What Is Bullying?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, that 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.

Bullying is something that most people might have witnessed or personally experienced at least once in their lifetime. Bullying behavior can take place while a child is at school, while an employee is interacting with their boss or even when two people are living together at home. 

While the majority of people might be familiar with bullying, it can show up in each of our lives in different ways and affect us to varying degrees. Understanding what bullying is, why it happens, and how to confront it can be helpful in ending this harmful behavior.

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Are you a survivor of bullying at school, work or home?

What is bullying?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, bullying can be defined as the "abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc...”. 

Bullying can occur when someone decides to exercise dominance over another person by harming them emotionally or physically. Once they've managed to inflict enough pain, the person on the receiving end may begin to experience a lack of self-esteem and confidence. 

Awareness, anti-bullying strategies, and therapy can help to validate the experience of survivors and prevent bullying in the future.


What are some examples of bullying?

Although bullying can seem fairly straightforward, there may be quite a few categories of bullying—and some may be more subtle than others. 

Here are a few common categories and examples of bullying to recognize:

  1. Physical Bullying—Physical bullying can occur when someone uses physical violence to assert their dominance over another individual. Anything physical that happens to a victim or a victim's belongings can fall under the physical bullying category.
  2. Verbal Bullying—Verbal bullying can occur when someone uses words to bring down another person. Some of the most common forms of verbal bullying can include name-calling and offensive slurs.
  3. Cyberbullying—Cyberbullying is generally considered to be a new type of bullying that can happen when someone posts something mean or hurtful to, or about someone else online. This type of bullying can also happen over the phone or through other technological devices.
  4. Relational Bullying—Unlike the other three categories, relational bullying can happen when a group excludes someone from a social situation intentionally.
We do want to note: Other forms of bullying can exist, but the majority of bullying incidents generally fall within these four broader categories.

Why might someone choose to become a bully?

Are you a survivor of bullying at school, work or home?

There are several reasons why someone might choose to become a bully, some of which can be rooted in past trauma. For example: A lot of bullies might become violent as a result of events taking place within the home, such as domestic violence or other abuse to which the bully is exposed. Bullies may express their feelings of helplessness or anger from being mistreated at home by abusing or using violence against others. 

The second reason why someone might become a bully is that having dominance over another person can help them to feel more in control of their lives. When someone craves power, bullying can give them a method by which they can get it. It may also make them perceive as though they are above other people when they are actively putting them down.

Lastly, some people may bully simply because they enjoy hurting other people. However, this reason can be rare amongst bullies and can signify a possible mental health concern.

What are some of the effects of being bullied?

Bullying can produce serious effects on survivors. For example: Those who have been bullied may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety disorder formation as well as physical changes that often stem from these psychological concerns (such as gastrointestinal upset). Bullying can also affect school and work performance, including one’s productivity, concentration, or self-efficacy to get things done. 

Additionally, those who are exposed to physical violence while being bullied may end up with injuries, both small and large. If bullying is severe enough and lasts for an extended period of time, some people may even contemplate suicide or make suicidal attempts. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7.

How can online counseling support those who have survived bullying?

Bullying can be a complex issue that can have harmful physical and mental health effects for all involved. If you are a survivor of bullying, have witnessed someone being bullied or have bullied someone yourself, it may be helpful to speak with an online therapist. 

BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that can connect you with a therapist at your convenience. You can schedule sessions according to your availability and talk through video calls, phone calls or an in-app messaging feature. Taking control over your therapeutic experience from the comfort of your own home might help you to feel more comfortable and experience greater healing.  

Is online counseling effective? 

Online counseling can help individuals successfully cope with negative emotions associated with bullying experiences. For example: In one study, researchers found details suggesting that “internet-delivered CBT is effective for the psychological distress and maladaptive appraisals associated with bullying victimization.” The intervention was also found to reduce symptoms associated with PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression.


Bullying can take place in schools, workplaces, and even in the home. It can come in the form of physical, verbal, mental, sexual, emotional, or psychological mistreatment and can affect each person differently. Whether you’ve witnessed bullying, been bullied, or have bullied someone else, it can be important to talk to someone about your experience—especially if it begins to negatively impact your well-being. 

Online counseling can provide you with a safe space in which to be open and honest about what you’re going through. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

Is bullying impacting your life?
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