21 thoughts on “6 Steps for Dealing with Adult Bullies

  • May 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I also lived through adult bullies from my former female boss. These 6 steps are exactly the ones I took to get rid of her. Now I work from home relaxed and have forgotten about her until I read this article. So get what you want and be happier!

    • May 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Atari, I’m so glad you were able to work through being bullied, and have a happy ending. Congratulations for coming out strong on the other side!

  • May 16, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks for this list of steps, especially number 6. I have been subjected to bullying as an adult and it totally stunned me but thankfully I realized quickly that the real issue was with the bully, not my behavior. It’s sad that some adults still aren’t mature enough to find confidence and deal with conflicts without bullying.

    • May 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Yes, it is sad. It can be so tempting to think that we leave all childish problems behind when we grow up. Unfortunately this isn’t so. Thanks for sharing!

  • May 16, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Lol, this DEFINITELY needs to be plastered around my workplace. No question.

  • May 17, 2012 at 12:23 am

    I thought that this article would offer some genuine “new” insight/help in how to do deal with adult bullies (mainly workplace bullies), but I have to say I tired some of the techniques you have listed in the past. For example, a. I recognized that I was being bullied very early on and b. I did report to a head officer in my last company [the company I worked at did not have a HR dept. per se] and they did nothing about “my complaint”. In fact, one, they frowned upon it (we were/I was supposed to suck it up) and two, they gave my supervisor a (mild) warning but this person continued to behave in a verbally abusive manner towards me and another coworker, but as I was his direct underlying, I was always in the line of fire. They did nothing else on my account except to wait it out, waiting for THEIR right opportune moment to fire this person — and by the time they did get their chance, I had resigned two weeks prior this person getting the axe. I left with a lot of anger as you describe in your article, but I haven’t been able to let it all go because this isn’t the first time this has happened in the workplace. I thought — rather naively — that once I got past a painful adolescence, that the bullying would end, that things actually got better. In hindsight, how mistaken I have been! It’s sad that the people who do this bullying never grow up and the people who have are always at the receiving end. Thank you, all the same, for putting this article out there. One doesn’t always read about adult bullying; I think it should be more widely publicized.

    • May 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Some companies are awful in response to complaints about bullies. I’ve heard that often times healthcare is full of people who are aggressive and abusive to others, especially those ‘lower’ in ranks. It’s often easier for management to try and let things ‘sort themselves out’ rather than taking action. The people who end up getting hurt can end up getting hurt twice – like you – first by the bullies, then by supervisors not taking action.

      There is one thing I realize I should have mentioned here, and it’s to document. Document every phone call you make about the problem, every letter, every conversation. It gives a clear trail of actions you have been trying to take, and it would be helpful if you sought legal recourse.

      March, I’m truly sorry you had to go through what you did. Losing a job because of someone’s cruel behavior is not fair — it’s a loss of income, of self-esteem, security, and so much more. Thank you for your comment.

  • May 17, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Thanks, very precise & accurate. BTW,I set up “personal boundaries” to stay away this much more.

  • May 17, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I have been in more than one workplace that involved adult bullying and in both cases I reported the bullying and in both cases I eventually lost my job. However, three out of four of the worst offenders also lost their jobs eventually. One has remained in his position. He has consistently blamed his bullying on the former head of the department, but his attitude continued even after she was gone.

    • May 17, 2012 at 9:51 am

      It’s too bad that you ended up losing your job for reporting the bullying. It makes me wonder if it’s a case of people simply trying to get rid of the problem the easy way – by getting rid of both the victim and the perpetrator? I hope you’ve been able to find a safer, more comfortable work environment.

  • May 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    If you are being targeted by a bully, you are NOT weak. You are actually a high performer with a high degree of integrity, who the weak spineless snake of a bully, feals is a threat to them. Their feelings of inadequacy cause them to lash out at what they see as a competitor. Do not try to discuss with bully, they are irational and do not care about fairness, morals, truth or integrity. Do not go to management or HR (they will not support you as they do not want to admit that this is happening in their company), go straight to a lawyer, union (not someone paid by your company, and your doctor. If you are being bullied this is having an impact on your health. Document everything, get witnesses to document everything and then either leave or take legal action.

  • May 18, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Jenise! Great post. I turned it into a short video for this week’s PC video blog post. It’ll be up tomorrow (Saturday) morning in the World of Psychology blog…hope you can check it out! (And, I really hope I pronounced your last name correctly, eeek.)

