How To Handle Adult Bullying

By: Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

When most people think of bullying, they think of children picking on each other in class or on the school playground. There is no denying that numerous children are exposed to bullying, even at very young ages. However, bullying is not mutually exclusive to children or childhood. Many adults bully other adults, just as there are adults who are exposed to bullies in their age range. In recent years, adult bullying has received greater amounts of attention from the mainstream media.


There is no doubt that adult bullying is very real and even prevalent. However, before anyone can learn how to handle adult bullying, they have first to understand the nature of adult bullying, how it works, and what it generally consists of.

Reviewing Adult Bullying

Adult bullying is inherently toxic and insidious in all environments and any forms. Understanding the categories of adult bullies and how they operate is imperative to comprehending underlying reasons and other factors. Adults who engage in bullying are more likely to do so in means other than physical; however, there are cases where physical abuse and bullying happens. Typically, in the world of adult bullying, the perpetrators fall into certain categories.

Types Of Adult Bullies

First and foremost comes the Narcissistic adult bully. Narcissists who choose to bully other adults do so because they lack empathy or fear of adverse repercussions. Furthermore, they generally struggle with self-esteem issues, hence their compulsion to constantly denigrate other people. People who truly love themselves don't have to tear others down to feel superior. Narcissists will try to prove how secure they are, although, their mistreatment of others speaks volumes every time.

Impulsive adult bullies tend to engage in sporadic and uncontrolled bullying. Sometimes this manner of bullying occurs when the perpetrator is under stress or going through a rough time. While impulsive bullying isn't typically planned or premeditated, this does not excuse it. Going through challenges in life does not entitle anyone to lash out at others or engage in bullying. The actions of impulsive adult bullies is just as dangerous as grown-up bullies who fall into other categories.

Next comes Physical adult bullies. As the name suggests, physical adult bullies perpetrate bullying, which involves physical actions and contact. Physical bullies often hit, slap, punch, kick, or otherwise assault their victims. They may also engage in stalking their victims, stealing, or destroying their personal property. Numerous physical adult bullies also threaten to harm their victims or the people who their victims may be connected to. Bullies of this nature may suffer from anger issues or other types of serious psychological issues.

Verbal adult bullies tend to use their words to belittle their victims. It's important not to minimize the impacts of verbal bullying simply because these impacts are not tangible. Words are very powerful, and they can ruin reputations, careers, inner self-worth, and other things which someone may have going for themselves. A notable amount of verbal adult bullies spread rumors, gossip about them behind their backs, and otherwise, use words to be mean and hurtful.


Lastly, comes Secondary adult bullies. Secondary adult bullies are witnesses to the actions of the bully and generally join in so they won't become the bully's next target. Many secondary adult bullies don't harbor true malice towards the victim, yet are afraid to speak out. It's important to understand that secondary adult bullying is not any less harmful simply because this particular perpetrator is acting out of fear. Adults who witness bullying should either speak up or report the incident instead of further victimizing the person on the receiving end.

Handling Bullying As A Victim

Whenever you find yourself on the receiving end of adult bullying, it can be challenging and upsetting. However, knowing ways to successfully overcome the antics of a bully can help you learn, grow, and experience higher levels of confidence. When you find yourself in this situation, one of the most important things of all is not to show the bully fear. This can be challenging, depending on what type of bully you are dealing with, but bullies feed off fear, and it encourages them to proceed with their bad behavior.

When you're a victim of bullying, making sure that you are connected to other people is also quite imperative. Bullies generally view isolated individuals as easier targets who will have less of a support system to confront them. Having people in your corner can help you feel less alone and ensure that others are aware of your situation.


Confidence and a support system are great; however, reporting the bully is another great course of action. Contrary to popular belief, simply ignoring a bully does not usually encourage them to stop what they're doing. As a matter of fact, adult bullies of all types often view being ignored as a sign of weakness, and it encourages them to keep going. Don't be afraid to speak out and report the person who is bullying you.

Handling Bullying As A Bystander

If you happen to be a bystander of adult bullying, it can put you in a very difficult position. Depending on whether or not you know the bully, the victim, or both, you may worry about the potential repercussions of any course of action. How you handle the bullying as a bystander is a matter of character and integrity. Even if you do not feel comfortable with confronting the bully, there are still other actions which you can take other than ignoring it or becoming a secondary adult bully.

Reaching out to the victim in confidence is one way of making a positive impact. Many victims of bullying feel alone or otherwise alienated from others who could support them when they need it most. Letting the victim know that they are not alone can make such a significant difference, even if it seems minor to you. You never know the difference that support or encouragement can make in someone's life.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to handle adult bullying as a bystander is to report the incident. Depending on the situation, you may be able to report anonymously, but bringing the matter to a higher authority is certainly necessary when adult bullying is happening. Bullies don't usually stop their flagrantly bad behavior unless they are forced to do so. Reporting the situation will make you feel better as a person; it will also help the life of the person who is being subjected to adult bullying.

Handling Bullying If You Are The Bully

If you happen to be the perpetrator of adult bullying, it's critical for you to know that what you are doing is not OK. Regardless of what your reasons or motivations may be, targeting someone and mistreating them is never an appropriate course of action. What you are doing is hurting another human being. If you are bullying someone, the first thing you should do is immediately stop what you are doing.

The compulsion to bully others is very troubling and disturbing. This could be a sign of an unresolved, underlying issue, or a problem which is happening in your personal life. Regardless of the problem, becoming an adult bully is never OK or acceptable. For this reason, you might consider working with a professional therapist. A mental health therapist can truly help you heal as an individual and deal with your problems which may be causing you to lash out at others.


Online Therapy With BetterHelp

Whether you are dealing with adult bullying or some other challenges in life, you will find that signing up for online therapy can help. One of the greatest merits of online therapy is that you can have a qualified and compassionate professional in your corner no matter who you are or where you live.

Previous Article

How To Stop A Bully from Hurting You And Others

Next Article

How To Address Bullying At Work
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Counselor Today
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.