Bullying Stories: A History Of Bullying

Updated January 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

This article discusses sensitive topics including suicide. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.

Humans can be considered creatures of tribalism and aggression. As such, bullying has likely been a problem since the beginning of time. We may try to live in a civilized, peaceful society, but some individuals can let out their aggression on those they view as somehow different or “lesser” than them. 

In this article, we'll look into the prevalence of bullying, talk about a few real stories, and consider what you can do to prevent bullying.

What Constitutes Bullying?

Is Someone Bullying You?

When we imagine bullying, we may think of the big kid pushing the little kid around on the playground. However, bullying can happen at any age and in any location. While bullying can differ depending on the situation, there are three factors that most bullying situations have in common. They are:

  • Intent. Accidentally offending someone is probably not bullying. Those who bully typically know what they are doing, and harm is intended. There is no misunderstanding.

  • Power Imbalance. In most cases, the bully is more powerful than the bullied. This doesn't mean that the bully is necessarily bigger, older, or stronger than the other person. The bully can be in a higher position of authority, such as a superior at work. They can be someone who comes from a wealthy family with the means to sue or take financial action if the victim fights back.

  • Repetition. Someone who is or was mean to you once may not be considered a bully. A bully is someone who repeats their behavior over time. The severity of their bullying may increase over time to get under the skin of the victim.

Why Do People Bully?

Figuring out why people bully is an important question. The answer depends on the situation. Possible reasons for why people bully include:

  • Family Concerns. If someone's parents are mistreating them, they may develop bullying tactics. Picking on someone can make a bully feel satisfied and can help them to cope with their troubles at home. This is not an excuse; it's merely the reason.

  • Power.  When a person has power over someone, some do not know how to control their power and may use it for bad rather than good.

  • Personality. A mental health reason could be behind the bullying, or the person may simply enjoy bullying others until they are taught not to.

  • Insecurity. They may bully to cover up an insecurity of their own or to temporarily boost low self-esteem.

Traditional Bullying

This is what most of us think of when we think of bullying. Traditional bullying typically involves children and adolescents. Bullying can be physical, such as pushing a kid around during recess, or verbal. Name-calling, excluding the child, and spreading rumors are just a few examples of bullying.

Childhood is an incredibly important period of our development, so someone who is bullied as a child could grow up to have self-esteem issues and other mental health concerns. Meanwhile, the bully may learn that aggression is acceptable if their behavior is not addressed.

At best, the bullied person may learn to cope with their mistreatment, and perhaps the bullying goes away in time. However, bullying can be so intense that it can cause severe mental health disorders and possibly lead to suicide.

Some believe bullying someone to take their own life is becoming a trend. However, suicide is not a new outcome of bullying. In 1877, William Arthur Gibbs hung himself for fear of being bullied. The English child was only 12 years old.


Is Someone Bullying You?

A growing problem in the digital age is cyberbullying. Before the internet, bullying may have required some strength and power to take effect. In the cyber world, anyone can become a bully. Many people can remain unknown and say things they might never say to someone in person. The effects of cyberbullying can be as harmful as traditional bullying. Cyberbullying can be quite complicated to define, but it can also be considered quite prevalent.

Trolling, which is saying something provocative to get a reaction, can be bullying, but depending on the context, it can also be harmless. Going into a forum dedicated to basketball and posting a comment that says, "basketball sucks" is probably not cyberbullying, but instead “trolling.” But constantly targeting one individual with harassing comments can instead be considered cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying can be difficult to stop. You can block someone's account, but they can make a new one. With internet mob culture, anyone can say libelous words about you and turn a group of people against you. Depending on where you live, there may be laws against cyberbullying, but it can be hard to enforce at times.

Cyberbullying can have negative effects on those who have been on the receiving end. Those who are cyberbullied may develop anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Let's look at the Megan Meier case.

