Many people think of bullying as something that only happens in our youth. The truth is, while it is a common occurrence at school and during childhood, bullying can occur at any age. It isn't limited to the playground either. Bullying can happen at work, online and even in your own home.
A bully is typically someone who wants to make you feel powerless, worthless or simply afraid. Experts believe bullying has three distinct features:
- deliberate aggression
- unequal power
- pain and distress.
Understandably then, being bullied can be a traumatic experience. A number of people take their own lives due to bullying (Beat Bullying charity say at least 20 children and teenagers a year). Many more go on to develop anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours following bullying.
On this page we will look into different types of bullying, including cyber bullying and bullying at work. We'll also discuss how counselling for bullying can help you overcome negative emotions.
On this page
- What is considered bullying?
- Why do people bully?
- Bullying at school
- Bullying at work
- Cyber bullying
- Bullying in relationships
What is considered bullying?
Bullying is generally defined as repeated behaviour used to hurt someone, either emotionally or physically. It can take a number of forms, including:
- Physical assault - When a bully physically harms you by hitting, kicking, slapping, pushing etc. it is also known as abuse.
- Threatening - The bully may threaten you with violence, they may threaten to spread rumours or they may threaten to hurt someone you love.
- Stealing - Bullies can steal your money or your possessions repeatedly.
- Name calling - A bully might call you names or tease you. This can happen in person, over the phone and online.
- Lying about you - Sometimes a bully may make up things about you to get you in trouble or to make you look bad.
- Putting you down - Often a bully will want you to feel bad about yourself and they may do this by telling you how worthless/useless you are.
These are just examples, but in general any repeated behaviour that makes you feel bad about yourself can be considered bullying.
Why do people bully?
There are many reasons why someone might start bullying. It could be that they are unhappy with something in their own life, and are taking it out on someone else. They may feel powerless in other areas of their life, and so bully to feel powerful. In some cases the bully is being bullied themselves.
It may even be that their friends bully and they don't want to feel left out. Whatever the reason, it is rarely simple. If you are bullying someone, you may be worried about talking to someone for fear of getting in trouble. The truth is, many schemes and organisation run to help people who are being bullied, also help those who bully.
Speaking to someone about the fact that you're bullying may help you understand why you do it, and hopefully stop the behaviour. If you're at school, try talking to your teacher or if you are in employment, try talking to your boss. If you don't feel comfortable talking to someone you know, you may find counselling beneficial.
Counselling provides a safe space for you to discuss your concerns without fear of being judged. Your counsellor will work with you to try and uncover the reason behind your behaviour and help you to stop bullying.
Bullying at school
Some people see school bullying as an inevitable part of a child's life, building character and preparing them for the 'real world'. The truth is, no child deserves to be bullied. Being frightened every day can be very damaging for children. It makes school a scary place to be, which understandably is not conducive to learning.
Signs your child may be getting bullied
It can be difficult to tell whether or not your child is being bullied at school. Look out for the following signs:
- refusing to go to school
- feigning illness - often headaches or tummy aches
- being short-tempered and aggressive
- seemingly anxious
- finding it difficult to sleep
- wetting the bed
- damaged or missing possessions.
Any sort of odd behaviour could be linked to bullying. To help your child, try taking the following steps:
1. Talk to your child
Broach the subject when you are both calm and relaxed. Let your child know that bullying is always unacceptable and promise them that you are there to help them.
2. Talk to their teacher
If you think further action is required to stop the bullying, meet with their teacher. Explain the situation so they can keep an eye on your child during school time and speak to the bullies in question.
3. Talk to the head teacher
If the teacher is unable to help, you may need to go to the head teacher. Tell them everything you told the teacher during your meeting and outline what you expect them to do about it. Most schools have a strict zero-tolerance approach to bullying and will have schemes in place to stop bullying.
If you're being bullied at school
If you are being bullied you may be scared that telling someone will make the situation worse for you. The truth is, nothing will change if you don't say anything. Your parents and teachers are there to support and protect you, but you need to take that first step to tell someone.
Talk to your parents, your teacher or even the school nurse - anyone who you feel you can trust. Tell them what is happening and how it is making you feel. If you feel you can't do this in person - write them a letter. If you find this difficult, you may want to call a helpline or seek help online. See our further help section for websites that can help.
Bullying at work
Sadly bullying doesn't always end when you leave school. Bullying at work can take many forms. It may be that the bully excludes you; they might give you unacceptable criticisms, or even overload you with work. This kind of behaviour can make you feel demotivated and depressed over time.
Often, the bully will recognise that you have talent or strength and feel threatened by it. By belittling you, they are often trying to make themselves 'look' better to management.
If you're being bullied at work
Don't be ashamed to tell people you are being bullied at work. If you tell others, you may discover that it is happening to other people too. Find someone you can talk to. Maybe an employee representative, someone in human resources or even your manager. Some companies have specially trained people who can help with harassment and bullying at work.
