Bullying

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Laurele Mitchell
Last updated 18th January 2023 | Next update due 17th January 2026

Being bullied is a hurtful experience that can have long-term effects on our mental health. Here, we look at what bullying is, how counselling can help, and how to support someone who is being bullied.

What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as repeated and unwanted behaviour with the intent to hurt another person, physically or emotionally. It can take many forms, including verbal threats, physical assault, name-calling, gossiping and cyberbullying.

Counsellor Julie Crowley discusses how counselling can help with the effects of bullying.

The legal definition of bullying that specifically relates to someone’s age, sex, disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity or marriage, is harassment. Harassment is against the law - find out what to do if you’re experiencing this.

Bullying can often take place at school but it can happen at any stage of life. Adult bullying may happen at home, at work or even while in care. Any form of bullying should not be tolerated.


Types of bullying

There are several types of bullying someone may use to hurt you, including the following:

Verbal bullying

This includes calling someone unpleasant names, verbally attacking their appearance or threatening them with physical violence. 

Physical bullying

This involves physically hurting someone by purposely hitting, kicking, punching, and scratching to cause pain.

Indirect bullying

This may look like ignoring someone, leaving them out of plans, gossiping, spreading rumours behind their backs or visually attacking them (such as giving threatening looks).

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can include sexting (unwanted texts of a sexual nature), hacking social media accounts, instant messages, text messages, emails and posts that belittle, hurt or abuse you. 

Social networking can bring people together, but it can enable bullies to target their victims' homes or places of work.

While cyberbullying is more often used by those at school, it isn’t something that only affects young people and children. For adults, it can exist in the workplace and on personal and professional social media accounts (otherwise known as trolling). 

Therapists who can help with bullying

Workplace bullying 

Workplace bullying is the mistreatment of a member of staff in the workplace. This might be in the form of trolling online, particularly where working from home is becoming more common, verbal or, most often, indirect bullying. Typically, workplace bullying can include:

  • belittling someone
  • intimidating them
  • excluding people, either at work or workplace social events 
  • taking credit for other people's work
  • ignoring promotions/developmental opportunities despite performance 
  • treating someone unfairly or differently
  • embarrassing someone in front of their colleagues 

Workplace bullying can have a negative impact on an employee's performance, as well as their mental health. They may not contribute to decision-making, for fear of being called out, and their productivity may decrease as they might feel that their work is not valued. 

If you feel you are being bullied at work, you could tell the bully how you are feeling, either in person or via email or confide in someone you trust at work, such as a manager, member of HR or a colleague. In some cases, you might want to discuss this with your trade union representative, if you have one. 

    

Stay safe online

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Cyberbullying

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How to stop bullying

If you are being bullied, there are steps you can take to help stop it. They will depend on your personal circumstances, but here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

  • Tell someone what’s happening. Bullying thrives when no one else knows about it, so tell someone you trust - they may be able to help.
  • Tell the bully to stop. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, try telling them to stop doing what they’re doing. This may not make an impact, but clear communication can help them realise bullying is hurtful.
  • Keep a record of what’s happening. Note what you’re going through as you may need to present evidence about your bullying.

Know that what you’re going through is not OK and you’re not alone. Being bullied can be an isolating experience, but in reality, one in two of us is affected by it. Hearing other people's experiences of bullying and how they got through it can really help.

The effects of bullying

Having someone (or a group of people) make you feel bad through bullying is a tough thing to go through. Over time we may start to internalise what the bullies are saying, believing it to be true. This can affect our sense of self-esteem and confidence. 

It can bring up feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression, especially if it goes on for a long period of time. Even if the bullying took place a long time ago, you may find the effects to be long-lasting. Whether you are currently being bullied, have been bullied in the past or are affected by it in another way, you may want to explore counselling to help you cope with the effects.

Counselling for bullying

A therapist can help you explore what is happening/what happened, your options and responses, and how to cope with the effects of bullying. Counselling happens in a safe, confidential and judgement-free space, giving you the opportunity to open up about your experiences. In your counselling sessions, you have the opportunity to learn valuable coping skills you need in order to move forward from the bullying.

So how do you move forward and heal? Learning assertiveness skills, entering into therapy in order to have your experience witnessed, validated and affirmed, acceptance and approval of yourself in order to build your inner strength will not only protect you from further attack, it is the key to healing. 

- Amanda Perl MSc Psychotherapist Counsellor BACP (Accredited) CBT Practitioner

How can I help someone who’s being bullied?

It may be that you suspect a friend, loved one or colleague is being bullied and you would like to offer support. A person being bullied may need an ally and to know that they don’t have to suffer in silence.

To help you support them, we have put together some information including advice on spotting the signs of bullying, and advice for teachers, parents and employers.

    

Spot the signs

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Advice for teachers

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Advice for parents

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Advice for employers

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Further help

There are a number of other charities that you can signpost people to and receive support from. Childline and Kidscape can support young people experiencing bullying, the Anti Bullying Alliance offers a wide range of information and a helpline, while Hourglass works to prevent elder abuse and ACAS can be particularly helpful for employers/employees.

You can also call The Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. Alternatively, you can text 'SHOUT' to 85258 for free, confidential support via text message 24/7.

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