How To Stop A Bully From Hurting You And Others

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
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.

Bullies can exist in the schoolyard, in our families, or even wind up being our romantic partners. They can be any age and bully in any setting, including online. Sometimes, you can remove a bully from your life, while other times they can be difficult if not impossible to remove entirely. 

Regardless of who a bully is or how they choose to harm their targets, it's helpful to understand the underlying reasons for bullying, that is, how it's often more about the bully's insecurities rather than any defaults of your own. Knowing this and other pertinent information can help prevent you and the people about whom you care from getting bullied.

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Experiencing bullying can harm your mental health

How to stop a bully

Perpetrators of bullying engage in ongoing, mean-spirited behavior that targets other people. Bullies generally know that their behavior is hurtful and ill-advised, yet they most often persist until they are forced to stop. 

Knowing how to stop a bully starts with knowing why some people may choose to pick on others.

Various reasons can determine why someone chooses to engage in bullying, such as being abused or bullied themselves, feeling insecure or powerless, or wanting to have control over others. That said, nothing justifies targeting and mistreating another individual.

Stopping a bully as soon as possible is key. Bullying can be prevented or stopped altogether by:

  • Getting support from others
  • Talking about the issue
  • Putting safeguards in place
  • Removing oneself from the situation
  • Confronting the bully, when safe and appropriate
  • Building one’s own self-esteem and confidence

Every situation is unique and will require different courses of action to handle effectively.

How do bullies hurt others?

Bullies hurt others with their words or actions. Some common tactics include singling out individuals, drawing attention to a sensitive issue, and mocking them in front of others. When this occurs online, it's known as cyberbullying (and it can have devastating effects, particularly on children).

Someone subjected to bullying in the workplace may struggle to perform their professional duties with the utmost quality. Someone being bullied in a romantic relationship may experience diminished self-esteem and ask themselves if something they did is causing the bullying. A bullied child in school may see their grades take a nosedive. The impact of bullying can vary widely, depending upon the bully, the person being bullied, and other existing dynamics such as its severity and the methods used.

Why do bullies target certain people?

People have wondered what prompts bullies to target certain people for quite some time. One of the most common features uniting those who experience bullying is that they generally stand out in one way or another. They may seem "different" from the rest, and sometimes other people see that as a threat. Insecure individuals often have a pattern of fearing what they don't understand.

The personality of an individual who is bullied also plays a role. In many scenarios, bullies target people who seem nice to a fault or otherwise less inclined to fight back. The reason behind this tactic is relatively simple: bullies thrive on power and control. By going after someone who may be too afraid to defend themselves or fight back, bullies perceive less risk in the way of resistance.

Individuals who are disenfranchised or powerless may also be likelier to experience bullying than their more fortunate counterparts. Bullies may be afraid to go after someone who has the power and means to push back against them. Therefore, they tend to go after people they view as easy targets. This does not mean that people of high stature are never bullied in life. However, studies have shown that bullies typically target those who can't or won't fight back.

How to stand up to bullies

There will often be bullies in various settings and environments, but this doesn't mean you must put up with it. You can not only stop bullies from hurting you, but you can also stop them from hurting others who are around you. 

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Have a healthy support system

Having the right support system in your corner can make a meaningful difference. In many cases, bullies are less likely to identify those they believe have friends to strongly support them. Having the right people in your corner also ensures that you are not isolated or alienated from other human beings. A healthy support system allows others to help you if you’re being bullied but also lets you support others in your group if they become targets.

A support system also makes a difference if someone reports bullying to a higher authority. An established pattern of bullying and witnesses can make your case more credible and ensure the bully is held accountable for their behavior. Solidarity is the antithesis of isolation and a primary deterrent for perpetrators of bullying.

Be confident

Confidence in yourself can speak volumes and convey a message before you open your mouth. People tend to perceive whether someone has high or low self-esteem. In many cases, bullies are less likely to pursue people who exude high self-esteem and confidence.

Furthermore, someone who feels good about themselves is usually less likely to put up with mistreatment from others. In many cases, bullies intuitively identify what they view as easy targets. Further, having positive self-confidence and self-esteem can help you cope with any long-term effects that result from bullying.

Speak up

If you see that someone else is being subjected to bullying, one of the most powerful things you can do is speak up. The way bystanders of bullying handle these situations can determine if the bully continues or stops.

If you are uneasy about confronting the bully face to face, you can always take the matter to a higher authority. Letting someone know what you witnessed can not only stop the bullies, but it can also help the person in a tight spot. Standing up for others and doing the right thing is important.

Don't blame yourself

It can be very easy to question whether something you did prompted the bully to lash out at you. Bullies have a way of projecting their issues onto others; this can be emotionally and psychologically hurtful. 

You are not responsible for the actions of the bully. Each of us makes our own decisions in life and must be held accountable for them. Regardless of how a bully chooses to conduct themselves or what they may say to you or others, they alone are responsible for the choices they make. 

That said, it is necessary to do our best to understand that they may be witnessing or even experiencing abuse at home, and need help themselves.

Closing remarks on bullies

Bullies may appear to be well-off or in a position of power, but they often have a significant weakness at their core that encourages them to bully. The way we are treated often says more about the other person than ourselves, and bullies generally have personal issues that they need to address appropriately. Never allow a bully to make you question who you are or what you know about yourself. This may be the bully's ultimate endgame, but just because another person may believe something strongly does not make it true.

Remaining strong, knowing who you are, and taking the right steps against bullying is imperative. Stopping a bully from hurting yourself and others is an achievement that can be life-changing. In turn, the bully may learn a lesson from experience and change their ways as a result. This could prevent many others from being bullied by this person later on.

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Experiencing bullying can harm your mental health

Online therapy with BetterHelp

If you are experiencing bullying or other challenges in life, it may be helpful to participate in online therapy with BetterHelp. Having a professional in your corner can help you process your emotions in a safe environment without feeling judged. Online therapy ensures that you don’t have to go through any stressful situation on your own. Rather, you can confide in a trusted, licensed therapist for advice and guidance as you move forward.

The efficacy of online therapy

Online therapy has been proven to be an effective tool for those recovering from the harmful effects bullying can cause. One study found that internet-based cognitive processing therapy was efficacious for treating those with a history of bullying victimization. Participants experienced less stress, anxiety, and depression as well as fewer symptoms of PTSD in more severe cases.

Takeaway

Stopping a bully starts with recognizing one. There are some situations you may be able to handle on your own and others that require a strong support system. Online therapy may be an effective option for those wanting to healthfully recover from the negative effects bullying has had on their lives. Though it may not be possible to escape a bully completely, there are many ways to cope with the experience and get helpful resources for support.
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