  • July 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I think there needs to be more awareness about this, but…it’s a catch-22. I feel that nothing you do, even the steps listed here, ever makes a difference. I’ve just been in a situation where I’ve been bullied, tried the steps listed, the bully received a slap on the wrist punishment and he threatens me or harasses me whenever he gets the opportunity. Unfortunately, we have enough mutual acquaintances that it’s hard to totally avoid him. And it’s also depressing in that I now have a much lower opinion of lots of other people I know b/c they do nothing b/c they’re either afraid of him or like the drama and fireworks when he blows up at someone. The whole situation has diminished my opinion of a lot of people.

    • July 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      Situations like yours make it so clear that the problem with bullies is often a societal one, where people, for whatever reason or fear, do not stick up or help one another. One of the tragedies of bullying is the feeling of helplessness it can cause. And when you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing helps, it must feel very helpless. Try to figure out what you can do, and what you can’t. Most of all, hold on to the good that is in you, and know that no one can take that away.

  • September 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I am currently having problems with a bully in my workplace. I’ve been doing a lot of research to try to find different ways I can cope or deal with the problem. I work in a restaurant, so our management is the husband and wife owners, and we have no HR dept. I have talked to them several times. Once privately, and a few other times just recently. The problem is getting worse, not just for me, but other employees as well. The owners keep having talks with the bully, and they keep telling us she is “trying” to get along with us, but that is not the case. She does everything when the owners are not around to see it. I have tried to ignore the things she does to me, I have tried doing everything I can to not get in her way and do the things she expects me to do so I do not end up being her target, but it doesn’t work. I am afraid this is causing me great emotional pain, and I don’t know what else I can do. I have done nothing to warrant this kind of behavior from her, and I’m worried that I cannot take much more and I will be emotionally injured, and have Post Tramatic Stress issues. What can a person do if management does nothing to help? I don’t know if I have any legal recourse, and I would hate to have to take it that far. I think I should be able to handle it myself, but its not working, and I can’t seem to get any help besides the other employees that are targeted in the bully’s cycle. Any opinions would be helpful at this point.

  • June 22, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I am a shy introvert (INFP). I was mercilessly bullied in school from the 2nd grade on. Mostly this involved name calling, such as: dork, dufus, Bugs Bunny (buck teeth), Pinocchio (big nose), and Dumbo (big ears that turned flaming read when teased).

    Now I’m 50+ years old, a professional and manager in a mid-sized company. I have just realized that I’m still being bullied and have been off and on most of my adult life. This was a real epiphany for me. I have always taken this bullying as criticism of my work performance or derogatory comments on my introverted character. I often am criticized for not being enough of a “people person”.

    Over the past weekend as I reflected on Father’s Day I recalled the advice my Dad gave me about how to deal with bullies at school. He always told me, “Just ignore them and eventually they will leave you alone.” This has been my policy for the last fifty five years. It is also what I have been trying to do with my current situation.

    Unfortunately, my experience has shown me that ignoring bullies is not an effective way to deal with them. They never stop and they never go away. Even if I quit my job and move to a new company the bullying eventually starts up again. I keep wondering if I have an invisible “Kick Me” sign taped to my backside.

    I came to this website looking for a real solution. I have been considering confronting the person who is tormenting me here at work. Unfortunately, this is my boss, who is VP over my own department and over Human Resources. I have the urge to lash out to get back at this person, but something tells me that this will not help my situation either.

    The disparaging things my boss says are always very subtle and couched in “friendly” banter during department meetings in front of my staff. The pain is inflicted with subtle innuendo and tone of voice. It’s like bullying in disguise. Still, it undermines my relationship with my staff and still makes me feel terrible. This past week she laughingly called me a dork in our department meeting. This set off a PTSD flashback to the bullying of my school days.

    The more overt bullying is done in private during my performance reviews and one-on-one meetings. She ignores or discounts any positive achievements and zeroes in on my shortcomings as a manager, usually relating to my quiet nature and shy disposition. Typically I feel devastated for two or three weeks after one of these reviews.

    In my most recent performance review she told me in no uncertain terms that, “No one in this company respects you as a manager.” She then proceeded to tell my about her interview with an internal applicant to my department, where she “helped” that person understand my poor management style. My first reaction was, “With help like that, no wonder no one respects me here.”

    The day after this latest review, I was so devastated; I stayed home trying to decide how I was going to kill myself. I couldn’t see any way out. I survived with the help of the local hot line which gave me a more realistic perspective.

