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Bullying: A guide for the bullied and their loved ones

Bullying: A guide for the bullied and their loved ones

When you think about bullying, you probably think about middle school or high school. Teenagers can be cruel after all, and it’s common for them to bully their weaker peers — shoving their victim against a locker (at least in the movies), teasing them in class, tripping them in the hallway. But bullying doesn’t just occur in grade school among teenagers. It occurs in the real world among us adults.

This guide starts by explaining what bullying is before providing definitions and examples of each type of bullying. Then, we offer tips for confronting bullies and putting an end to the bullying behavior, whether you’re a parent with an emotionally distraught child who is being bullied at school or you’re the victim of bullying yourself at work or online.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying occurs when a person in a power position engages in recurrent aggressive and/or intimidating behavior with the intention of hurting another individual. These behaviors can be both physical and verbal as well as take place in an in-person or online capacity. 

It’s important to understand that there is a big (yet sometimes confusing) difference between bullying behavior and other hurtful actions. The following must be present to classify as bullying:

  • Intent to hurt another person
  • Repeated actions to the same person or group
  • The aggressor is in a position of power, whether they’re physically or socially more powerful than their victim

What Is Physical Bullying?

Physical bullying uses physical actions to hurt and intimidate a victim. Examples of physical bullying include:

  • Pushing or shoving
  • Punching or kicking
  • Tripping
  • Damaging property

Unlike other forms of bullying, physical bullying can leave behind visible injuries like bruises, cuts, or damaged belongings such as a smashed phone or a busted window. In addition, physical bullying can hurt one’s mental and emotional health. 

Physical bullying is common in grade school, but it also happens in adulthood — at home, at work, and in our relationships.

What Is Verbal Bullying?

Verbal bullying uses insults, taunting, and name-calling to hurt someone. Examples of verbal bullying include:

  • “Nobody likes you.”
  • “You’re not good at anything, you’re useless.”
  • “Everyone thinks you’re a loser.”
  • “The world would be better without you in it.”

While this form of bullying isn’t as obvious or as alarming as physical bullying, it can prove just as harmful despite the popular, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

What Is Social Bullying?

Social bullying uses social means to belittle someone such as spreading rumors about them, excluding them, or embarrassing them in public. 

Some people who engage in social bullying behavior do so for their own social benefit. For example, a teenager might exclude someone from her circle of friends if she sees them as a threat to her other friendships. Or, a coworker might spread rumors about you at work to prevent you from getting promoted to the position they’re eyeing.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, tease, or threaten another person. Here are a few examples of cyberbullying:

  • Leaving hateful comments on someone’s Instagram posts
  • Creating a Facebook group dedicated to making fun of someone
  • Flooding someone’s inbox with hate mail

Cyberbullying can be particularly harmful because it has the ability to follow an individual wherever they go — at home, at work, at the grocery store, at the park, etc. As long as the victim’s phone is in their hands or their computer is in front of them, they can succumb to online bullying. 

What Is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs between fellow employees — sometimes it’s a manager who bullies a member of their team; and in other instances, it’s an employee who bullies a colleague. But remember, bullies have power over their victims. So, in the latter situation, the perpetrator might have a longer history at the company and be more popular among peers.

Workplace bullies humiliate, offend, or intimidate their victims in front of others, causing them to feel helpless. Here are a few examples of workplace bullying:

  • Firing criticism or blame that’s unwarranted
  • Yelling at and/or making the victim the subject of harsh jokes
  • Monitoring excessively without justification
  • Treating the victim unfairly or differently from other employees

Roughly 25% of employed Americans (or more than 35 million people) have reported workplace bullying.

Why Is Bullying Bad?

Bullying is bad for everybody. When it comes to the victim, bullying harm’s their overall health and wellbeing, causing emotional, mental, social, and physical problems to contend with. The exact effects can vary but bullied individuals often…

  • Develop low self-esteem or negative self-image
  • Feel lonely, isolated, and hopeless
  • Struggle to focus at school or work
  • Lose interest in some of their favorite activities
  • Struggle to sleep at night or lose their appetite

Victims of bullying are more likely to develop depression and anxiety. In addition, they might suffer physical harm, especially in the case of physical bullying. That said, the victims aren’t the only individuals who suffer — the bullies suffer from their behavior, too. These individuals…

  • Often struggle with guilt
  • Commonly bully others because they were bullied
  • Are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs, in childhood and adulthood
  • Are more likely to drop out of school
  • Have higher rates of criminal activity
  • May be/become abusive in their relationships

How to Stop Bullying?

Bullying can be stopped with the right approach and support. However, the type of bullying requires a tailored approach, be it bullying at school, bullying at work, or cyberbullying. Read on for a specific step-by-step approach in each situation. 

