The Top Reasons Why People Bully

Updated March 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dealing with someone who bullies is something many people have dealt with at least once in their life. Bullies typically aggressively assert power by intentionally targeting and intimidating a seemingly weaker person verbally, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. These bullying events do not leave a person unharmed, even after the verbal or physical assaults have subsided. People, including children and adults of all ages, who have been bullied can lead to an increased risk for mental and physical health problems along with difficulty in psychosocial adjustment as well as emotional adjustment.  If you have experienced bullying or someone you love has been bullied, you understand the emotional and physical repercussions of someone else’s aggressive behavior. In this article, you will learn the underlying reasons why a person bullies, which may give you the tools and strategies to handle a bully when they come your way.

Experiencing Bullying Can Have Long-Term Effects On Your Self-Esteem

Overview: Why Do Bullies Bully?

Bullying can be defined as the deliberate and repetitive use of or words or actions against a person or group of people to cause social, physical, and/or psychological harm. While bullying has existed for a very long time, it was only in the 1970s when this form of interpersonal aggression was the subject of research that was focused primarily on school bullying. However, bullying is not just something that happens to school-age children. People meet with bullies at every stage of life. Bullying is something that you can experience within your family and in the workplace. While some children who bully eventually recognize their poor behavior or are reprimanded accordingly, others become adults and continue to act in an abusive manner. 

There is not a simple answer to this question, as the reasons why a person aggressively subjugates another is complex. However, some internal causes of a person bullying another include: 

  • Feeling insecure

  • Feeling powerless

  • Needing to control

  • Being rewarded for this behavior

People who bully may be managing mental health conditions such as depression or anger management problems. They may be emotionally neglected at home, or worse, abused or living with bullying in other aspects of their lives. Some people may seek out the help of an online therapist to understand bullying in greater detail.

Insecurity And Feeling Powerless

For those who have experienced or witnessed bullying, it may seem impossible that the person who does the bullying is actually experiencing feelings of insecurity or powerlessness. You may wonder how someone who deals with insecurity will bully someone else, especially when thinking that this type of person is typically shy and reserved. But some people will express this insecurity by trying to overpower another person because they feel powerless. It can also mean they are not happy with themselves. 

When an individual feels this way, they may engage in bullying to bring others down to their perceived level. Many people who are subjected to bullying may want to revenge their pain and humiliation to restore their own self-esteem. However, it is more beneficial to learn ways to navigate an aggressive personality by not meeting them with equal aggression, but with a sense of compassion along with clear and obvious boundaries. 

Keep in mind that when an individual feels powerless in their own life, it may lead to them bullying others. Some children from dysfunctional homes engage in bullying because they feel powerless and are shown this example at home. Someone who feels insecure may be afraid of appearing weak in front of others. To hide their own weakness, they do their best to find and expose weakness in someone else. Again, this explanation (and the others below) are not meant to excuse bullying – which is inexcusable – but is meant to explain it. When we understand something, we are more equipped to change it.

Internalized Behaviors And The Need To Control

Research has shown that emotional deficits and internalizing mental health concerns in people who bully may be the root causes of bullying behavior. For example, anxiety and depression are strongly related to bullying behaviors. Other factors that can cause a person to bully is emotional reactivity, or anger management problems.

The need to control is one way in which these internalized behaviors can lead to bullying. In not being able to control their internal or external environments, their need to control may be by attempting to dominates another. Some people engage in bullying to gain control of their surroundings. For example, they may have no control over the way they are treated at home. The common theme is that there are concerns we often cannot see- there also might be cultural differences at play, race disparities, or even an unseen disability that is causing them to project onto others.

Bullying Is Rewarded

Sadly, bullying behavior is often rewarded, whether it be on the part of the bully who seems to get what they want from the interaction or by those who may witness it. In a sense, by doing nothing people reinforce bullying behavior, and, in some cases, the bullying is encouraged. For example, studies have shown that bullies are often rewarded, especially in the workplace. In a study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, bullies on the job get rewarded for their behavior, achieving higher levels of career success and positive evaluations from their supervisors. 

Any time a person who bullies wins and succeeds in getting what they want, it reinforces their behavior. When they control and intimidate others, they usually achieve what they set out to do: intimidate and control. Bullies can also have their behavior rewarded if others encourage them and join in. This gives them the attention they desire. These facts are important to notice, as it shows what is included in the incentive to bully.

How To Stop Bullying

The top reasons why people bully may not seem like good enough reasons for intimidating and controlling others, but they are the main underlying causes for this type of behavior. The only way to stop others from bullying you is to learn how to deal with it effectively. Here are some ways you can put an end to bullying.

  • Take A Stand - This advice works regardless of your age. People who bully tend to prey on people who are perceived as weaker than they are. When you show them that you are confident and that their tactics are not working, you steal their power and cause them to lose control. Because the person who bullies may already be self-conscious, they are likely to become angry as you become more empowered. Eventually, they will be forced to give up once you show them that you are not going to allow their behavior to impact you.

