Many of us will associate bullying as something that happens in our youth, during our school years and in the playground. However, bullying is more common than you may think. While it is a common issue at school, bullying can occur at any age. Bullying doesn’t discriminate, it’s everywhere. It can happen during any time of your life; at school, at work, online, at university or even at home.
On this page
What is bullying?
There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is often defined as repeated behaviour with intent to hurt another person, physically or emotionally. It can take many forms, including verbal threats, physical assault, calling names, gossiping and online bullying (cyberbullying).
These are just a small example of the different ways a person can be bullied. However, any repeated behaviour that makes someone feel unhappy, isolated and bad about themselves can be considered bullying. Don’t mistake bullying for a joke or banter, you know yourself and if you are not comfortable with the situation, speak up.
Bullying can make a person feel very alone. It can make the victim miserable, breaking down their confidence and self-esteem. If you are being bullied, you may feel like everyone is against you, or that nobody cares enough to stand up for you. But that’s not the case, as lonely as you may feel right now, support is available.
Counselling for bullying
Whether you are currently being bullied, have been bullied in the past or are affected by bullying another way, many people find counselling for bullying helpful. Contacting a counsellor can help you talk about what you are going through, in private and without judgement. If you are going through a hard time, you can discuss what is happening, how it makes you feel and what options you have.
Bullying may have affected you at an earlier time in your life, but it may have been a factor in developing other issues. In a recent survey, counsellors told us that 72% of bullying-related clients originally came to them for a different reason, such anxiety and depression. We also asked counsellors what, in their experience, are common resulting behaviours for a person being bullied. Common behaviours include:
- social anxiety
- low self-esteem
- suicidal thoughts
Whoever you are, bullying can change your life. It doesn’t matter what age, race, gender or religion you are, all of us will be affected by bullying at some point in our lives. It is important we know what options are available and who to turn to.
Counsellors who specialise in bullying can help you understand what is happening and how to cope. They may use the following techniques:
- Transactional analysis - Looking at other people’s behaviour as well as our own.
- Assertiveness techniques - Teaching clients how to confidently express their rights in an open, honest way.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - Altering thought patterns to impact behaviour in a positive way.
Why do people bully?
There are many reasons why someone bullies someone else. It could be that they are unhappy with something in their own life and are taking it out on another person. They may feel powerless in other areas of their life, and so bully others to feel in control. In some cases, the bully is being (or has been) bullied themselves.
It may even be that their friends bully and they don’t want to feel left out. Whatever the reason, it’s rarely simple. If you are bullying others, you may be worried about talking to someone for fear of getting in trouble. But there are organisations that offer help to those who bully, as well as the victim. If you need to talk to someone, help is available.
Speaking to someone about bullying may help you understand why you are doing it and take the steps to stop the behaviour. If you’re at school, try talking to your teacher. If you are in employment, try talking to your manager or HR. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, speaking to a professional may help. 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 reasons behind your behaviour and help you to stop bullying.
Spotting the signs
Many people will keep their worries to themselves. Depending on the individual, they may brush it off as a harmless joke, or they may feel like there is no-one to turn to. Whether it is your child, a friend or a colleague, there are some common behaviours of bullying to look out for.
- keeps to themselves
- change in attitude
- irritable or snappy
- increased sick days or time off
- frequent headaches and/or nausea
Whether you are being bullied yourself, are worried about a friend or colleague or concerned about your child, it is important to know the signs of bullying.
Bullying at school
Some 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 young people. It makes school a scary place to be, which in turn can affect their education and social skills.
School bullying doesn’t only happen during the early years, either. Bullying can take place during any level of education, whether it be school, college or university.
If you're a teacher and you want to learn more, we have a dedicated advice for teachers fact-sheet.
If your child is being bullied
If you are worried for your child or have noticed their behaviour changing, try talking to them. Broach the subject when you are both calm, relaxed and in a comfortable environment. Let them know that bullying is always unacceptable and ensure they know you are there to help and support them.
If you think further action is required, meet with their teacher. Explain the situation - if your child is young, they can keep an eye on your child during the school day and speak to the bullies in question. If they are unable to help, consider speaking to the head teacher. Most schools will have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and an anti-bullying policy in place.
If your child is older and doesn’t want you to speak to the school, suggest they speak to someone they trust. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to open up to you yet, they might find it more helpful at that moment to speak to a friend or a member of staff.
