How To Manage Bullies Effectively: Strategies And Tips

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

When you hear the term “bullying,” you may think of bullying among children in K-12 environments. You may imagine a schoolyard bully making fun of another student or stealing their lunch money. However, bullying may not only take place in schools. It might happen anywhere, including at school, work, or home.

Additionally, bullying doesn’t affect only children. Bullying can happen to university students, adults in the workplace, and individuals online. One survey from 2019 found that 94% of the participating individuals had reported bullying in their workplace.  

Adult bullying can be as pervasive as bullying among children in schools. However, bullying prevention is possible, and there are steps to take if you think you might be being bullied or witnessing bullying around you.

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Discover ways to stop bullies in their tracks

What is bullying?

The APA dictionary defines bullying as persistent threatening and aggressive physical behavior or verbal abuse directed toward others, especially people who are younger, smaller, weaker, or in a situation of relative disadvantage compared to the bully. For example, if a manager is verbally unkind to one of their employees, the power imbalance may create a disadvantage for the employee and make them believe they are unable to defend themselves without risking their job. 

Different forms of bullying include verbal bullyingsocial or relational bullying, physical bullying, or damage and destruction of a person’s belongings. This behavior could happen anywhere and to anyone. 

Tips on how to deal with bullies

Bullying can feel discouraging, frightening, or traumatizing. However, you can take steps to potentially prevent a bully from continuing to harass you. Dealing with bullies is stressful, but the long-term effects of bullying can be significant, so it is best to address the situation as soon as you can. 

Walk away 

If possible and safe, try not to engage with a bully. Leave the situation. Use your body language to display apathy, even if you don’t feel it deep down. Ignore the bully and process your emotions related to the bullying once you are in a safe location. 

Describe their behavior 

Try describing the bully’s behavior back to them. For example, if they call you a rude term, you might 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 response may show a bully that you know exactly what they’re doing. It can take power away from them. If other people are around to witness you pushing back, this strategy may show the bully that you’re not afraid to speak up and bring attention to the situation.

Don’t react

Treat the bully as though their words are insignificant. You might shrug and say bland phrases such as, “Okay,” “All right,” “Cool,” or “Interesting.” You may still want to speak up and tell someone you trust about the incident later, and you may still feel hurt. However, reacting without emotion in the moment could show a bully that you aren’t going to give their negative behavior attention.

Give yourself compassion 

Give yourself compassion. You may be doing the best that you can. Remind yourself that abuse or unkindness from another person may not have anything to do with you. Consider reminding yourself of the following affirmations: 

  • “I matter.”

  • “I’m someone who objectively has value.”

  • “What they’re doing is about them, and it doesn’t say anything about my worth.”

  • “Many people love me and treat me kindly, and this person’s actions don’t change that.”

  • “Even if I feel alone, I respect myself, and I am my own best friend.” 

Visualize a forcefield 

Visualize a shield or invisible forcefield that makes you feel safe, and try to imagine the bully’s words bouncing off it. You might imagine that their actions, words, or behavior cannot impact you, no matter how hard they try. 

Say something funny

Humor might catch 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. You may not want to make a joke at their expense, however. Consider a short comeback and move on with your day. Try not to bully a bully back, as it may create back-and-forth and cause them to become more aggressive. 

Be kind in response 

Like a display of humor, a kind response could communicate that you will not stoop to their level. Being kind to someone who’s being mean to you is a way to deflect the situation, which may confuse the bully. 

Stick with a group 

Bullies may target one person at a time and avoid larger groups. Consider spending time with your friends when the bully is around. If you’re being treated poorly in a work setting, consider working with a coworker or changing your workstation location if possible. It might also be helpful for you to report the behavior to a supervisor or human resources (HR) reporting line. 

How to reach out for help 

You might not know how to cope with bullying at school, in the workplace, or within your family life, or you might be afraid to reach out for help. Seeking help could raise fears that you’re “snitching” on someone or that the person you talk to won’t believe you. In instances of bullying taking place in a work or school setting, you may worry that regardless of the outcome, you will continue having to interact with the bully after raising concerns about their behavior. 

But the truth is, bullying is not okay, and continuing to allow the bullying behavior to happen without alerting other people is not safe. It is best to report the bullying, not only for you, but also for other people whom the bully may be treating poorly.

