How To Stop A Bully When You See One

Medically reviewed by Lauren Fawley , LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Bullying behavior can be experienced at any age and in a variety of contexts, involving other kids, complete strangers, or even kids who post online. Although many of us may agree that bullying is wrong and harmful, we may not know the best way to respond to it. It can be important to know how to stop bullying and take steps towards preventing bullying, including when you witness it, so that you are empowered to take action and prevent others from experiencing PTSD from bullying.

Several ways to stop bullying can include separating the bully and their target, reaching out to school staff, parents, or an adult you trust who has the power to help, expressing kindness to the bully’s target, getting help after the fact, and avoiding participation in any form of bullying, including cyberbullying. If you, as a kid or a parent, have experienced, witnessed, or taken part in bullying, you may benefit from online therapy or seeking support within your community.

Bullying can have lasting impacts

Understand various presentations of bullying

Although we might picture kids when we think of bullying, it doesn’t only affect minors. Some studies say that adult bullying is just as common as childhood bullying. Additionally, bullying may not be limited to name-calling or talking down to someone. It can also take the form of rumors, purposeful exclusion, destruction of personal property, text messages that cause emotional harm, and physical violence.

In today’s digital age, cyberbullying is a growing concern, especially on social media. These online spaces often give bullies an identity cover, making it easier to target and harass individuals without immediate consequences. Depending on the platform, victims and witnesses can easily report cyberbullying incidents. That way, the appropriate measures can be taken to stop or prevent bullying behavior and protect vulnerable users.

Friends, coworkers, employers, and other students can all be bullies, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. When you know the different ways it can take place and some examples of bullying, you may be able to better recognize it and get involved to prevent bullying. In such situations, it is essential to seek support from school staff, parents, or the community to address the issue and create a safer environment for everyone.

When safe, attempt to separate the person from the bully

If you’re able to do so, it may be helpful to engage the kid who is being bullied. You might start an unrelated conversation with them to get them away from the situation (e.g., “Hey, did you get the instructions from our teacher earlier? I need help. Can you talk for a minute?”). This can work in scenarios where you and the person being bullied are physically safe. Using a clear voice, you can then check in with them, ask if they need anything, and take action if possible. For example, if the bullying occurred in a school environment, you might ask if they want you, as a parent or a fellow student, to go to the school staff to talk about it with them.

Tell someone who can help

Sometimes, despite seeing warning signs, people stand around and watch or even record someone being bullied on social media instead of taking action. Even when this isn’t the case, someone might know that bullying is happening and ignore the situation. If you see someone being bullied, there are almost always steps you can take to report bullying or help alleviate the situation. Even if all you’re doing is reporting the behavior, your help can make a big difference. Keep in mind, though, that while you may be able to step in, this may not always be the best or safest option, especially if the bullying involves violence.

If you are not involved or able to do anything or if it isn’t safe to take direct action, the best course of action may be to walk away and contact the proper authorities. If you are a student and you don't know how to cope with bullying at school, you could tell a teacher. If you are an adult, you could talk to another person who has the power to address the matter.

If you have power, use it

Just as it can be crucial to reach out to someone like a professor, boss, or HR professional when you notice bullying, it can be imperative to use that power yourself if you have it. If you’re in a position of authority, you may be able to act in a beneficial way that poses as little risk as possible to the person facing bullying. For example, if you’re a teacher, you may have the power to speak with the bully after class, report the incident, or take other appropriate action given the unique circumstances of what you witnessed.

Research shows that some of the best bullying prevention methods rely on staff and others to respond to bullying and create a safe space. For example, it can be important in schools to talk to both the students and the staff about bullying. You might take action to create a safe environment and make anti-bullying efforts a priority, no matter where you work.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Be kind to the person being bullied

Experiencing bullying can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. By showing kindness, you may be able to help the victim overcome some of these negative effects. For instance, supportive relationships have been correlated with better mental and physical health. In addition, bullying may be less intimidating for the individual if they have someone on their side. You may even make a new friend.

If you’re the one being bullied, you might try to surround yourself with friends and acquaintances in situations where you expect that you might encounter the bully. This could limit opportunities for the bully to act and provide you with emotional support when you need it.

Get help after the encounter

Once you have created a safe space and stopped the bullying, you might look for ways to better address the situation so that it can be prevented going forward. This usually means finding people in charge who are equipped on how to deal with bullies and bullying and can ensure this behavior doesn’t happen again. Talking about certain kinds of behavior can be uncomfortable, but in many circumstances, it can be vital. If the situation is handled properly, it could prevent someone else from experiencing the same or worse.

Make an effort to play no part in it

There can be times when people let bullying continue without meaning to. For example, you might hear someone make fun of their friend or partner, and instead of saying anything, you stay quiet. Or you might pretend that you don’t hear a boss saying something out of line, discriminatory, or cruel about an employee. 

In certain situations, particularly if the individual making harmful statements is a friend or family, you might say something like, “That isn’t funny,” or “That isn’t okay.” This can go a long way toward making the individual realize that this behavior is not acceptable. People generally do not expect to be called out on their behavior, and in some circumstances, that might be all it takes for other people to stand up and help stop the bullying, too.

However, there may be social situations where it will not be safe to do this. If a bully is engaging in physical acts of harm, the most important thing is ensuring safety. You could call for help and monitor the situation so that you will be able to provide information once the proper authority arrives. It may be ideal to prioritize everyone’s well-being over fighting back or engaging with the bully.

How does bullying affect adults and children?

Bullying is often a source of trauma, and it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some cases.

There are several known effects of bullying, both short- and long-term, which can include:

  • Decreased engagement and productivity at work and school
  • Heightened risk of depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Greater risk of substance use disorders
  • Higher risk of eating disorders
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Physical health concerns, such as trouble sleeping, tension or pain, and headaches

However, all these outcomes can be treatable. To cope with the effects of bullying, you might try utilizing self-care techniques, finding new environments where bullying isn’t tolerated, making positive connections, and asking for support from medical and mental health providers.

Bullying can have lasting impacts

Therapy can help

Bullying is not the fault of the person who experiences it, but it can have lasting impacts. If you’ve been bullied, it’s possible to move forward. Therapy can help with concerns related to bullying, such as low self-esteem, stress, difficulty at work or school, family issues, and mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, PTSD, and depression. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is regarded as one of the most effective therapies in addressing the emotional distress caused by bullying. While CBT used to involve visiting a professional’s office, now individuals can get CBT online. And online therapy has been proven as effective as in-person therapy. Plus, it’s more convenient.

You can quickly and easily find a qualified, licensed therapist to work with online through a platform like BetterHelp. BetterHelp makes it easy to start seeing a provider sooner rather than later, and the licensure of every provider on the platform is verified. Regardless of how you find someone to work with, you deserve to have a positive support system and people around who uplift you.


Bullying is a serious problem in our society, affecting people of all ages. Those who experience bullying may feel traumatized, and it can negatively impact their mental health. If you witness a bullying incident, there are things you can do to help the person being bullied. And if you’re being bullied, resources are available to help you overcome emotional distress related to the bullying.
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