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6 Steps for Dealing with Adult Bullies

When you think of bullying, what comes to mind? Elementary school? The pack of big kids who hung around at the park and wouldn’t let you play basketball? The huge 8th grader who stole your money?

When most people think about bullying, they think of a time in their lives when they were growing up. They think of the past.

Like many problems that exist throughout life, bullying doesn’t end at a certain age or level of maturity. Bullying does exist in adulthood. Sometimes it looks different or is called by different names: sexual harassment, stalking, workplace aggression, or scapegoating. But, like in childhood, bullying is one person controlling or harming someone else by use of power.

Bullying is harmful. In the workplace, it can lead to job loss. It can break up friendships and alienate family members. It can occur in person or online through Facebook, internet groups, or email. It can happen through texting.

Although someone who is bullied may feel powerless, there are things can be done to effectively deal with bullies. Here are six steps:

1. Recognize it. Bullying is harassment. It’s intimidation. It’s when one person uses strength or power to control or harm someone else. It can be physical or mental. It can be very clear, or very subtle.

2. Understand that the bullying is not about you, or some flaw of yours. It’s about the bully’s need to control.

3. Think through your options. You may feel powerless, but you’re not. In every situation there are choices to make. If it’s a work situation, do you want to report it to HR, or talk to the person first? What would be the costs and benefits? If there is even a chance of physical harm, you need to get someone else involved immediately.

4. Take action. Once you’ve decided how you want to precede, do it. If you want to contact a supervisor, make an appointment with them. If you want to confront the bully, think through a safe way to do this, prepare what you want to say and where you want to say it. If you decide to try and avoid the perpetrator, plan for how you can best do this.

5. Evaluate. After a few days, check in with yourself. How are things going? Is the harassment still occurring? Has it gotten worse? Is it better? If things are not improving, you’ll want to go back to step 3 and rethink your options.

6. The last step in dealing with being bullied is to try and let go of the pain that has a hold on you. As long as you hold on to the anger and pain, you continue to give the bully power. For some people, this means forgiving and making peace with the person who hurt them. For others, it’s a matter of setting personal boundaries and feeling safe again within those boundaries. For others, it’s making a new start – finding new friends, getting a different job, joining a new organization.

Adults are in a much better position to deal with bullying than children.

Adults can file a police report. They can contact supervisors, HR, or even a lawyer! They can walk or drive away from a situation, or call a friend, see a therapist, or blog about it.

Mentally, adults are better able to recognize that the bully’s behavior is based on the aggressor’s problems and issues, not their shortcomings.

There will always be people in the world who gain satisfaction out of controlling those weaker than they are, who feel bigger and more important when they put others down. Finding your strength, and realizing what options are available can help you confront and handle any situation, even bullying.

6 Steps for Dealing with Adult Bullies

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2012). 6 Steps for Dealing with Adult Bullies. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 May 2012
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