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How to Handle Adult Bullying: A Guide for Victims, Bystanders, and Perpetrators

Bullying is not just a problem for children and teenagers. It can also affect adults in various settings, such as the workplace, the neighborhood, the family, or the social circle. Adult bullying can have serious consequences for the mental and physical health of the victims, as well as the well-being of the bystanders and the perpetrators. In this blog post, we will explore what constitutes adult bullying, the different types of adult bullies, the effects of adult bullying, and the strategies to deal with adult bullying from different perspectives.

What Is Adult Bullying?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.” Adult bullying is when this behavior occurs among adults, who may use their power, words, actions, or passive-aggression to intimidate, humiliate, belittle, or harm another person. Some of the common behaviors of adult bullies include:

  • Invasion of the other person’s personal space
  • Personal insults
  • Public shaming
  • Ridiculing jokes
  • Threats
  • Unwanted personal contact

Adult bullying can also be a form of harassment, which is when the bullying is based on a protected status, such as race, color, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin. Harassment involves inappropriate conduct that becomes a condition of employment or creates a hostile, abusive, or intimidating environment.

Types of Adult Bullies

There are many different types of adult bullies, each with their own motives, methods, and targets. Some of the common types of adult bullies are:

  • Tangible/material bully: This type of bully uses their formal power, such as a position as a boss or manager, or their control over the other person’s finances, to intimidate others. They may make unreasonable demands, withhold resources, deny opportunities, or threaten to fire or sue the other person.
  • Verbal bully: This type of bully shames and insults the other person with their words. They may offer constant criticism, engage in cruel teasing, or use sexist, racist, homophobic, or threatening language.
  • Passive-aggressive bully: This type of bully is the most cunning and subtle, as they act friendly on the outside but then take unexpected swings. They may engage in gossip, sarcasm, backstabbing, or hurtful jokes. They may also sabotage the other person’s work, reputation, or relationships.
  • Physical bully: This type of bully uses physical force or violence to harm the other person. They may hit, push, kick, slap, or choke the other person, or use weapons or objects to injure them. They may also damage or steal the other person’s property.
  • Cyber bully: This type of bully uses technology, such as the internet, social media, email, or text messages, to harass, threaten, or humiliate the other person. They may spread rumors, post hateful comments, share private information, or send unwanted images or messages.

Effects of Adult Bullying

Adult bullying can have serious and lasting effects on the mental and physical health of the victims, as well as the well-being of the bystanders and the perpetrators. Some of the possible effects of adult bullying are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

How to Deal with Adult Bullying

Depending on your role in the situation, there are different ways to deal with adult bullying. Here are some tips for victims, bystanders, and perpetrators of adult bullying:

For Victims

If you are a victim of adult bullying, the most important thing is to protect yourself and seek help. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Remove yourself from the situation. If possible, avoid or limit contact with the bully. If you can’t leave, try to stay calm and ignore the bully’s provocation. Don’t show fear or anger, as this may encourage the bully to continue.
  • Try to talk to the bully. If you feel safe and confident, you may try to confront the bully and tell them to stop. Use assertive and respectful language and state your boundaries clearly. For example, you can say, “I don’t appreciate your comments. Please stop.” or “Your behavior is unacceptable. Leave me alone.”
  • Talk to someone you trust. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to a friend, family member, co-worker, or counselor who can listen to you and support you. They may also offer advice, help you report the bullying, or intervene on your behalf.
  • Stay confident. Don’t let the bully’s words or actions affect your self-esteem or self-worth. Remember that you are not the problem, the bully is. Focus on your strengths, achievements, and goals. Surround yourself with positive people who appreciate and respect you.
  • Enforce your boundaries. Don’t let the bully take advantage of you or manipulate you. Stand up for yourself and your rights. Say no to unreasonable requests, and don’t compromise your values or principles. Be firm and consistent in your communication.
  • Get help from someone else. If the bullying persists or escalates, you may need to seek help from someone who has the authority or power to stop it. This may be your supervisor, human resources, union representative, landlord, police, or lawyer. Document the bullying incidents, including the date, time, place, people involved, and witnesses. Keep any evidence, such as emails, texts, or photos. Report the bullying and ask for a solution.

For Bystanders

If you witness adult bullying, you have a responsibility to act. By staying silent or ignoring the bullying, you may be condoning or enabling it. Here are some things you can do as a bystander:

  • Question the behavior of the bully. You can try to shift the focus of the interaction by asking the bully why they are acting in such a way. For example, you can say, “Why are you saying that?” or “What are you trying to achieve?” This may make the bully realize that their behavior is inappropriate or unacceptable.
  • Utilize humor. You can try to redirect the conversation by using humor or sarcasm. For example, you can say, “Wow, you’re so funny.” or “That’s a great joke. Did you make it up yourself?” This may diffuse the tension or embarrass the bully.
  • Intervene as a group. There is strength in numbers. You can join forces with other bystanders who disagree with the bullying and confront the bully together. You can say, “We don’t like what you’re doing.” or “We think you should stop.” This may make the bully feel outnumbered or pressured to stop.
  • Walk with the victim. You can help the victim escape the situation by walking with them or inviting them to join you. You can say, “Let’s go.” or “Come with me.” This may show the bully that the victim is not alone or vulnerable.
  • Support the victim. You can offer emotional and practical support to the victim after the bullying incident. You can listen to them, comfort them, validate their feelings, and encourage them. You can also help them report the bullying or seek help if needed.

