Understanding Verbal Bullying, Its Occurrence, And Its Harmful Impact On Others

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated October 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Bullying affects many adults, adolescents, and children. It may result in emotional or physical hurt and consequences, which may last a long time. It can also cause mental health conditions and symptoms. Understanding bullying and the different forms that can occur may be beneficial in preventing it in your life or the life of someone about whom you care.

This article explores facts about bullying, what verbal bullying looks like, and how to prevent bullying.

Verbal Bullying Is Rampant In Today's Society - Learn More Here

What Is Verbal Bullying?

Bullying often happens when someone uses strength or influence to force, coerce, or harm. In 2019, 22% of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied. The most common form of bullying for grade school children and adolescents was rumors and verbal bullying. A 2021 study by WBI US found that over 30% of US American adults have experienced workplace bullying, and 19% have witnessed it happening to someone else.

Bullying can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background.

There are several types of bullying behavior, which can include physical bullying or abusive behaviors.* Those who experience physical, emotional or verbal bullying may wonder how to effectively address it and find support. Early prevention can be necessary for parents who witness signs of bullying in their children. 

*If you’re a teen or child experiencing or witnessing abuse of any kind from a families or caregiver, reach out to the Child Help Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 or use the online chat feature.

What Is Verbal Bullying?

Verbal bullying is often intended to degrade or demean the target in some way. It may cause the bully to feel powerful or in control of their target. Verbal harassment may accompany physical, sexual, or emotional bullying or abuse. 

A bully might use insults that target a specific child or adult due to their weight, gender, sexuality, race, appearance, or another reason. Contact your local authorities if you suspect a hate crime has occurred or believe it may occur. 

How Does Verbal Bullying Affect People?

Verbal abuse and bullying can affect individuals in varying ways. It might cause self-esteem concerns, stress, or mental health symptoms. Studies show that bullying can also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

In modern society, a lot of bullying is done online, which is called cyberbullying. Children, adolescents, and adults may face unkind messages, long-term targeted online campaigns against them, posts about them, or rumors spread online. Although not audibly verbal, this form of bullying may be considered emotional or verbal bullying, as it often occurs through words, threats, and psychological control.  

Bullying might make it challenging for kids and adolescents to focus and excel in school. It may also impact friendships and family life. Some individuals may experience physical harm alongside verbal bullying. However, all types of bullying can cause harm. In extreme cases, verbal bullying can result in suicidal thoughts. 

If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support.

In adults, verbal bullying may cause the following symptoms: 

  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety along with feelings of sadness or loneliness
  • Changes in sleep and eating habits
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Loss of interest in activities and socializing
  • Calling out sick from work 
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Thyroid problems
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Increased blood pressure

The Long-Term Effects Of This Type Of Behavior

The effects of childhood verbal bullying can carry into adulthood. Childhood is a formative period and often involves making friends and learning how to socialize. Children or teens who faced bullying during this period may struggle to trust or make friends as an adult. 

An adult who experienced verbal bullying as a child may continue to be affected by the messages they heard. For example, they might believe they are not beautiful or should change themselves. Those thoughts might impact how they interact with others personally and professionally. Some adults struggle with mental health conditions or stress. They may continue to enter unhealthy friendships or relationships as a repeat of patterns they faced as a child. 

Why Do People Verbally Bully? 

What are the causes of bullying? The motives behind verbal bullying can vary. Some verbal bullies act out of hatred, a desire for control, or as a way to handle their own distressing emotions. Others might bully because their friends are doing it or because they feel scared of what they do not understand. 

Although bullying can happen for many reasons, it can be dangerous and have harmful impacts. Prevention could be necessary if you or someone you know is involved, in any type of bullying. Verbal bullies may also engage in physical bullying and other forms of social bullying. Studies show that many bullies are uninformed childhood bullies or adults that were bullied as children. Anti-bullying education is an important aspect of bullying prevention.

