeded to instigate Child 2 with verbal insults, probably in order to embarrass Child 2 in front of his friend. Child 2 has a much stronger personality and less maturity than Child 1, so Child 2’s retorts ruffled Child 1’s feathers so badly that Child 1 resorted to her old faithful solution – looking sad and forlorn to attract the attention of her mother. Child 1 texted her mother across the table. Yep, she tattle-tailed. Mom got pissy, just like Child 1 intended, and of course I had to step in to diffuse the situation. I gently but forcefully grabbed Child 2 by the scruff of his neck and pulled him out of the restaurant for a little chat.

Here’s the thing. A moment after I took Child 2 away, I looked back. After at least twenty minutes of sad and angry looks, Child 1’s disposition was now miraculously sunny. She returned to laughing and giggling immediately. I realized then that we had been had. Child 1 exhibited the typical sociopathic schadenfreude behavior of a… gulp… bully.

So I went through the typical Bully Checklist to see if Child 1’s personality fit the typical bully:

  • Does my child need to feel powerful and in control? Not necessarily. She appreciates recognition, but doesn’t want the responsibility of being top-dog.
  • Is she hot-tempered or quick to resort to aggression? Yep again. Her voice raises immediately upon any conflict, and she has become physical with her parents on certain occasions.
  • Does she feel she does no wrong? Um… she refers to herself as “Perfect Child.” Yeah.
  • Does she show little empathy for others’ feelings? Well, if I had to guess considering her schadenfreude response towards Child 2, I’m thinking she leans this way.
  • Is she aggressive toward adults? Only towards the ones who love her.

I suppose I got my answer there. But how about Child 2?

  • Does my child need to feel powerful and in control? Yep. He refers to himself (in front of his peers) as “The Boss.”
  • Is he hot-tempered or quick to resort to aggression? Not really. He avoids conflict and immediately gives in.
  • Does he feel she does no wrong? He frequently states he hates his life, and can’t do anything right (the classic behavior of someone being bullied).
  • Does he show little empathy for others’ feelings? He’s pretty much a softy. This is the kid who will try to make someone feel better when he’s down.
  • Is he aggressive toward adults? Only towards the ones who love him.

My paradox is that both of my kids are slightly bullies, with Child 1 being the more aggressive one. This makes complete sense in our situation, since Child 1’s older sibling (Child 3) is five years her senior, and secretly bullied Child 1 for years. Child 1 probably thought this type of mental abuse was normal, and adopted the behavior as her norm. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this or have the opportunity correct the situation until well after its inception. Now, Child 1 may be attempting to take her revenge on a not completely innocent but undeserving and less-willing participant. And that’s not fair, or right.

Yeah, our fam is a psychological case study.

But – thankfully for others, as far as we know, 1 and 2 are only bullying each other. They’re like each other’s kryptonite. This behavior is typical in mixed marriages, with both the culprits being the former youngest of their parents. Now that attention is diluted, they search for means to increase their visibility. But I’ll be damned if bullying is going to work for either of them. And I’ll be double-damned if any snot-nosed kid thinks they’re gonna pull the wool over the eyes of me or my wife.

It’s family discussion time. The first thing I’m going to do is have all three of them read this post, and write a three-page discussion on how none of them will never be a bully again. Perhaps I too will experience schadenfreude for the first time while they’re steaming over their assignment.

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