    My boss continues to follow up on this theme in one-on-one meetings with little comments like, “See? That’s why no one respects you.”

    I have the urge to ask her, “How do you know that *no one* respects me? Did you survey everyone in the company?”
    She also accuses me of “hiding” in my office. I want to tell her, “If I wanted to hide, it wouldn’t be in my office where anyone can find me. Are all of the other managers who stay in their offices, ‘hiding’?”

    I have considered 1) resigning, 2) writing her a letter explaining how hurtful her comments are to me, 3) writing up a complaint to HR, or some combination these three. I don’t believe that confronting her will do any good, because I have tried confronting her on other unfair comments on prior reviews. She always has a quick comeback that puts the blame back on me.

    I hesitate to report to HR, because she is the VP over HR anyway. My examples seem so innocuous, that it feels like friendly banter or an attempt to be “helpful”. She also has a tendency to subtly retaliate against anyone who offends her. If I resign and move on, I’m afraid that something in my personality will wave a red flag and attract a new bully.

    I don’t know the best way to deal with the current situation. I also am trying to understand what I can to bully-proof myself to forestall any future bullying.

    What advice would you give someone in my position?

    • November 29, 2016 at 1:26 am

      To “Mr. Dork,”

      Next time she says you’re hiding in your office, GO AHEAD, give her that retort–and you’ll feel some vindication as you watch her flounder to come up with a witty response to get out of that. Same with your other comebacks–SPEAK UP. A great comeback is worthless if it’s locked in a box.

      Bullies are attracted to people who project an unwillingness or inability to stand up for themselves. A “dork” kind of person will not make a nice individual turn into a bully. The bully is already there…just waiting to spring into action.

      You MUST snap back at this person. If she fires you, that’s a blessing in disguise.

      Take up martial arts. You will learn how to stand up for yourself VERBALLY. Yes, martial arts teaches introverted “dorky” people to develop a voice as their body develops from the training.

      Scrap the idea of writing a letter telling her how much she hurts you. This will only stoke her flames, telling her what she WANTS to hear; she WANTS to hurt you. If you affirm this, you’ll only succeed in verifying that her bullying is working splendidly.

      • November 30, 2016 at 11:13 am

        Thank you, StrikeBack, for your encouragement and suggestions. My situation ultimately resolved when I decided to take early retirement rather than transfer to to a non management position. I’m currently still working through step six, trying to let go and move on. It has been a rough six months since my retirement, even experiencing episodes of PTSD.

        I have tried martial arts, though not recently. I eventually did speak to HR about the trauma of my last performance evaluation. The bullying stopped at that point. I wasn’t able to deal with the PTSD and the anxiety I felt while just walking through the too to the company. That was the reason for taking early retirement.

        I just need to challenge myself to work through letting go and moving on, though I doubt I will ever have the confidence to go back to work.

  • June 3, 2018 at 3:45 am

    I never backed down from bullies as a child. It meant I had to beat the snot out of every bully in three grades, but once they got a beatdown after bullying me, they never bothered me again. As an adult I can’t beat people up – obviously – but I can do worse. Bullies, as a rule, do not obey rules and laws. I’ve been very successful in finding their weak link, their lies, and illegal dealings and taking them down by simply reporting them to the proper authorities. One bullying boss watched porn on his computer. He didn’t realize that the reflection of the images on his computer showed up in the polished glass cabinets behind his desk. Noting the days, times etc. was easy. Sending a list of those to the local police and cc’ing the CEO and HR was easy. He was fired the same week. Another bullying boss at a government agency was using her position to get inside info on bidding on federal jobs. Uh oh. A packet of photocopies and details (she bragged) and the US Attorney general prosecuted her. She was banned from bidding on all jobs for two years and fined, given a suspended sentence. Severely crippled her side business. Be friendly. Gain their trust. Find their illegal or immoral weakness and report it to legal authorities and carbon copy company officials. It is illegal to retaliate against whistleblowers and HR knows it. You can also do it anonymously in many cases. I’ve been able to get everyone from bullying state troopers to CEOs fired. I might not get the satisfaction of them knowing it was me, but sometimes that’s a good thing. It feeds their paranoia and it takes them down. One bully at a time.

  • July 23, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Reading the other people’s stories has helped to realise I’m not the only one. The pain a hurt inside is unbearable. I am being bullied by a neighbour I am female mature a I am bullied by a very heavy set man with a loud voice. Thank you for the insights I stand up to him a shake but I feel better. I thank you for this site.


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