How To Deal With Bullies Effectively

By Gabrielle Seunagal |Updated July 12, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

When you hear the term “bullying,” you may think of bullying among minors in K-12 environments and similar spaces. You imagine a schoolyard bully verbally abusing another student – or even physically harming them. The reality is that bullying doesn’t just take place in schools. It can happen anywhere, whether that’s at school, in the workplace, or at home. It’s also not just something that affects kids; bullying can happen to anyone. One survey from 2019 found that 94% of the participating individuals had been bullied at work. The statistics show that adulthood bullying is an issue that is just as pervasive as the bullying that occurs among children in schools. However, bullying prevention is possible, and there are steps to take if you think you might be getting bullied or witness bullying around you.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying Can Have Long-Lasting Effects

The APA dictionary defines bullying as, “persistent threatening and aggressive physical behavior or verbal abuse directed toward other people, especially those younger, smaller, weaker, or in some other situation of relative disadvantage.” For example, if a boss bullies one of their employees, the employee would have a disadvantage in a power imbalance. There are different examples of bullying. These include verbal bullying, social or relational bullying, physical bullying, and damage to or destruction of a person’s belongings.

It can happen, as mentioned, anywhere and to anyone. While bullying is never your fault, there are things you might be able to do to address it in many cases.

Here are some ways to address bullying:

  1. Walk away. If it’s possible and safe to do so, don’t engage with a bully. Leave the situation. Use your body and body language to display that you’re apathetic and don’t care what they’re doing.
  2. Describe their behavior. For example, if they call you a name, they very literally say, “You just called me ___. That is not my name, and it is not okay for you to address me that way.” If you are in a situation where it’s safe to do so, this shows a bully that you know exactly what they’re doing and takes power away. If people are around, this shows them that you’re not afraid to speak up and bring attention to the situation.
  3. Treat the bully as though their words are insignificant. You might shrug and say “okay,” “alright,” cool,” or “interesting.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up and tell someone you trust later, and it doesn’t mean that their words don’t hurt; it’s just a way to show that you aren’t going to give their behavior attention.
  4. Give yourself compassion. Remember that you’re doing the best that you can. Remind yourself that their abuse has nothing to do with you. You matter. You’re someone who objectively has value. What they’re doing is about them, and it doesn’t say anything about your worth.
  5. Imagine a shield protecting you. Visualize a shield or forcefield that makes you feel safe, so you don’t feel impacted by what they’re saying. One of the things that bullies are great at is making a person feel vulnerable, so it can be helpful to imagine a physical barrier.
  6. Say something funny. Humor sometimes catches a bully off guard. If you say something funny to a bully, they might be disarmed by what you’re saying and not know how to respond. Note that this does not mean that you should make a joke at their expense; you do not want to bully a bully back, as it may create back and forth and make the situation more hostile.
  7. Be kind in response. As odd as it may sound, like a display of apathy or humor, this communicates that you aren’t here to take their treatment. Being kind to someone who’s being mean to you is a way to deflect the situation and, in some cases, confuse the bully.
  8. Stick with a group. Many times, bullies target one person, but they won’t necessarily attack a group of people. If you and your friends stand up against a bully together, or even if you keep a group of trusted people nearby as witnesses, they’ll be less likely to target an individual because they are outnumbered.

Getting Help

You might be afraid to reach out for help. You may be nervous to admit what’s sometimes happening when you’re being bullied. It could be scary or intimidating to talk to someone about this situation. What if they don’t believe you? Maybe, they won’t understand what’s going on. Whether you’re emotionally or physically bullied, it’s crucial to tell someone if you’re being bullied or feeling unsafe. It can be helpful to think about what you’re going to say beforehand. You may also talk things through with a friend, loved one, or therapist first to ease your nerves and sound off.

Perhaps the question in mind now is “who can I tell?” or “who can I ask for help?” Tell someone with higher authority, such as a teacher, or tell your parents if you’re in a school situation. A guidance counselor may also be able to help you. If you’re at work, reach out to a trusted lead, the human resources department, or another appropriate party. With it in mind that there are unique work situations out there where this won’t be an option – maybe, you’re a personal assistant who is getting bullied by your boss, and there’s no higher up to go to because of the nature of your role – it’s important that you tell someone. You don’t have to hold your feelings or the way you’re being treated inside.