What To Do If Your Child Is Bullying Others

It may be challenging to find out your child is bullying another child or children at school or in other social situations. In these cases, parents should take action as soon as possible to stop any type of bullying when they learn about it or notice signs. This is an important part of bullying prevention. Your child may not realize how dangerous verbal bullying (and bullying in general) can be, or they might be mimicking the behavior of their friends or peers. 

Speak with your child about why bullying harms others. Highlight specific negative behaviors, like name calling, and explain how they can be harmful. You might include an educational video or book to help them understand. Teaching healthy conflict resolution strategies could help your child develop healthy communication when they feel wronged. Model healthy behavior by being proactive in communication at home, as studies show that children often mimic their parents’ behaviors.

How To Handle Verbal Bullying From An Adult

Bullying can happen at work, in university, through parent clubs, and in other adult activities. It can be difficult to know how to deal with verbal bullies in these contexts, especially when they are older than you or hold more power. 

In many cases, adult forms of bullying qualify as abuse. If someone is treating you unkindly, report it if you are able. You might report the occurrence to an unknown HR line, your supervisor, your university advisor, or a leader of an organization. Document their bullying behaviors. If it becomes constant and unrelenting, it may qualify as harassment. Contact your local police department to file a report if you feel harassed or stalked. 

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat

Verbal Bullying Is Rampant In Today's Society - Learn More Here

What To Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

If your child is being physically or verbally bullied at school, consider reporting the bullying to a school official, such as the principal, your child’s guidance counselor, and your child’s teachers. If the bullying continues, you might move your child to a new school or move them to a new class. 

Talk about bullying with your child. Make sure to use the right language during your conversation (for example, those that experience verbal abuse should never be referred to as “victims of verbal bullying”). Tell your child that they can speak to you about anything, and inform them that bullying is not okay. They may feel safe coming to you if something happens at school or in another social situation. If you suspect bullying, talk to them about their day at school and watch for strange behavior, comments, or suspicious bruises. Other signs of bullying might include: 

  • Missing items 
  • Decreased mood 
  • Sleeping more often
  • Feeling upset or crying about having to attend school or specific school activities
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Not going to social events or parties with friends or fellow students
  • Not wanting to complete homework
  • Missing homework or destroyed belongings
  • Hunger after school 
  • Frequent crying 
  • Panic attacks or fear 
  • Self-harm 

Talk to your child about constructive ways to deal with verbal bullying and discuss negative reactions like retaliation. Let them know that getting “revenge” on a bully could worsen the situation, and encourage them to receive support by reaching out to a teacher or counselor when the verbal bullying occurs. Tell them to let you know immediately if they feel physically unsafe or suicidal. 

How To Prevent Bullying As A Teen Or Child 

There are many organizations dedicated to stopping bullying before it causes long-term damage. StopBullying, a government website, offers tips to parents, teens, and children on preventing bullying, including the following: 

  • Confide in a trusted adult
  • Avoid spots where bullying occurs
  • Try to remain in areas populated by adults or close friends
  • Defend those being bullied and stand up to other children who partake in bullying 
  • Educate other children about empathy and kindness 
  • Offer friendship or emotional support to those experiencing bullying

Finding Professional Help 

If your child is affected by bullying, consider contacting a mental health professional. Even after the bullying stops, a survivor may seek help processing what occurred, which may cause long-term effects. Those who have bullied might also benefit from counseling, as well as adults who have been bullied or have partaken in unhealthy behaviors against others. 

Many individuals seek professional support through in-person therapists or support groups for bullying. Through online therapy, you can decide between phone, video, or live chat sessions with your therapist. You may also attend therapy in a safe location with an internet connection, such as at home. Studies show that online therapy is especially effective for those who have experienced bullying in their lifetime. 

If you’re interested in trying an internet-based treatment modality, consider BetterHelp for those over 18 or TeenCounseling for those aged 12-18. Teens who sign up for TeenCounseling will need a parent or guardian’s approval to attend sessions. 

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If you believe your child is being bullied or you fear that they are bullying someone else, reach out for support. If you are an adult experiencing bullying, know that there are resources to support you as well. In both cases, counseling can be a supportive and rewarding solution. Consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance.

Is bullying impacting your life?

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