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Adult Bullying; 11 Helps

Most frequently we apply the phenomenon of bullying to children, but adults are bullied too- at work, in social situations, everywhere.

You may not hear a lot about adult bullying, but it is a problem. One would think that as people mature and progress through life, that they would stop behaviors of their youth. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sadly, adults can be bullies, just as children and teenagers can be bullies. While adults are more likely to use verbal bullying as opposed to physical bullying, the fact of the matter is that adult bullying exists. The goal of an adult bully is to gain power over another person, and make himself or herself the dominant adult. They try to humiliate victims, and “show them who is boss”.1

Different types of adult bullies: 2

Narcissistic Adult Bully: This type of adult bully is self-centered and does not share empathy with others. Additionally, there is little anxiety about consequences. He or she seems to feel good about him or herself, but in reality has a brittle narcissism that requires putting others down.

Impulsive Adult Bully: Adult bullies in this category are more spontaneous and plan their bullying out less. Even if consequences are likely, this adult bully has a hard time restraining his or her behavior. In some cases, this type of bullying may be unintentional, resulting in periods of stress, or when the bully is actually upset or concerned about something unconnected with the victim.

Physical Bully: While adult bullying rarely turns to physical confrontation, there are, nonetheless, bullies that use physicality. In some cases, the adult bully may not actually physically harm the victim, but may use the threat of harm, or physical domination through looming. Additionally, a physical bully may damage or steal a victim’s property, rather than physically confronting the victim.

Verbal Adult Bully: Words can be quite damaging. Adult bullies who use this type of tactic may start rumors about the victim, or use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate or humiliate another person. This subtle type of bullying also has the advantage, to the bully, of being difficult to document. However, the emotional and psychological impacts of verbal bullying can be felt quite keenly and can result in reduced job performance and even depression.

Secondary Adult Bully: This is someone who does not initiate the bullying, but joins in so that he or she does not actually become a victim down the road. Secondary bullies may feel bad about what they are doing, but are more concerned about protecting themselves.

What to do: 3

  1. Avoid the bully whenever possible. If you are faced with a bully, one of the best strategies to use is removing yourself from the situation. Make sure you are never alone with him or her. The bully may not want witnesses.

Be careful to not make it an obvious reaction out of fear that you are avoiding the bully. Bullies often target those they can scare or get a reaction out of. Be stealthy about your avoidance. He or she will generally move onto another target.

  1. Ignore any inappropriate behavior.A bully may call names or try to embarrass you, but ignoring the taunts may send the message that he or she will not be getting a reaction out of you.

Do not feel like you need to explain or acknowledge you are ignoring the bully. Telling a bully you are ignoring them only lets him or her know it is bothering you.

  1. Use humor.Making a joke at someone else’s expense is often the go-to behavior for a bully. Using humor may seem odd in the case of the bully using you as a joke punchline, but remember your hurt feelings are a huge reward for the negative behavior
  1. Confront someone with whom you spend time with regularly.

This could mean talking in the break room at work after lunch so others are close by.

Make your comments specific to the behavior without giving the bully feedback about it making you feel bad. For example, say “The taunting is disruptive to my day. I’d appreciate it if you stopped.” Also, if you say anything about going to HR if this is at work, be ready to do just that.

If all else fails:

Adult bullying is a serious problem and may require legal action. Remember to document each occurrence to be used as evidence. Do this even if you do not plan legal action.

Choosing to Not Be a Victim: 4

  1. Remain calm. Take a deep breath and continue on with what you were doing, or walk away. “Keep it cool.”
  1. Be mindful of your physical and emotional reaction. You can stop being a victim to bullying by changing your reaction. Beware of your body language. Lift your chin, keep your back straight, and pull your shoulders back.

Showing strong, positive signals like this probably doesn’t come naturally to you. Therefore, it may be helpful to practice your assertive attitude at home while you’re away from the bully.

  1. Document any offenses.Keeping a record of the bully’s taunts will help you to keep dates straight and establish a pattern. You will need to establish a pattern if this goes further. The act of documenting is itself uplifting.
  1. Speak to a superior or someone who can help.Make sure this conversation includes a clear picture of the pattern and any documentation. The positivity of this assertiveness empowers (de-victimizes) you as well.
  1. Refuse to take bullying behavior personally.The behavior, not matter how personal of an attack that is used, is never about you. It’s about the need of the bully to get attention or to perseverate behaviors picked up elsewhere.

You’re not doing anything wrong—it’s not about you.

  1. Don’t reciprocate bullying behavior.

It may be tempting to react online if this is a case of cyber-bullying, but keep in mind it is very easy to bait you into saying really horrible things online and then the bully can simply erase what started the exchange. Now you are left looking like the bad guy- and feeling like it too.

Just as in #2 above, “taking the high road” empowers you.

  1. Choose not to allow yourself to become isolated by a bully. The bully may choose to intimidate you to the point that you feel like there’s no one you can turn to. Share the experience with others. See a counselor. Deny this person the opportunity to steal away your voice.


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  1. org/content/adult-bullying
  2. Ibid
  3., respond to an adult bully (See also, 15 references here)
  4. Ibid




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