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  • Bullying and harassment are similar in that the perpetrator hurts or harms their victims and typically without remorse.
  • That said, there are differences between the two such as why the perpetrators engage in the abusive behaviors.
  • Bullies typically seek a feeling of power or control, which they get from demeaning, ridiculing, or putting their victims down.
  • Harassment, on the other hand, is rooted in unwanted advancements and negative interactions.
  • Another similarity between bullying and harassment is that they’re both very serious and you should take action to defend yourself against both.
  • If you’ve found yourself a victim of either, it’s important to call out the behavior, denounce the abusive tactics, protect your boundaries, and report the abuser.

Well, are they? While similar in nature, there are distinctions that differentiate bullying and harassment. Sherry Shockey-Pope, licensed marriage and family therapist, says that “bullying and harassment are similar in that they hurt, harm, or intimidate the other person (target) and the bully has little respect for the target’s feelings.” However, there are major differences, which she’s going to help us understand.

Bullying: A Power Trip

Let’s start with bullying: bullying can be defined as intentionally hurting someone with words or actions. This supports Sherry’s assertion that bullies are typically mean-spirited. She goes on to explain what makes a bully a bully: “There are often elements of control or power and/or physical violence between the one bullying and the target. The bully perceives the mark or target as weak and the bully has more power either physically, socially, or emotionally. For example, the bully has the ‘cooler car’ or ‘the hottest tennis shoes.’ The mark often struggles or is unable to defend themselves against the bully. Bullying is reparative in nature having to happen more than once.”

Bullying includes but is not limited to the following behaviors, as identified by Deb Falzoi—founder of Dignity Together, an organization dedicated to providing coping services for victims of workplace bullying:

  • Yelling, shouting, and screaming
  • Exclusion and “the silent treatment”
  • Behind-the-back sabotage and defamation
  • False accusations of mistakes and errors
  • Use of put-downs, insults, and excessively harsh criticism
  • Spreading rumors and gossip
  • Making offensive jokes or comments
  • Pestering, spying, stalking, or tampering with personal belongings

Harassment—Let’s Get Technical

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t harassment essentially the same thing as bullying? Not quite. “Harassment is more of a legal definition,” Sherry explains. “The person being harassed is being intimidated with unwanted advancements (sexual harassment) or negative interactions or contact (work harassment). Therefore, when harassing this person, it could be denying the target’s employment based on sex, age, or religion, or making the mark feel uncomfortable by telling a racial joke or talking negatively about a person’s nationality. Power imbalance may exist such as an employer/employee relationship, but it is not required to be considered harassment.”

Shielding Yourself from the Abuse

Fortunately, you can take action to shield yourself from bullying and harassment. When it comes to bullying, it helps to know and recognize bully behaviors, and protect your boundaries. Falzoi recommends saying something like, “It may not have been your intention to insult me, but that behavior offended me.” Remain assertive and make it known that you know what’s going on. This will help to discourage their bullying tactics.

Now, when it comes to harassment, the same course of action can prove effective in the beginning: call the individual out on their inappropriate behavior, and continue to protect your boundaries. Additionally, if you feel the harassment is serious, will continue, and/or that it simply should be reported, report it. Hold the perpetrator accountable.

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