How to Deal with Bullying at School?

If your child gets bullied at school, it’s important that you intervene in the right way. Here are a few steps for helping your child deal with bullying at school:

    1. Keep an eye out for big changes in behavior or mood: In order to help your child with bullying, you have to first recognize that the bullying is happening. Often, kids won’t tell their parents that they’re being bullied — in fact, they often keep it to themselves because they feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. Therefore, it’s important that you notice any major changes in your child that might point to bullying, such as a sudden lack of interest in school. 
    2. Have an open and direct conversation with your child: If you think your child is being bullied, it’s time to talk to them about it. Be sure to make them feel safe and comfortable. Let them know that you’ve noticed something is up and you want to help them work through it if they’ll let you.
    3. Come up with an intervention plan: After confirming that your child is being bullied, work together to come up with the right course of action. Violence is never the answer, of course. Share this with your child and work out a plan that capitalizes on their strengths. For example, if your child has a great sense of humor, think of a way they can address their bully that might break the ice and open the door for a heart-to-heart conversation (remember, bullies have often been bullied themselves). Of course, this is if your child feels comfortable addressing their bully and doesn’t put themselves in imminent danger by doing so. 
    4. Talk to your child’s teacher(s): Share the intervention plan with your child’s teacher(s). Also, if you or your child don’t feel comfortable with them addressing their bullying directly, ask a teacher to confront the bully head-on instead. Be clear with your child that talking to a teacher or anyone else about being bullied is okay and will not have any negative consequences.
    5. Encourage your child to find support from their friends. Like we said earlier, kids are often too ashamed to share that they’re being bullied. Advise your child to talk to their friends about their experience — this will help them build additional support at school, which can also come in handy when confronting their bully. 

How to Deal with Bullying at Work?

If a colleague or manager is bullying you, you’re probably feeling uncomfortable and unsure what to do next. Here are a few tips for dealing with bullies at work:

  1. Keep your cool. First thing’s first: You probably have an urge to lash out at your boss or colleague in a big way for their inappropriate behavior, but do your best to resist a big blow-up. This will help you later.
  2. Defend yourself. Call a spade a spade — if you aren’t in a dangerous situation, confront the bully. Tell them that they’re bullying you and it’s unacceptable. Counter their lies with facts. Let them know that you aren’t comfortable being the brunt of their jokes. And tell them you’ll be speaking with your manager (or their manager if this is your boss we’re dealing with) about their inappropriate behavior, now or in the future if the bullying continues (whatever you feel comfortable with or deem most appropriate).
  3. Talk to a supervisor. If it’s a colleague who is bullying you, talk to a supervisor about what’s going on. They can step in, address the bully, and put an end to their behavior. Additionally, depending on the severity of the bullying, they might advise you to file a complaint about the individual with HR. If your boss is the bully, talk to their supervisor and follow up with HR here, too. 
  4. Consider a job change. If your superiors cannot help to resolve the bullying problem, it might be worth considering a job change. Remember, bullying at work (and elsewhere) is unacceptable, and you don’t deserve to be a victim of this hurtful behavior. Plus, if executives aren’t prioritizing a bullying- and harassment-free workforce, then you probably don’t want to work there anyway. 

How to Report Cyberbullying?

As we mentioned earlier, cyberbullying can follow a victim wherever they take their phone. This makes it particularly pervasive and harmful. In addition, identifying or catching a cyberbully can be difficult — cyberbullies often attack their victims from fake accounts to keep their real identities hidden. 

However, it’s still important to report cyberbullying in order to stop and potentially catch the bully. If you’re being bullied online, take the following steps:

  • Don’t respond to or engage with the bully
  • Document the bullying. Take pictures of their hateful messages and comments in case they delete them later. 
  • Report the bully on the given platform. On Instagram and other social media platforms, you can report fake accounts or specific messages and comments for being inappropriate.
  • Block the bully’s account. When your report someone for inappropriate behavior on social media, it will take the platform’s moderators some time to investigate and take action. To protect yourself from continued bullying, block the bully after collecting your evidence and reporting them.

Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, often has harmful effects on both the bullied and the bully. Fortunately, the steps detailed above can help you stop the bullying and prevent further damage. If you’re struggling as a result of bullying, talk to your loved ones and find additional support from a mental health counselor

  • Clinical reviewer
  • Writer
Emily Simonian
Emily Simonian, M.A., LMFTHead of Clinical Learning

Emily Simonian is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who has direct training and experience working with family and relationship issues, as well as working with individuals. She also specializes in treating stress/anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as well as self-esteem issues and general self-improvement goals.

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Taylor BennettSenior Content Strategist

Taylor Bennett is the Head of Content at Thriveworks. She received her BA in multimedia journalism with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book.”

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