You can find more information and advice for parents on our dedicated fact-sheet.
If you’re being bullied at school or college
If you’re being bullied you may be afraid that telling someone will make the situation worse, but 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 the first step. Talk to your parents, your teacher, anyone you feel you can trust. Tell them what is happening and how it is making you feel. If you aren’t ready to do this in person, write them a letter.
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 increasingly unhappy over time.
It might be that the bully recognises your talent or strength and feel threatened by it. By belittling you, they may be trying to make themselves ‘look better’ to others.
If you’re being bullied at work, don’t be ashamed to tell people. If you speak about it, you may discover that it is happening to other people too and the problem is bigger than first thought. Find someone you can talk to, a member of the HR team, a work colleague or even your manager. Many companies have specially trained people on hand to help deal with harassment and bullying in the workplace.
Try to keep a diary of what’s happening, if it’s over email, save them. If you are thinking of taking legal action, this is called a contemporaneous record and is very useful. Talking to the bully directly can also help; they may not know how you feel, thinking they are joking, or they may simply back down when confronted. If the behaviour continues, make a formal complaint and follow your company’s grievance procedure.
If you are an employer and you are worried about bullying in the workplace, or would like to know more about the steps you can take to building an anti-bullying policy, take a look at our advice for employers fact-sheet.
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, or they don’t have anyone to talk to. Because of this, it is important to look out for the signs.
- They are acting more aggressive than usual.
- They have become withdrawn.
- They don’t want to be left alone with 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 addressing the issue as soon as they arise is therefore crucial. If necessary, take them to their carer/doctor for treatment. If they are in a care home and you are worried about their welfare, speak to them. Reassure them that support is available and you are there for them.
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 situation. If you feel there is no one you can talk to, you can call a confidential helpline called Action on Elder Abuse on 0808 808 8141.
This form of bullying is becoming increasingly common. Cyberbullying refers to any bullying that takes place via your phone or online. Common forms of cyberbullying include:
- Email - Bullies may send you abusive group messages, inappropriate images or viruses.
- Instant chat - These services provide bullies with instant access to you whenever you’re online.
- Social networks - Websites such as Facebook and Twitter are often targeted by bullies or ‘trolls’.
- Messaging - Text messaging or messenger apps like Whatsapp provide bullies with the opportunity to send you messages at any time of day.
- Sexting - This term is used when someone sends you images or texts 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 friends and family.
If you’re being bullied online, there are steps you can take to stop it from happening. If the bullying is happening on a social network, block and report them. Social networks are getting better at discouraging bullying. 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 our more about online safely by reading our how to stay safe online page.
Bullying at home
It sounds strange, but bullying can occur at home too. While your home should be a safe, comfortable place where you spend time with family and friends, this isn’t always the case.
In some cases, a child may be bullied by a parent. They might be pushed and pressured into doing well, taking part in social activities and sports, and doing the best in school. Other cases may include step-parents bullying or being bullied by the children and siblings bullying each other.
If you are being bullied at home, try to speak to someone out of the family circle. If there is someone you trust at school or work, pull them aside and speak privately. They may be able to help you, or support you in the journey.
If you are unable to confront the bully directly, consider speaking to a friend or seek support from a professional. There are ways you can get out of the situation and as dark as it seems, you are not alone and you do not have to suffer. Speaking to somebody can be a great help - it can help you realise that support is available and there are steps to take.
When bullying takes place within a relationship, it is known as domestic abuse. This can happen in any type of relationship. In the case of domestic violence and sexual abuse, going to see a professional who can help you is essential. There are lots of organisation that offer support to help you get out of the situation.
What our experts say
- Bullying - take action now
Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor7th September, 2016
- Workplace bullying - beat it!
Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor14th July, 2016
- Identifying toxic shame - a step towards healing
Jael Ribeiro Reg MBACP20th June, 2016
- Workplace bullying: emotional abuse that happens at work
Helen Stone Dip Coun MA MBACP17th May, 2016
- Boarding school - abuse
Stella Goddard, BA (Hons) Registered MBACP (Accred)12th May, 2016
- Do you battle with bullying at work?
Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor21st April, 2016
This is where you can submit feedback about the content of this page.
We review feedback on a monthly basis.
Please note we are unable to provide any personal advice via this feedback form. If you do require further information or advice, please visit the homepage & use the search function to contact a professional directly.