In 2006, a 13-year-old girl named Megan Meier hung herself after a cyberbullying incident on Myspace, a social media platform popular during that time. Meier had weight issues, depression, and ADHD, and she didn't have many friends. She was friended by someone named "Josh Evans" on Myspace, supposedly a 16-year-old boy who wanted to connect. They hit it off. They talked regularly, but not in person or on the phone. Evans talked about how pretty Meier was, and all seemed to be well.

Then, the messages took a turn. Evans said he didn't want to be friends anymore, and then he ended their correspondence by telling Meier that the world would be better without her. It was a bait and switch. Evans wasn’t looking for friendship. What’s more, Evans wasn’t even a real person. In truth, “Josh Evans” was three people: Meier's neighbor named Lori Drew, Lori’s teenage daughter, and another woman named Ashley Grills. All three used to be friends with the Meier family, and they took extreme measures when things went sour between the two families.

There is nothing wrong with having an online friend, but if your child is talking to someone online whom they've never met, make sure the person is real and who they claim to be. Luckily, video chats have made it easier for people to verify if the person they are talking to is real, and if someone always has excuses as to why they cannot connect via video, then that could be a red flag.

Workplace Bullying

Bullying might not end once school ends. The workplace can be a breeding ground for bullying. There are many situations in which one worker might not “fit in” with the rest, and they may be picked on as a result. The working world also has many power imbalances that might make it more likely for people to bully. Your boss can bully you, another higher up can bully you, and someone who is trying to make it to the top may employ dirty tactics to keep you down.

Workplace bullying is not recognized by law in the U.S., despite many states wanting to introduce bills. Often, the person who is being bullied at work may feel depressed and fear going to work, but they also may feel like they cannot switch jobs or be unable to for various reasons.

Workplace bullying can lead to suicide, as well. One such example was that of Kevin Morrissey. Morrissey was the managing editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, and he filed over a dozen complaints to HR about the treatment he received from his boss. Despite these complaints, nothing was done and after Morrissey’s suicide, no fault was found.

Kevin was 52, proving that bullying-related suicides do not just occur among teenagers or young adults. It can happen to anyone. Workplace bullying can be troublesome because our culture can turn a blind eye toward toxic bosses.

Seek Help!

If you're being bullied, it may be difficult to figure out what to do. Sometimes, telling the higher-ups does not work. Other times, you may feel that you are not in a position to fight back or feel afraid that there will be some form of retaliation against you if you do.

One way to resist bullies is to get training to help you be able to ignore their tactics and stay positive. If bullying does not visibly affect you, it can help to push the bullies away. Talking to a therapist or a counselor can help you learn the techniques needed to stop bullying in its tracks.

Online therapy is a convenient alternative to traditional in-person counseling, and research shows it is equally effective. For example, one study found that online therapy was even more effective than traditional in-person sessions, with 100 percent of participants in the online group showing continued symptom reduction three months after treatment. Other studies have shown that counseling helps students reduce psychological distress.

If you or someone you know has dealt with bullying, you may find that signing up for online therapy with one of the thousands of certified BetterHelp counselors can truly make a meaningful difference. Online therapy does not come with the hassle of traveling or disrupting your schedule by setting up appointments to meet at an office, making it a convenient option for nearly everyone. Consider these BetterHelp counselor reviews.

“Jennifer has been a wonderful help to me. I was sexually harassed, and I had a hard time coping. She has helped me develop a positive way of thinking, and I also know how to control my emotions much better. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.”

“I have greatly enjoyed working with Jason. We have met regularly via virtual video meetings over the past several months, and he has been incredible in helping me to address my stress at work, life, and everything in between, in the midst of a global pandemic. He is very adept at listening, identifying underlying thought processes, discussing issues, and working towards productive solutions. I always look forward to meeting with him, and I would highly recommend Jason to anyone and everyone!”


These stories demonstrate that bullying is nothing new. They also show us that anyone can be a survivor of bullying, whether they are a child or adult, and being bullied is not a sign of weakness or a failure of character. 

While there will likely always be bullies in the world, together, we can resist them and reduce their impact on us.

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