When we think of the word “Bully” we often associate it with childhood drama. Many, if not most, people have experienced bullying at some point in their lives. However, bullying does not always stop after childhood.

What is an Adult Bully?

According to the National Center Against Bullying, “Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.

Bullying can happen in person or online, via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). Bullying behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (for example, through sharing of digital records).
Adult bullies are individuals who regularly make you feel oppressed, belittled, humiliated, and even de-energized. These feelings can result from ridiculing jokes, passive aggressive behavior, gossip, gaslighting, public shaming, invasion of personal space, etc.

Types of Adult Bullies:


1. Verbal Adult Bully: This type of bully thrives on spreading rumors about the victim, using sarcastic and demeaning language to dominate or humiliate the other individual, and may include sharing personal text or other media exchanges with one or more people and socially excluding someone. For example, this type of bully may befriend someone or fake friendship or romantic interest with someone to bait them and share the other personal responses with others. The bully may also spread rumors about the victim, such as, “they are crazy,” or “they can’t get a hint” and tell others to not invite them to social events. Adult bullies often use this tactic as the bully has an advantage in that this type of bullying is nearly impossible to document. This type of bullying may include gaslighting. The emotional and psychological impacts of this type of bullying is felt deeply and is often associated with depression, self-harm, substance use and even suicide.

2. Narcissistic Adult Bully: This type of bully is often egocentric and self-centered. They do not have empathy for others and have little to no anxiety or concern about the consequences of their behavior. The person appears to be confident and feel good about themselves but is insecure and must put others down to feel in control.

3. Impulsive Adult Bully: This type of bully is spontaneous. They are likely aware of the consequences of their actions but lack the self-control to restrain themselves from engaging in the harmful behavior. This type of bullying may be unintentional and is likely connected to the bully feeling upset or concerned about something unrelated to the victim.

4. Secondary Adult Bully: This type of bully does not initiate the bullying behavior but joins in, so that they do not become a victim of the bully later. These bullies may feel bad about what they are doing and have remorse but are more concerned with self-preservation.

Workplace bullying and bullying in home environments, such as apartment complexes, shared living spaces, etc. can make life quite miserable and difficult. Management should be made aware of bullies as they can create hostile work and living environments and lead to risk of lawsuit over time.

Types of Adult Bullies

What to do if you are a victim of adult bullying:

Unfortunately, other than reporting it, disengaging as much as possible and focusing inward; there is not much that you can do about an adult bully as they are often stuck in an unhealthy pattern and have little to no interest in working things out. Remember, illogical behaviors can rarely if ever be solved with logical responses. Adult bullies are interested in power and control more than anything else. They want to feel as though they are important and preferred, and they do this by putting others down. The best way to move on from a bully is to make yourself inaccessible to them. However, if this is not possible, there are other actions you can take.

1. Pick and choose your battles. Remember to always keep yourself safe. If you can stand up to the bully and defend yourself in a way that is safe from harm in that moment and over time, then it may be helpful for your mental health to defend yourself. However, if the bully is a physical threat or it is very difficult to remove yourself from the situation, it may be better to simply walk away or try to ignore it.

2. Make eye contact. Eye contact can be helpful and significant in most bullying, harassment, and abuse situations. It has been found that bullies tend to have less empathy when they cannot see your face or eyes.

3. Escape if you can. Do everything within your power to escape the bully. Move your desk, move apartments, get a job in a different department or different organization, move apartment units, and stay away from places that your bully frequents.

4. Document every single offense and keep the records if possible. You will need them if you want to file a complaint with management or in some cases, file a police report if the bully’s actions become emotionally or physically damaging.

What to do if you witness bullying:

1. Question the behavior of the bully.

2. Use humor to redirect the conversation.

3. Reach out to the bullied person privately and let them know that they are not alone and that you disagree with the bullying, and you care.

What to do if you are a bully:

1. Seek help from a mental health professional. Those who bully others often have been bullied, abused, or harassed themselves. Seek support and be curious about why you engage in these negative patterns and how they negatively impact you.

2. Reach out to the victim in a neutral environment and let them know that you see that your behavior is problematic, apologize and let them know that you are seeking help.

Bullying Statistics

1. Studies have found that roughly 31% of Americans have been bullied as an adult.

2. More than one third of people who experience bullying go on to develop anxiety and depression.

3. About 1 in every 4 people who have experienced bullying experience suicidal thoughts.

4. Over 1 in every 3 victims of bullying suffer from sleep loss.

5. About 1 in 6 people report inability to function day-to-day.

6. Studies have shown bullying is linked to gastrointestinal changes, nausea, elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular issues.

“Bullying is a coping strategy used to assert control when faced with personal limitations, whether intellectual, physical or otherwise. If you feel your power being diminished by another, it’s time to question the health of that relationship.”

-Dr. Charles Sofy DO

Things to Remember:

1. You have the right to be treated with respect.

2. You have the right to set boundaries.

3. You have the right to say “no.”

4. You have the right to block and stop engaging.

5. You have the right to have different opinions than others.