How To Deal With Bullies
When we think of bullying, one of the first images that typically comes to mind is that of kids in a schoolyard, where the often bigger and more powerful child is seen picking on a smaller or weaker one, whether physically, verbally, or both. However, the unfortunate truth is that bullying can exist in many forms, and it can occur to people of any age. It can happen at school, but also at work, within families, among groups of friends or peers, or even online ー where it is known as cyberbullying ー through social media, text messaging, and online forums. Whatever the circumstances, bullying always involves the same underlying thread: where one person or group attempts to threaten, harm, frighten, or discriminate against another ー usually intentionally, though not always ー creating an imbalance of power that the bullying party could use to their advantage.
While bullying can involve the aggressor physically hurting the victim, not all types of bullying involve physical violence. Bullying comes in various different forms, and it’s complicated. While physical bullying may be the most obvious form, it can also involve verbal methods such as name-calling, insults, threats, repeated negative comments about the person’s physical traits or lifestyle habits, regular inappropriate comments (such as those involving prejudice, harassment, or discrimination), rumor-spreading or misinformation, or shouting or yelling. It can look like constantly blaming an undeserving victim, intentionally trying to isolate them, denying them access to necessary information or resources, or setting them unrealistic goals with dire consequences if they don't achieve them. This behavior can leave the victim feeling threatened in environments that would normally have left them feeling safe and protected.
Bullying is a widespread problem that can lead to harmful consequences, both physically and psychologically. While it can be hard to put a stop to or escape from, there are ways to get through this challenging time.
- Remember: There's Nothing Wrong with You
Being bullied isn’t your fault一rather than being about your personal traits, it’s more about the bully’s personal problems. If you are being bullied, always remind yourself not to view yourself from your bully’s point of view. The way bullies see you is usually not an accurate perception of who you are. This is because they tend to magnify your weaknesses and minimize your strengths. Bullies also tend to look down on you to make themselves feel superior. Try not to let their negative talk become mirrored or amplified through your own negative self-talk: It’s important to keep reminding yourself that if someone bullies you, there’s nothing wrong with you, and the issue probably stems from their own lack of self-confidence, insecurity, and low self-esteem, likely caused by their own bad experiences.
- Stay Calm
Sometimes, bullies mess with you just to get your attention. Bullies are typically very immature, or bear signs of maladjusted emotional and social traits. If they notice a victim getting angry or upset, they will carry on picking on that person since part of their goal is to incite a reaction. For some people ー particularly when they are adults ー bullying may be something that they do as a defense mechanism, or something that they only do when they are triggered or going through a particularly stressful time, for instance. Others may consider hurting other people’s feelings to be “fun.” Whether it’s a teenager cyberbullying another over social media, or an adult gaslighting another in the workplace, for a bully, there’s a certain level of satisfaction to be found in their victim’s reaction.
This is why it can be dangerous to try and communicate with a bully using the same methods as you would when interacting with other people. Although it can be tempting to fight back when you’re being antagonized, try your best not to take the bait. When they realize that their efforts aren’t having much of an effect on you ー or that the things they've already done aren’t affecting or disrupting your life in any meaningful way ー most of them will quickly get bored and either give up or move on. Try to stay close with your friends, or find an ally as well一as the saying goes, there is often safety in numbers, as it’s a lot easier for a bully to pick on someone who is alone, with little to no support system.
- Value Your Uniqueness
It can be hard to understand the motivation of bullies’ actions. One possible reason that could make someone a likelier target is their uniqueness, which bullies may see as “weird”. Perhaps it’s because they’re afraid of something unfamiliar or that they don’t understand, or perhaps the trait in question is something that triggers a negative memory or emotion in them. In some cases, the bully’s jealousy could be what instigates their behavior, as they make you feel bad about your strengths to protect their ego. These unique qualities could be anything from a physical feature, lifestyle trait, habit or mannerism, or speech pattern, to cultural differences, and even the way you dress. It could even be your passion for a particular hobby. Whatever it is, the cost of trying to change yourself or devalue your own uniqueness for the sake of appeasing a bully is not worth the unseen cost of damage to your own sense of self-worth or self-esteem. These unique traits are part of what makes you special, and what makes you you, and that’s not something you should ever have to apologize for, or feel bad about.
- Don’t Suffer In Silence
While it can be tempting to just keep your mouth shut and hope it “goes away”, it’s wiser to not try to fight bullying alone, for various reasons. Ignoring it ー or worse, accepting this treatment in silence ー could worsen the problem, since the bully will falsely assume that you’re able to tolerate it, or that they may need to up their game to get a better reaction from you. Some might see this as a sign of greater weakness, or one that helps them find more fun in bullying you. If the issue is left unresolved, the bully may even try to take things to the next level by increasing the frequency or intensity of their bullying, to try and test your limits一or even those of their next victim. Bullying can also lead to serious health consequences that need to be addressed: victims can suffer from psychological issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression, and even develop suicidal thoughts. Being bullied or threatened is not something one should accept to become used to, and it’s best to do something about it while there’s still more of a chance to turn things around, or at least put a stop to them before they can escalate.
- Seek Help
Don’t be afraid to seek help from others. There are always people who can help and understand you. Some bullying victims are afraid to speak up, due to the humiliation of what they’ve been going through, or for fear that doing so might make the situation worse. Remember, there’s no shame in being yourself, and if you’re being targeted by a bully, that says more about them than it does about you. Talking to someone could help you view the situation more clearly, and offer possible solutions to protect you against further bullying. That person could be anyone you trust, such as a friend, partner, teacher, or colleague一but it is important to ensure that there is a solid level of genuine trust there. If you’re unsure, or do not wish to disclose your identity, you can also reach out to a counselor or therapist, or seek help through an anonymous help hotline or online mental health forum. Remember that you are not alone, and that there are people who can support you.
Explore our course on The Science of Happiness at Work to learn strategies and techniques to improve your professional well-being.
Improve your confidence with this guided meditation. Stand up for yourself, and stop being an easy target for bullies!
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Understanding the Psychology of Bullying: Moving toward a Social-Ecological Diathesis–Stress Model; Frequency of Bullying at Work, Physiological Response, and Mental Health; Bullying and Suicide. A Review; Effects Of Bullying On The Psychological Functioning Of Victims; An Exploration Of Effects Of Bullying Victimization From A Complete Mental Health Perspective
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