Bonding with the Bully (Part 1): The Ties That Blind


“I just don’t get it.  A girl in my classroom is bullied mercilessly by a girl she considers a friend.  She is betrayed and ridiculed yet consistently returns to the very girl who hurts her, hoping the next time will be different.  It never is, though.”    Sharon – middle school teacher

Many parents and educators have puzzled over why some kids don’t learn that they needn’t continue to be friends with someone who bullies them.  It seems brilliantly obvious to us these bullied kids are being used and abused.  Why can’t they see it?  That, by the way, is the wrong question.  Most kids are aware when they are treated badly.  The correct question is this: Why do they return for more?  The answer lies in how and why they are connected to the bully.  What type of bond exists?

In healthy relationships, conflict arises but abuse is not tolerated. Unhealthy relationships have unequal power distribution and abuse of that power.  This is true with adult relationships and childhood or teen relationships.  The difference with childhood friendships vs. adult friendships is that kids are still learning and experimenting with relationships. As they grow, we hope children detach from hurtful friendships, learn from them, and gravitate toward friendships that nourish them.

Blinding Bonds

When our children repeatedly return to a friendship in which they were treated badly, it’s helpful to recognize why they have bonded with the bully.  We need to help them sort out the thoughts that blind them from exiting unhealthy relationships.  Here are five major thought processes that bind targets to bullies.

  1. There must be something wrong with me. This child believes there is something wrong with her instead of the bully.  She feels she must continue to change and mold herself to be liked.  It never occurs to her that she is OK as she is, and something is amiss with the bully.  She keeps returning so she can get it right.
  2.  There is something in it for me. There is a payoff for this girl in the form of acceptance, popularity, or status – at any cost.
  3. This is normal.  A girl without many friendship experiences or only bad friendship experiences may think hurtful friendships are the norm.  Often adults reinforce this thinking through confirming “that’s just the way girls are.”
  4. Who am I without this friendship?  Girls who have been in a long-term hurtful friendship cannot fathom their identities outside of the relationship. 
  5. This is comfortable.  Although this thought seems counterintuitive, targets can become comfortable with the bully.  Bullying is traumatic, and the phenomenon of trauma bonding can occur.  Comfort can come from the predictability of bullying.

 To be continued with part 2…

© 2010 A Way Through, LLC  

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Female friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish A Way Through, LLC’s Guiding Girls ezine. If you’re ready to guide girls in grades K – 8 through painful friendships, get your FREE mini audio workshop and ongoing tips now at

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