Individuals such as college professors and employers should always take bullying seriously. If they do not, understand that this is not your fault and that it doesn’t make what’s going on any less serious. Education on bullying in schools and the workplace is crucial, and this is part of why.

Cyberbullying

Among the many types of bullying is cyberbullying. One of the most covert ways to bully someone in modern society is by doing it online. No one can see what’s happening because it’s all under the surface. Cyberbullying is partly dangerous because of its potential to go unnoticed or not be taken seriously because of people who say that it’s “just the internet.” The truth is that since the internet is a big part of our lives these days, it’s not “just the internet.” Cyberbullying can harm people in very real ways. It can also cross over to in-person bullying. Someone might defame you online or bully you via social media. You could get an influx of spam or threatening emails. Remember that if this is happening, you can document what’s going on. Take screenshots and keep everything to prove the bullying and show the documentation to someone who has the authority to do something about it.

Types Of Bullying

There are many types of bullying, including the one just discussed. It’s crucial to understand these types to know if any of them are happening to you or someone you love. Bullying isn’t always name-calling or physical harassment. It can be done online or in a relationship.

  • Physical bullying includes any physical interaction, whether that’s being hit or pushed, harassed, or publicly humiliated.
  • Verbal bullying is when someone teases, insults, or verbally abuses you.
  • Cyberbullying is when someone uses technology to hurt others.
  • Relationship bullying happens when someone bullies their partner in a romantic relationship. It can take place in various ways, whether it’s name-calling, spreading lies about you to your friends and family, stonewalling, gaslighting, or abusing* you in any other manner.
  • Workplace bullying occurs in the workplace specifically but can be present in multiple ways.

*Abuse is never acceptable, whether it is verbal, physical, or of another form. Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website at https://www.thehotline.org/ if you or someone you know is affected by abuse.

Workplace Bullying

As stated previously, bullying doesn’t just occur at school or among children. Adults are bullied, too. One place that we see bullying is at work. Workplace bullying is real, and people can be bullied in the workplace in a variety of ways. One common way this presents is when people in positions of power attempt to dominate coworkers and make them feel that they have no choice but to do what they say. You don’t have to tolerate workplace bullying. You can report the behavior to a supervisor or someone in the HR department. If your bully is a supervisor, you can still stand up for yourself and tell the HR department or involve the law if necessary. You won’t have to leave your job to stop the bullying in some cases, but it’s essential to advocate for yourself. Coming forward about bullying in the workplace could help future employees avoid getting bullied by an individual, so it’s important to make the issue known. With privilege that impacts the ability to do so in mind, changing jobs may be the best option for some individuals who can, especially if the bullying is severe or if the work environment is toxic or hostile overall.

Finding Support

The impacts of bullying, mental health-related and otherwise, are very real, and they can be lasting in some cases. Studies show that those who undergo experience bullying are more likely to face:

  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Difficulty with self-esteem
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lower productivity at work or school

Bullying Can Have Long-Lasting Effects

Getting support in the form of a therapist or counselor can help you find ways to approach or combat bullying effectively when it happens. It can help you address the possible consequences of bullying, such as those listed above.

There is also the other side of the coin: you may have bullied someone yourself. If this is the case, there may be an underlying concern addressed and worked through in therapy. Therapy is a private space, which means that you can talk about concerns like bullying.

Therapy is not a replacement for immediate assistance or crisis care. If you need immediate support, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741.

How BetterHelp Can Support You

Online therapy is an excellent place to discuss bullying and open up about what you’re going through rather than keeping those emotions inside. The online counselors at BetterHelp care about your experiences and have the expertise to help you navigate through your emotions while offering strategies to deal with the situation.  All of the professionals on the BetterHelp platform are licensed, mental health providers. Online therapy often provides an avenue to start seeing a therapist faster, allowing you to get the support you need now rather than later.

Whether you see someone through an online counseling platform or face-to-face, be proud of yourself for taking this step.

Below are a couple of counselor reviews from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Liz has been great! She is super easy to talk to, understanding, and non-judgmental. She is very receptive to my individual needs, super open to feedback, and I feel very safe and in good hands with her guidance. I am looking forward to continuing my work with her to achieve my goals!”

“Dr. Arnott is of fine expertise. She takes the time to listen and is always ready to give feedback when necessary. I feel she goes above and beyond to make sure you understand things, have proper info etc. And always cares about my well-being.”

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