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Be inspired every day with Living North
Do You Have Toxic Traits?
Health and beauty
January 2022
Reading time 2 Minutes

Our resident expert Dr Maurice Duffy on how just one kind word can change another person’s life

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. Our behaviour is the mirror which shows everyone our image. Our thinking and our behaviour is always triggered in anticipation of a response to others cues. It is therefore fear based. There’s no map to human behaviour and it’s difficult for us to look at our own behaviour in an objective way.

One of the markers of truly successful people is being able to do self-analysis. To look at oneself from another point of view. We all like to avoid dealing with our own shortcomings. We consider ourselves free agents, generally immune to the constraints that dictate other people’s actions. This is, of course, a grand illusion. A significant consequence of this illusion, or perhaps delusion, is that, when predicting the behaviour of others, we are far more accurate than in predicting our own behaviour. We all have a dark side, yet, we are so quick to judge and comment on others whilst forgiving ourselves for our own bad behaviour.

I get invited into many organisations to help them with change, where I am always asked if I can change others – it is never those wanting the change asking how to change themselves. I passionately believe that if we can fill our minds with negativity (80 percent of our thoughts) then we can just as easily fill our mind with positivity. A smile and kind word can change so much about our and other people’s lives.

The theme of Anti-Bullying Week was ‘One Kind Word’ and it’s such a powerful statement. One kind word can change a person’s life. Those that bully are made – not born. And it happens at an early age. Remember that ‘change starts with us’. Everyday acts like listening to young people, having a conversation, thinking about the impact of our words, or stopping before hitting ‘like’ on a hurtful social media post, can help us all to reduce bullying. Frequently, those who bully others are looking to gain a feeling of power, purpose and control over their victim. The easiest way of doing this is to focus on something that is unique about somebody – either preying on, or creating new insecurity with an intent to hurt them either physically or emotionally.

What happens is, we, as the people experiencing bullying, start to become self-critical. We want to understand the reasons why we are being targeted and we start to blame ourselves. As a result, we try to change or mask that unique characteristic to avoid the bullying. We dye our hair, bleach our skin, and cover up our bodies like they are something to be ashamed of.

Yet it’s our imperfections that make us beautiful. Bullying can affect our behaviour and the ways in which we see ourselves, which in turn, can go on to impact both our mental and physical health.

I met Laura and her mum a couple of weeks ago. Laura is a 12 year old who dreams of becoming a primary school teacher. She was bullied. Laura has a stammer. Survey after survey suggests over a quarter of 12–18 year olds in the UK have been bullied. ‘There’s been many times where I have been verbally attacked,’ says Laura. ‘Any confidence I had in myself was destroyed, my friends were too embarrassed to admit they were friends with me as they feared they too would be bullied, and anonymous comments were posted on social media. I felt useless, stupid and hated.’

No one should have to suffer this.

So, why do people bully?

Stress and trauma: Data shows that those who bully are far more likely than average to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past five years.

Low self esteem: In order to mask how they actually feel about themselves, some people who bully focus attention on someone else.

They’ve been bullied: Research shows that those who have experienced bullying are twice as likely to go on and bully others. Immune syndrome: Often, bullying is used as a defence mechanism and people tend to believe that by bullying others, they will become immune to being bullied themselves. In fact, it just becomes a vicious cycle of negative behaviours.

Difficult home life: One in three of those who bully people daily told us that they feel like their parents/ guardians don’t have enough time to spend with them. 

Relationships: Finally, those who bully are more likely to feel like their friendships and family relationships aren’t very secure.

To the bully I would say no-one deserves to be victimised, and there is nothing to gain from it. Take time to analyse your behaviour. Do you like the way you treat others? Do you like the way you make them feel? Bullying is a behaviour and you can change it. You do not have to be a bully just because you have behaved as one in the past. Pulling someone else down will never lift you higher, have look at what is going on in your life or what has happened in the past that is making you act in this way and deal with your own turmoil instead of taking it out on others. Seek help, talk to someone.

To the person being bullied I would say you are not powerless, there is a lot you can do. Firstly, don’t react. Not reacting when someone says or does something hurtful is often the most effective response to bullying. If they can see that they have no power over you, they will eventually give up trying to get a reaction. The bully wants you to react. Their goal is to take away your power, make you sad and scared. Stand up for yourself. Pretend to feel really brave and confident. Walk away. Don’t bully back.

In the words of Martin Luther King ‘An eye for an eye, leaves everybody blind.’ Revenge breeds negativity: you are the bigger person in this situation, hold your head up high. Talk to someone. Often in situations where we are being bullied, we feel helpless and powerless to stop it from happening. But there is power in numbers. The more people that we ask for help, the more likely it is that someone will be able to help us. Even the act of telling someone what is happening, is a step towards standing up for yourself, and getting your power back.

Remember they want to upset you constantly, so you get angry. If you don’t get angry, the bully will lose their power and you will regain yours.

Dr Maurice Duffy is Visiting Professor at Sunderland, consulting coach to the NHS, the Australian cricket team, Durham Cricket Club, international golfers, rugby and many sports people, and also coaches many senior FTSE 100 business leaders and politicians around the world. Find out more at or follow him on twitter @thebeaksquawks

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