Dealing with Adult Bullies

Dealing with Adult Bullying


When we talk about bullying, we think of school yard scenarios involving children.  It is important, however, to consider the impact bullying can have in the context of adult interactions.  The outcomes of the bullying can be equally as severe for adults as it can for children, including feelings of anxiety, fear, depression and lowered confidence and self-esteem.


What motivates Adults that bully?

Like child bullies, adult bullies may use strategies such as intimidation, exclusion, and harassment, however adult bullies can also be more sly, subtle, and difficult to expose.  It is also important to note that often these people do not consider themselves to be a bully.  Adult bullies are usually motivated by the same things as child bullies.  That is, they are often compensating for a sense of powerlessness by exerting their will over another.  As such, when dealing with these bullies it is important to realise that it is not about you, and that you have done nothing wrong.  Here we have some strategies for dealing with adult bullies.



As an adult we generally have more opportunity to avoid bullies.  As an adult we cannot simply tell the teacher, but we do get more say in how we spend our time.  We can ask to work away from the person, (ie. on another project) and attempt to avoid situations where you need to be alone with the bully.  This strategy will not always be possible or appropriate however, it is important to know that bullying is not an acceptable behaviour in any age group.


Ignore inappropriate behaviour

Bullies are sometimes driven by a sense of power. Like a kid with a new toy they get a kick out of pushing a button and seeing what happens.  However, if the button does nothing the child will stop playing with the toy.  If we give no response to the bullying behaviour we are sometimes able to remove the reason or benefit for the bully to continue. Some suggestions may be:

  • If someone keeps making jokes at your expense, laugh along with them.
  • If someone makes sarcastic, fake compliments, thank them.
  • When someone says something rude, pretend that you didn’t hear them.
  • If someone harps on the same mistake or accident you made, tell them that is now in the past.


Be Assertive

If the Bully is still not responding, assertive communication may be helpful.  That is, without being emotional or reactive clearly explain 1.  What it is they are doing, 2. How it is affecting you, and 3. What you would like as an outcome. Prepare for a response but remain calm and remember that often the bully is not expecting you to stand up for yourself and will likely be caught off guard as well.


Talk to some one

Should the bullying persist, it is important to consider getting your own support.  Ideally this will be someone in authority that can help mediate the situation (usually some one in HR), but if not someone that can actively listen, help you to gain perspective, and to remind you that it is not your fault. It’s not weak to reach out to others for help with your situation. It’s good to attempt to handle things on your own first, however some battles just can’t be fought alone.

If you think you need to get others involved, there are some steps you can take to help ensure you get results. First, make sure you accurately document what’s happening. Having a list of specific times the bully has overstepped their boundaries will make it hard for them to refute the claims. Second, talk to any witnesses that have seen how the bully acts toward you. Write down what they saw and ask if they’d be willing to vouch for you. If you don’t have any witnesses, arrange for some to be around the next time you have to interact with your bully. The more evidence you have, the more likely higher-ups or HR will be able to help you.

The Psych Professionals are able to provide support and treatment for people who have been bullied as we offer individual counselling. If you have any further questions or would like to book an appointment, please contact our Loganholme office on (07) 3801 1772 or at Capalaba on (07) 3823 2230. We offer remote telehealth consultation or if you are in Cleveland or Loganholme in QLD, Australia book an in-person appointment with our psychologists


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