Spotting the signs of bullying

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Counselling Directory Content Team

Bullying is when someone carries out repeated behaviour with the intent to hurt a person physically or emotionally. It can take many forms, including physical assault, making threats, name-calling or cyberbullying (online).

It can happen at any time and it is never OK. If you're worried about a loved one, it can be helpful to know the signs to look out for and how you can help.

Signs of bullying to look out for

Many people will keep their worries to themselves, they may brush it off as banter, or they may not know who to turn to. Whether it be a school child or a colleague at work, there are common signs that may indicate something is happening to them:

  • injuries without explanation
  • missing or broken belongings
  • frequent complaints of headaches or nausea
  • increased sick days or faking illness
  • lack of sleep
  • loss of confidence
  • being nervous
  • feeling tired or irritable
  • change in attitude
  • lack of interest and motivation
  • become less social
  • keeps to themselves (more than usual)

Help the child understand that others' bad behaviour is not a reflection of who they are. Help them learn that others' actions and choices are not their fault, because very often a child being bullied will think that they must have done something to attract the bullies.

- Sana Kamran, MBACP Integrative Counsellor 

How can you tell if it's bullying?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a joke and bullying and it really depends on the people involved. One person may think they are being funny, whilst the other may feel entirely different. For example, at school or college, a student may make a joke. Because they are surrounded by friends, laughing, the person on the receiving end may laugh but internally they could feel intimidated and like everyone is against them.

Perhaps it’s a situation at work involving two colleagues who've developed a cold relationship. Does one person appear to react aggressively? Are they the bully or have they been driven to feel this way?

If you’re worried about a situation, approach it with care and empathy. Learn how both parties feel - maybe there is something deeper going on in their personal lives and they are taking the stress out on others. They may not realise they are upsetting someone, but if you think a joke or a conversation has gone too far, or if you notice a behaviour change, be there. Talk to them and listen.

How can you help someone being bullied?

There are some simple ways you can help a person being bullied. If you are worried about a friend, pulling them aside and talking to them can be a great help. If they aren’t ready to talk, don’t push them. Reassure them and listen when they are ready.

If a person feels like they are being bullied, it can be a very long, lonely journey. Sometimes, when a person is going through a tough time, simply knowing that someone cares and is there for them can be very effective.

Depending on the situation, intervening as it happens can help, though be careful to not get yourself involved. If it is a recurring problem, talking to someone higher up can take the weight off your shoulders. If you’re at work, speak to HR and mention you have witnessed the situation. The victim may not want to talk, but it will bring it to their attention that someone is looking out for them. 

For further help, contact one of our professional counsellors and therapists who are specially trained to offer support with bullying.

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