For Perpetrators

If you are a perpetrator of adult bullying, you may not realize or admit that your behavior is harmful or wrong. You may think that you are just being assertive, funny, or honest. However, you need to understand that your behavior is hurting others and yourself. Here are some steps you can take to stop being a bully:

  • Acknowledge your behavior. The first step is to recognize and accept that you are a bully. You need to be honest with yourself and admit that your behavior is aggressive, intimidating, or controlling. You also need to acknowledge the impact of your behavior on others and yourself.
  • Identify the root cause. The next step is to explore the reasons behind your behavior. You may be bullying others because you are insecure, angry, frustrated, stressed, or unhappy. You may have experienced bullying yourself, or learned it from others. You may have unmet needs, unresolved issues, or unrealistic expectations. You need to identify the root cause of your behavior and address it.
  • Seek help. You may need professional help to change your behavior. You can talk to a therapist, counselor, or coach who can help you understand your behavior, emotions, and motivations. They can also help you develop healthier coping skills, communication skills, and social skills. They can also help you repair the damage you have done to others and yourself.
  • Apologize and make amends. You need to take responsibility for your behavior and its consequences. You need to apologize sincerely and genuinely to the people you have bullied, and express your regret and remorse. You also need to make amends by repairing the harm you have caused, such as restoring their reputation, returning their property, or compensating their loss. You also need to show that you are willing to change your behavior and respect their boundaries.
  • Seek positive alternatives. You can seek positive alternatives to bullying. You can find other ways to express yourself, cope with your emotions, and interact with others. You can pursue your interests, hobbies, or passions. You can join a club, team, or group that shares your values or goals. You can volunteer for a cause that you care about. You can practice gratitude, kindness, or compassion. You can find positive role models, mentors, or friends who can inspire you and support you.


Here are some frequently asked questions about adult bullying:

  • Q: How common is adult bullying?
  • A: According to a 2017 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 19% of American workers have experienced bullying at work, and another 19% have witnessed it. That means that nearly 40% of the workforce is affected by workplace bullying. However, adult bullying can also occur in other settings, such as the neighborhood, the family, or the social circle. Therefore, the actual prevalence of adult bullying may be higher than the statistics suggest.
  • Q: How can I tell if I am being bullied or just having a conflict?
  • A: A conflict is a disagreement or a difference of opinion between two or more people. A conflict can be resolved through communication, compromise, or negotiation. A conflict can be healthy and constructive, as it can lead to better understanding, solutions, or outcomes. A bullying is a deliberate and repeated attempt to hurt, harm, or dominate another person. A bullying is not a conflict, but a form of abuse. A bullying cannot be resolved through communication, compromise, or negotiation. A bullying is unhealthy and destructive, as it can lead to physical, emotional, or psychological damage.
  • Q: How can I prevent adult bullying from happening to me or others?
  • A: There is no foolproof way to prevent adult bullying, as it depends on many factors, such as the personality, behavior, and motivation of the bully, the victim, and the bystanders. However, there are some general tips that may help prevent or reduce or stop adult bullying, such as:
  • Educate yourself and others about adult bullying. Learn the signs, causes, and effects of adult bullying. Share your knowledge and awareness with others. Challenge the myths and stereotypes about bullying. Promote a culture of respect, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Build your self-esteem and confidence. Don’t let the bully’s words or actions affect your sense of self-worth. Recognize your strengths, talents, and achievements. Develop your skills and abilities. Pursue your goals and dreams. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures.
  • Strengthen your social support network. Don’t isolate yourself or feel alone. Reach out to your friends, family, co-workers, or community members who can offer you emotional and practical support. Join groups or organizations that share your interests, values, or goals. Make new friends and connections. Help others who may need your assistance or guidance.
  • Report and document any incidents of adult bullying. Don’t ignore or tolerate adult bullying. Speak up and report any cases of bullying to the appropriate authorities, such as your supervisor, human resources, union representative, landlord, police, or lawyer. Keep a record of the bullying incidents, including the date, time, place, people involved, and witnesses. Collect any evidence, such as emails, texts, or photos. Ask for a solution or action plan.


Adult bullying is a serious and widespread problem that can affect anyone, anywhere. Adult bullying can have negative and lasting effects on the mental and physical health of the victims, as well as the well-being of the bystanders and the perpetrators. However, adult bullying can be prevented and stopped by taking appropriate actions and seeking help. Whether you are a victim, a bystander, or a perpetrator of adult bullying, you can make a difference by following the tips and strategies outlined in this blog post. Remember, you are not alone, and you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

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