Bully behaviour is a very common part of human life. Studies show it occurs all over the world in all kinds of group situations, from school and work to the family home.
A bully is a person who intends to make another person feel powerless, worthless and afraid by emotionally, verbally or physically abusing them repeatedly. Experts say bullying has three main features:
- deliberate aggression
- unequal power
- pain and distress.
The experience of being bullied can be very traumatic. According to Beat Bullying, at least 20 UK children and teenagers kill themselves each year because of bullying. The number of people who have suicidal thoughts, engage in self-harm, or attempt suicide because of bullying is significantly higher.
The thought that someone dislikes you enough to want to hurt you can be devastating. You might wonder what you've done to deserve that kind of treatment, you might start to question yourself and your value as a person - you might even begin to believe that you are worthless. If someone is making you feel worthless, powerless or afraid, then tell someone who can help and put a stop to it now.
Counselling can help children, teenagers and adults understand the forces at play in bullying, build the confidence to break out of their role as victim, and treat any anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or suicidal thoughts caused by bullying.
On this page
Why do people bully?
There are millions of bullies in this world from all backgrounds, of all ages and both genders. But just what makes a bully a bully and how are they so different from their victims?
Experts have identified a number of bully characteristics:
- An inflated sense of self-worth - they feel like their needs are more important than anyone else's.
- They often come from a family where violence and manipulation is a normal part of communication.
- Inadequacy - a feeling they hide by forcing others to feel inadequate too.
- Often bullies were once a victim of bullying too.
There is no excuse for intentionally hurting another person. If you are being bullied by someone, it is noble to accept that this person is probably flawed and unhappy - but that should not make you feel guilty for taking action against them. Some people come from difficult backgrounds and still manage to feel love and compassion for others.
You may never know why your bully wants to hurt you or why you have been made into a victim. All you can know is that this person's behaviour is unjust and they need to be stopped before they cause considerable damage.
Bullying in schools
Most people become either a victim or a witness of bullying at school. According to NSPCC, nearly half (46%) of children experience bullying at school. Some adults see bullying as an inevitable part of school life - a way for children to 'build character' and prepare themselves for the realities of the big wide world. The truth of course, is that no child deserves to be bullied. No child deserves to feel terrified, powerless and humiliated everyday. If you think your child is being bullied at school then it is important to notify the teachers and give your child as much support as possible through this very difficult time.
Types of bullying in schools
There are lots of different types of bullying in schools. The most common types include:
- spitting, hair-pulling and kicking
- name-calling and teasing
- spreading of rumours
- vandalising possessions
- intimidating behaviour
- intentionally excluding others from social activities.
Signs your child is being bullied at school
It is not always easy to see that your child is being bullied. Some children are so scared of their bullies that they say nothing.
Subtle signs your child is being bullied include:
- refusing to go to school
- complaining of illness - often headaches
- short tempered and aggressive towards family members
- seemingly anxious
- inability to sleep
- damaged or missing possessions.
How to help your child
If your child is behaving oddly, they might be facing bullying at school. It can be difficult to know what to do in this situation. Do you voice your concerns to the teacher? Or do you identify who the bullies are and talk to their parents?
The balance between 'supportive parent' and 'interfering parent' is a delicate one - especially when dealing with independence-seeking teens.
You can help your child by taking the following steps:
1. Talk to your child - Find a quiet time, ideally not during an argument, to sit down and broach the subject with them as casually as possible. Let them know that bullying is unacceptable and that they shouldn't have to deal with it. Promise them that you are there to help them.
2. Talk to the teacher - If you think further action needs to be taken to stop the bullies, you can book a meeting with your child's teacher.
3. Talk to the head - If the teacher can't help, then you may have to take your concerns to the school head. Say exactly what you said in the meeting with the teacher, and outline what it is you want to happen to resolve the situation.
Stop bullying in schools
Although most children recover from school bullying, many adults say that childhood bullying has blighted their later lives - including their jobs, relationships and mental health. This is often the case when either the family or the school condones bullying. Increased awareness and openness about the presence of bullying in any organisation is relatively recent. Strong bullying policies are needed to offer realistic strategies for tackling bullying in schools.
Cyber bullying is a growing problem now that people have easy access to the Internet. Now people can be targeted from anywhere in the world, from a number of platforms including social networking sites, instant messaging, email and texting.
Types of cyber bullying
There are a number of different types of cyber bullying, including:
Bullies can send their victims inappropriate pictures, viruses and abusive group emails to humiliate them.
- Instant messaging
Instant messaging gives bullies direct access to their victims.
- Social networking
Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook give bullies the chance to humiliate their victims in front of their friends and family via abusive wall posts, comments, pictures and statuses.
- Online gaming
Many games now operate online so bullies can even get to their victims virtually.
- Mobile phones
Bullies can send thousands of abusive texts and prank calls to their victims.
Sexting involves voluntarily texting sexually suggestive pictures of yourself to another person. Sometimes this exchange can be exploited by the receiver. To have a private image of yourself spread around by someone you trusted can be both hurtful and humiliating. Misuse of sexting is a form of bullying.
Sometimes bullies work out their victims' passwords, hack into their email or social networking accounts and send abusive or inappropriate messages to all the victims' family and friends.
For further information and advice regarding cyber-bullying, visit our fact-sheet on how to stay safe online.
Bullying at work
Bullies don't always stop being bullies once they grow up. Often, the name-calling, spitting and kicking of the playground can turn into cruel behaviour in the work-place.