If you think you might want to take legal action, try to keep a diary of what's happening. This is called a contemporaneous record and will be very useful. Talking to the bully in question can also help; often when they are confronted, they back down.
If the behaviour doesn't stop, make a formal complaint and follow your company's grievance procedure.
This form of bullying is becoming increasingly common. Cyber bullying refers to any bullying that takes place via your phone or the Internet. Some common forms of cyber bullying includes:
- Email - Bullies may send you abusive group emails, inappropriate images or viruses.
- Instant chat - Instant chat services provide bullies with direct access to you whenever you're online.
- Social networks - Websites such as Facebook and Twitter are often targeted by bullies.
- Online gaming - If you play computer games online, you may experience bullying here.
- Text message or phone calls - A bully might send you abusive text messages or prank phone calls.
- Sexting - This term is used when someone texts you images of a sexual nature. When this is done against your will, it can be considered bullying.
- Hacking - Some bullies will work out their victim's passwords and hack into their accounts to send inappropriate messages to their friends and family.
If you're being bullied online
If you find yourself the victim of cyber bullying, there are steps you can take to stop it. First of all, if the bullying is happening on a social network, block and report them. Social networks are getting much better at discouraging bully behaviour. Most should have a function where you can report and block other users. Next, save any abusive comments you get to use as evidence. You can show this to an adult or even take legal action.
You can find out more about online safety by reading our how to stay safe online page.
Bullying in relationships
When bullying takes place within a relationship, it is often known as domestic abuse. This can happen in any type of relationship, either romantic or family-orientated. Often, bullying in relationships occurs in the following ways:
- Harassment - Sometimes a family member or a spouse will want to keep tabs on their victim, to the point of harassment.
- Physical - Sadly, some forms of bullying can get violent.
- Threatening - If a spouse or family member threatens you, it can be considered bullying.
- Sexual abuse - In some cases a spouse may abuse you sexually. If this has happened to you, please see our sexual abuse page.
If you're being bullied in your relationship
Over time it can be easy to tolerate emotional bullying in a relationship, thinking it's just 'the way they are'. In truth, this form of bullying will erode your self-confidence and make you increasingly anxious. Recognising that the way your partner is making you feel is not acceptable is the first step. Once you have identified this you can either talk to them directly about their behaviour, or seek outside help.
In the case of domestic violence and sexual abuse, going to see a professional who can help you is essential. There are lots of organisations that offer support to help you get yourself out of the situation.
If the abuse is verbal or emotional, you may find counselling beneficial. If you want to try and make the relationship work, couples counselling may be able to help. If you break up, one-to-one counselling can help you rebuild your self-esteem.
Bullying tends to happen to those who are vulnerable, and sadly one of the most vulnerable groups in society is the elderly. Often they are unable to speak up about the bullying, so it is important to look out for signs:
- They are acting more aggressive than usual.
- They have become withdrawn.
- You notice sudden changes in their disposition.
- They don't want to be left alone by certain people.
- They appear to be overcompensating by being overtly light-hearted.
In some cases, bullying can turn into physical abuse. Keeping an eye out for these signs and address the issue as soon as it arises is therefore crucial. If necessary, take them to their carer/doctor for treatment.
If you're being bullied
If you are an elderly person getting bullied, talking to someone you trust is important. Explain what is happening and ask them to help you find a way to stop the bullying.
If you feel there is no one you can talk to, you can call a confidential helpline called Action on Elder Abuse: 0808 808 8141.
How to stop bullying
The quickest and easiest way to stop bullying is by telling someone. Asking for help is an essential first step to resolving the situation. You have a right to feel safe - at school, at work, at home and in your relationship.
If you don't feel you have any friends or family you can talk to, reach out to a professional. You could talk to your teacher, call a helpline or even join an online support group.
If you do nothing, the bullying is likely to continue. This may lead to you developing a number of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.
Counselling for bullying
Whether you are currently being bullied or have been bullied in the past, many people find counselling for bullying useful. If you are being bullied now, you can discuss what is happening, how it makes you feel and what you could do to change the situation. It can also help you to cope with any side-effects from bullying.
If you were bullied in the past, you may find you now suffer from low self-esteem. Counsellors who specialise in bullying can help you understand bullying better and may use the following techniques:
- 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.
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.
What our experts say
- Why bullies don’t apologise
Noel Bell BA (Hons), MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP4th December, 2015
- Standing up to bullying relationships
Basia Spalek Registered Member BACP, PhD, MSc, Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy8th October, 2015
- The toxic workplace
Barbara Lee Registered MBACP7th July, 2015
- Teenage boys: They need a voice too
Lyn Reed, MBACP (Registered), Ad.Prof Dip.PC, Dip.PC, B.A., M.A., Adv.Dip.CQSW17th June, 2015
- Bullying in the workplace - help is at hand
Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor9th February, 2015
- Breaking the curse of bullying
Sue Brown (Registered MBACP)12th October, 2014
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