  • Have A Support Group - This is another tip that helps at any age. Bullies often act alone, and they do not want to take on an entire group. If you have a solid group of friends who you can lean on for support, it might cause the person who is bullying you to think twice. This is effective on the playground with young children and it works well with adults in an office setting as well.

  • Stay Emotionally Neutral - This can be hard to do when you are trying not to show emotion while you are being bullied. Remember, if you get angry or confrontational, you will only encourage their behavior. Many bullies are encouraged by someone else’s emotional response and want to see a strong reaction. If you remain neutral and do your best to ignore the behavior, they are more likely to give up.

  • Deal With It Quickly - The longer they get away with bullying you, the harder it can be to get them to stop. If you take immediate action when you first experience bullying, it will send the bully a message that you are not going to stand for their behavior. They are likely to look for another target.

  • Do Not Keep Secrets - How you address this one depends on your age. If you are being bullied in school, you need to find a trusted adult with whom to talk. This could be a teacher, a parent, or a mentor. If you are in the workplace, then you should address the issue with your Human Resources department. Secrets have power and may allow others to also be impacted. If you do not tell anyone you are being bullied, the effects of bullying are likely to multiply, especially impacting your mental and physical health.

You Can Overcome The Effects Of Bullying

Bullying can affect several aspects of a person’s life, impacting their physical and mental health, social functioning, and work or school performance. People who are bullied often experience negative health and social consequences from the abuse, including the following:

  • Poor academic and/ or work performance

  • Relationship problems

  • Negative self-perceptions, including low self-worth and self-esteem

  • Internalizing mental health disorders, such as emotional dysregulation, depression, and anxiety

Bullying can lead to feelings of loneliness and social anxiety due to how poorly you were treated by a bully. Depression and teen suicide are also significantly higher among those who experience bullying. Finding the right counselor or therapist is the best way to learn how to navigate the effects of this poor treatment by peers and the distress that may follow.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek immediate guidance by calling 911 or the national hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text “START” to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line, which will connect you to a trained volunteer within five minutes

While the psychological and physical effects of bullying can impact a person subjected to it throughout their lives, one approach to stopping the cycle of this interpersonal aggression is to treat the mental health of the bully as well. Research has shown that children exposed to violence in the home tend to participate in higher levels of physical bullying than those who have not been subjected to abuse. A mental health therapist can address the reasons behind this behavior, helping them to change their destructive habits and give tips on how to take responsibility for their actions. There are many reasons for bullying and many have roots in mental health, trauma, or families. Early intervention and therapy make a big difference in bullying behavior, especially for teens. Along the way, a bully can learn to better relate socially to others and heal the wounds withing that may be precipitating the behavior.

When A Professional Can Help

As mentioned above, bullying can seriously impact your mental health, including your self-esteem, confidence, and ability to manage anxiety. If you are dealing with someone who bullies and do not know how to manage the continued aggressive behavior directed at you, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Bullying should not be taken lightly. It can have serious consequences as you have read throughout this article, including changes in self-perception and increased anxiety and depressive symptoms. 

A highly effective form of therapy for helping people who are managing anxiety and depression symptoms is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy where the client learns to change negative behavior and thought process to positive behavioral patterns and a new way to approach life’s challenges, including when faced with bullying. Many people seeking therapy face barriers to in-person treatment, such as limited availabilty to professionally trained therapists, delayed treatment due to waiting lists, and accessibility obstacles due to living in a rural location or inability to travel. In all these cases, online therapy is a beneficial and research-backed form of delivery of services that removes these barriers to treatment. Research also supports the effectiveness of online therapy as shown in this review study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. In this review, a total of 19 studies were compared to assess the efficacy of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy, or iCBT. The report writers concluded that is a highly successful application of CBT for people managing anxiety and depression. 

An in-person or online counselor can help you to navigate through the effects of bullying in your life and help you develop strategies to stop a bully from targeting you from here on. They can guide you as you learn to address bullying and help you to recover healthily.

Experiencing Bullying Can Have Long-Term Effects On Your Self-Esteem

How BetterHelp Can Support You

If you have been bullied yourself, a therapist can help you learn why and how to use healthy coping tools instead. Read the reviews below to see how BetterHelp counselors have helped others experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Dr. Anstadt is one of the best counselors I've ever worked with. I was working with him for almost a year and the amount of progress I made was wonderful. I made significant steps toward learning about myself and gaining confidence about myself, learning how to stand up for myself when it was right, and knowing my own limits while still striving to be better."

"Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships, and really gaining the skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I really like how direct she is, it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can't wait to see where I am after working with her for a year!!!"


Bullying of any form is a serious issue that needs to be addressed to stop the cycle of intimidation and abuse in whatever environment it is found. Informing yourself about bullying and acting against this aggressive problem is a first step in breaking this cycle. Whether you are beginning to recognize bullying behaviors in yourself or you have been the victim of bullying, a therapist can help. If you are aware you may be bullying someone else, you can learn to change your behavior and recover from the troubling effects of bullying by taking the first step. Learn more about the topics of this page below, through our menu and title.

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