Worryingly, bullying at work is a massive problem for a large number of people. According to an NHS survey, three out of five hospital staff have witnessed bullying at work.
Types of bullying at work
Different types of bullying at work include:
- Public verbal abuse - This could include being made to feel inadequate in front of your colleagues by a senior member of staff, being shouted at and being made to feel unprofessional in public.
- Contract manipulation - This could include being threatened with job loss if certain tasks are not done.
- Gossiping - When other colleagues spread rumours or talk about your appearance and personal life behind your back.
- Isolation - When colleagues intentionally leave you out of social events.
- Emotional manipulation - When colleagues make you feel guilty to get what they want.
Often, bullying at work occurs because one person feels threatened by another. Sometimes people who are unable to deal with work and social challenges in a professional manner see no option but to revert back to playground tactics to get what they want.
Effects of bullying at work
Bullying can have a terrible impact on the physical and mental health of those affected. Some symptoms of persistent bullying at work include:
- headaches and nausea
- high blood pressure
- low-self esteem
- loss of confidence
- suicidal thoughts.
Stop bullying at work
Never sit back and let bullying happen just because you think it's the 'natural order of things' in a business environment. Nobody should be made to feel like a victim. If you are being bullied at work, you can take the following steps:
- Keep a written record of any abuse with dates included.
- Speak to your manager.
- If you are part of a union, contact your representative for advice.
- Warn the bully that you will take action if their behaviour does not stop. You can do this via email, letter, face-to-face or via your manager or another colleague.
- If the bullying does not stop you can make a formal complaint.
Bullying in the home
Bullying in the home is often referred to as domestic abuse. Anyone can be a bully in the home - including mums, dads, teenagers, grandparents, step-parents and siblings. Types of domestic abuse include:
- Criticism - Mocking, verbal threats, name-calling and shouting.
- Harassment - This often happens when one member of the family keeps a constant check on what the other member of the family is doing. Usually this happens with jealous spouses who might stalk, track and emotionally blackmail their partner to find out what they're doing.
- Threatening - When a member of the family threatens with violence or withdrawal of freedom to master control over another family member who is old enough to make their own decisions.
- Physical - Using violence to punish and scare e.g. - punching, slapping, burning etc.
- Sexual - You are advised to read our sexual abuse page for information on support available for sexual abuse in the home. Sexual abuse includes inappropriate touching, rape and sexual comments. Some bullies use sex as a way of gaining power over their victims.
Elder abuse and elder bullying
Bullying often happens to those who are vulnerable, and sadly one of the most vulnerable groups of people is the elderly. Those who are unwell, confused and frail are particularly vulnerable and can fall victim to bullying or, in extreme cases, abuse.
It can be very hard for elderly people to speak up about what is happening to them and for those suffering with disabilities it may be impossible. If you are worried about an elderly friend or relative, signs to look out for include:
- being aggressive for no reason
- becoming withdrawn
- sudden changes in their normal character (i.e. becoming tearful)
- not wanting to be left alone with certain people
- overcompensating by being unusually lighthearted.
In some cases bullying can turn into physical abuse, so it is important to look out for these early signs and address the issue as early as possible. If you recognise these signs, make sure you voice your concerns to the elderly person and if necessary their carers/doctors.
If you are the one suffering from elder abuse or bullying - speaking to someone you trust can help you cope and find a way to stop the bullying. If you don't want to tell your family or friends, you can call the Action on Elder Abuse helpline for free and in confidence on: 0808 808 8141.
Counselling for bullying
When bullying starts to affect your (or your child's) work, life, health and happiness, it may be time to consider professional help from a counsellor.
In what situations might counselling help?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Has your adult life been marred by an episode of bullying when you were younger? Perhaps your self-esteem has taken a knock and you need a way to regain some confidence to do what you want in life?
- Are you currently dealing with someone who insists on making your life a misery? Whether this person lives with you, works with you or targets you online or in public places - you need to take action now to stop them hurting you and targeting others.
- Are you sick of seeing your child being treated inhumanely by other children? Taking your child to a counselling session could help him or her find a voice. It can often be hard to talk about bullying to parents and teachers - sometimes it takes the encouragement of a stranger to really open up.
Counsellors who specialise in bullying are trained to give clients a deeper understanding of bullying and all of its destructive consequences. Specialist counselling techniques for bullying include:
- Transactional analysis - a way of looking at other people's behaviour as well as our own.
- Assertiveness techniques - a way of teaching clients how to confidently express their rights in an open, honest way.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a way of altering thought patterns to impact behaviour in a positive way.
As well as helping clients break out of the bully-victim relationship, counselling can address the side-effects of bullying, including:
Follow the links for more information about these side-effects.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Currently there are no official rules or regulations stipulating what level of training a counsellor dealing with bullying needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in this area.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation representing counsellors dealing with bullying.
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Content written/edited by Denise Pickup BACP (Accred) in 2011. All content displayed on Counselling Directory is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
Whilst we endeavor to ensure all information is accurate, Counselling Directory make no representations or warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information included within the website. Any dependence you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.
- Bullying in the workplace
- What is social anxiety?
- Cyber Bullying and Trolls – Time to get to grips with it
- The Impact of Bullying in the Workplace
- Bullying: it’s psychological vandalism
- Bullying and the Limbic System
- Anti-bullying Week
- Abuse and Bullying
- Workplace bullying - don't suffer in silence
- Parents can be bullies too
- Bullying in the workplace
- Harassment and bullying at work
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