Bullying is typically associated with childhood, but it can also be a serious problem in adults. According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll, 31% of people were bullied as adults. Bullying can be intimidating at any age, and many adults are unsure how to respond.
Bullying in adults often looks different than the types of bullying we hear more about among children. Learn how to recognize adult bully behavior and how to deal with adult bullies.
If you experience bullying, you can always ask an online therapist for help in dealing with it.
Types of adult bullies
Table of contents
- 1 Types of adult bullies
- 2 Dealing with adult bullies
- 3 The impact of bullying on mental health as an adult
- 4 Seek professional help for bullying
Bullying and harassment are very similar. In fact, the two terms are often used interchangeably. While harassment can be classified as a form of bullying behavior, the term bullying describes an ongoing pattern of behavior. There are many types of adult bullies, which we discuss in detail below.
The verbal bully
These bullies intentionally hurt their victims with words. Verbal harassment can include subjecting a target to insults, harsh criticism, or prolonged teasing. In some cases, verbal bullies may threaten or use racist, misogynist, homophobic, or other intimidating, offensive language.
The passive-aggressive adult bully
Passive-aggressive behavior can be a way for adult bullies to indirectly hit out at others. They can use gossip, hurtful jokes, or sarcasm to attack. Bullies who engage in this behavior often deny that they are doing anything wrong, which can lead the bully victim to doubt their own feelings.
The physical adult bully
While these bullies physically attack victims, they may also engage in violent and intimidating behavior. For example, a bully may throw or break objects. In some cases, physical bullies will simulate violence and laugh or taunt an adult victim when they appear threatened.
The tangible/material adult bully
Adults who engage in specific bullying have power or authority over their victims. A bully can be the boss or manager, or have material power, such as financial control over an adult victim. Even if you know how to deal with adult bullies, you may feel helpless when your bully is someone who has power over you.
The adult cyberbully
About 40% of adults have experienced online harassment. In some cases, this harassment evolves into cyberbullying. A victim of cyberbullying may be attacked or receive harassing messages via email, social messaging, or text messages. Cyberbullies also engage in behaviors such as cyberstalking. If you’re being harassed by cyberbullying, read these tips on how to deal with cyberbullying.
“There are many ways bullying can manifest itself in adults. “Karens” has become a term used to describe someone who harasses a person of color by calling the police for situations that are not illegal. The “Karen” knowing that the police would provoke a harsh response to the non-white person sets her as an example of adult bullying.”
Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD
Dealing with adult bullies
Bullies often cause significant harm to their victims. Not only can bullying affect self-esteem and mental health, but adults who are bullied are also at increased risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Learning how to deal with bullying as an adult is important for your own health and the health of others.
Dealing with bullying as the one who is being bullied
If you are being bullied, you should prioritize your safety and well-being. If possible, remove yourself from the situation and cut the bully out of your life. In situations where you cannot avoid a bully, you should work on building a strong support system.
Some bullying behavior falls under criminal harassment, but unfortunately in many cases it is not illegal. Nevertheless, you should document all cases of bullying. If the bullying escalates, you can attach this documentation to your police report or formal complaint.
“Being the target of a bully can be extremely stressful. It can cause suicidal or homicidal thoughts. It’s very important to be loud and express the events that are happening and your emotional response to them until you’re free of both your emotional state and the bullying.”
Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD
Dealing with bullying as a spectator
If you witness bullying, you should do everything you can to protect the victim. In cases where it is safe to do so, you may want to confront the bully or question their aggressive behavior. Many bullies will back down immediately when confronted with a group.
Even if you’re uncomfortable confronting a bully directly, you can reach out to the victim and tell them they have your support. Walk with the victim to make it harder for the bully to find them alone. Let them know you will support them or provide testimony if they report their bully.
Bullying at work
Workplace bullying is a very common type of bullying among adults. If you have been bullied at work, document all incidents in detail. If you are attacked by a bully at work, let them know that their bullying behavior as an adult is not appropriate and you will not tolerate it.
If the bullying continues, report the behavior to your manager or Human Resources. You may want to review Company policies so you can clearly identify prohibited conduct. Bullying can be costly to employers, which is why many companies have a zero-tolerance policy.
While reporting bullying often produces a positive outcome, some workplaces ignore the information. Don’t be afraid to escalate the situation. In extreme cases, you should consult an attorney to find out what your legal options are.
The impact of bullying on mental health as an adult
Being bullied as an adult can be extremely stressful. Many adults who are victims of bullying experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A bully can shake a person’s confidence, making them anxious, paranoid, and stressed.
While bullying clearly harms victims, it can also harm bystanders. People who witness workplace bullying are more likely to develop symptoms of depression. Viewers can be angry or upset if they don’t respond, and they may be afraid of being targeted in the future.
Bullying can skyrocket stress levels, leading to a significant deterioration in mental health. Stress can interfere with sleep and increase anxiety and irritability. These problems can persist even after the bullying has ended.
“Bullying can have a lasting impact on our self-esteem and our view of the world long after the offending events have taken place. Therapy can provide a safe space to process the thoughts and feelings that arise during this time.”
Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD
Seek professional help for bullying
If you are a victim of adult bullying, know that you are not alone. While adult bullying is rarely discussed, research suggests that it is fairly common. In addition to workplace bullying, adults may be bullied online, harassed by a family member, or targeted by a friend, colleague, or romantic partner.
Therapy can help you learn how to deal with bullying as an adult. With the help of a psychologist, you can work on rebuilding your confidence and developing coping skills. If you’ve been bullied, don’t hesitate to reach out and get the help you need to recover.
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