When considering alerting an authority figure to the situation, it may be helpful to brainstorm what you’ll say beforehand. You may also talk things through with a friend, loved one, or therapist first to ease your nerves and hear another perspective.

When alerting someone to bullying, make sure it is a person with authority, such as a teacheryour boss, an HR reporting line, or a crisis line counselor. If you are school-age and dealing with bullying, a trusted adult is typically a good resource. A school guidance counselor may also offer sound advice. 

In some cases, reporting the bullying may be unsafe. For example, you might be a personal assistant who is being bullied by your boss, and there’s no higher manager to go to because of the nature of your role. 

In this case, consider telling your family and friends or looking for a new position. Holding your feelings inside may cause you to feel more isolated.

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Types of bullying

Several types of bullying may be happening to you. Bullying doesn’t always involve name-calling or physical harassment. It may also happen online, in a friend group, or within a relationship. 

  • Physical Bullying: Physical bullying often includes a harmful physical interaction, whether that involves being hit or pushed, physically harassed, or publicly humiliated in a physical way.

  • Verbal Bullying: Verbal bullying may involve someone teasing, insulting, or verbally abusing another person.

  • Cyberbullying: This type of bullying may be categorized by an individual or group using the internet to harm, harass, or “cancel” someone. 

  • Relationship Bullying: Relationship bullying can happen when one partner bullies the other in a romantic relationship. This bullying can involve name-calling, spreading lies about the other person to their friends and family, stonewalling, gaslighting, or acting unkind. 

  • Workplace Bullying: Workplace bullying can involve verbal insults, harassment, and other types of bullying in an office or other work setting.

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying may present as people in power yelling at their coworkers, taking away their responsibilities, or threatening them with disciplinary action. Consider reporting the behavior to a supervisor or someone in the HR department. Even if your bully is a supervisor or someone with direct power over you, you may still stand up for yourself and tell the HR department or involve the law if necessary.

Many employers have a policy in place to prevent so-called revenge firing. If you report your bullying, they may not be legally able to fire you or discipline you for coming forward. Additionally, your efforts could prevent future employees from experiencing the same behavior. 

In some cases, changing jobs may be the best option for individuals who have the opportunity to do so, especially if the work environment is toxic or hostile overall.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online. This type of harassment can be dangerous because of its potential to go unnoticed or not be taken seriously. However, the internet is a significant part of many individuals’ lives and cyberbullying may feel extremely serious to those impacted by it.

Cyberbullying can harm people in tangible ways that carry into their “offline” life. Someone might defame you online or bully you via social media, or you could get an influx of spam or threatening emails. 

If you’re being bullied online, document everything. Take screenshots and download videos about yourself to prove the bullying. You may also be able to report a cyberbullying crime to the government. 

Finding support

The impacts of bullying, mental health-related and otherwise, can be long-lasting in some cases. Studies show that those who experience bullying may be more likely to face the following:

  • Sleep problems

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Feelings of loneliness

  • Low self-esteem

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Decreased productivity at work or school

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Discover ways to stop bullies in their tracks

Getting support from a therapist or counselor may help you find ways to approach or combat bullying effectively when it happens. It could also help you address the possible consequences of bullying.

Therapy is not a replacement for immediate assistance or crisis care. If you feel suicidal, please get in touch with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing or texting 988 any time, day or night. 

Therapy Options 

If you’re experiencing distressing symptoms or a mental health condition due to bullying, talking to a therapist may help you handle the situation more effectively than you would be able to on your own. 

Perhaps you’re nervous about going to see a therapist in person. In this case, you might opt for online therapy. Online therapy can often an avenue to start seeing a therapist faster, allowing you to get the support you need sooner rather than later. 

Medically reviewed research indicates that online therapy may be just as effective as in-person therapy for addressing anxiety and other mental health conditions related to bullying. It may be a valuable way to discuss bullying and open up about what you’re going through with a professional. 

Online counselors on platforms such as BetterHelp are trained to support you as you navigate your emotions. They may offer insight and techniques to help you heal from bullying and defend yourself in the future. 

Takeaway

Bullying is a behavior that can cause significant distress for those impacted. If you’re experiencing bullying, you are not alone. Professional therapists are often passionate about helping people through challenging situations. 

Whether you see a therapist through an online counseling platform or face-to-face, it can be brave to take the first step to reach out for support. 

Is bullying impacting your life?
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