How to Respond to an Adult Bully

Three Parts:Handling Bullying BehaviorChoosing to Not Be a VictimAvoiding Bullying Traps

Everyone hears stories about bullying in schools. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t stop at graduation. Adults can be bullied, too. Whether it’s at work or at home, grown-ups have to face people who pick on them, tease them, and make their lives extremely difficult. Bullying can even occur on line and across social media. If you are an adult who is being bullied, there are some tactics you can use to stop this behavior.

Part 1
Handling Bullying Behavior

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    Avoid the bully whenever possible. If you are faced with a bully, one of the best strategies to use is removing yourself from the situation. Take a different route to class. Walk in a group where you are less likely to be singled out. If it is not possible to avoid the bully all together, make sure you are never alone with him or her. The bully may not want witnesses to the bad behavior so even taking the step to have another person with you may help to end the problem. [1]
    • Be careful to not make it an obvious reaction out of fear that you are avoiding the bully. Bullies often target those they can scare or get a reaction out of. Be stealthy about your avoidance. Do not give him or her satisfaction of having that power over you.
    • If the bully is finding you on social media, block the profile. Remove any connections you share with the bully on the internet.[2] This works best for the bully you may only know online. If this is the case, he or she will generally move onto another target. If you do block the profile, be aware that the bully may create a new and different profile so be careful about adding new people.[3]
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    Ignore any inappropriate behavior. A bully may call names or try to embarrass you, but ignoring the taunts may send the message that he or she will not be getting a reaction out of you. The bully will likely move on.This is going to be very hard to do in some cases, but think of it as a game and it may get easier[4]
    • Do not feel like you need to explain or acknowledge you are ignoring the bully. He or she is usually very purposeful of the action and are well aware of what is being done. Telling a bully you are ignoring them only lets him or her know it is bothering you.
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    Use humor. Making a joke at someone else’s expense is often the go-to behavior for a bully. You can take the sting out of this by simply laughing along.[5]
    • This approach also works if the bully uses sarcastic compliments to be mean. Instead of getting upset when he or she tells you that you look nice but in a tone you know is not sincere, say “Why, thanks, Bethany!” as nicely as you can and walk away.
    • Using humor may seem odd in the case of the bully using you are a joke punchline, but remember your hurt feelings are a huge reward for the negative behavior. If the bully sees you either do not care or do not “get” you are being made fun of, the jokes will stop.
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    Confront someone with whom you spend time with regularly. If you are being bullied by a coworker or a family member whom you interact with frequently, you need to speak with this person privately about his or her behavior.
    • Be careful about being alone with this person though, talk to them in private but not in isolation if that makes sense. This could mean talking in the break room at work after lunch so others are close by. Enlist the help of another co-worker, if you are at work, who can be close by if needed to get help.[6]
    • Make your comments specific to the behavior without giving the bully feedback about it making you feel bad. For example, say “The taunting is disruptive to my day. I’d appreciate it if you stopped.” Also, if you say anything about going to HR if this is at work, be ready to do just that.

Part 2
Choosing to Not Be a Victim

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    Remain calm. Bullies often target people they know they can get a rise out of. Do not give the bully what he or she wants. Take a deep breath and continue on with what you were doing, or walk away. [7]
    • It might help to repeat a mantra in your head to maintain your calm in the face of a bully. Repeat something like “Don’t give him/her a reaction” or “Keep it cool.”
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    Be mindful of your physical and emotional reaction. Studies show that people are less likely to get teased or bullied if they exhibit an assertive attitude. You can stop being a victim to bullying by changing your reaction. Beware of your body language. Lift your chin, keep your back straight, and pull your shoulders back.[8]
    • Showing strong, positive signals like this probably doesn’t come naturally to you. Therefore, it may be helpful to practice your assertive attitude at home while you’re away from the bully.
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    Document any offenses. Keeping a record of the bully’s taunts will help you to keep dates straight and establish a pattern. You will need to establish a pattern if this goes further and you report the behavior to a boss at work or the police if this is a domestic situation that you need help for. [9]
    • Saving any emails and taking screenshots of comments left on social media can document cyber activities. Do not expect the bully to leave comments posted on social media up. Take a screen shot right away.
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    Speak to a superior or someone who can help. Make sure this conversation includes a clear picture of the pattern and any documentation. If you are at school, you can tell an instructor or a school administrator.[10]
    • If this is at work, you may come to the meeting with suggestions as to how this can be fixed. This might include moving the bully to a different department or working with HR. Be prepared to be asked what you want to have happen.
    • If you meet with the person at work face-to-face, follow up with an email documenting when the meeting took place and follow ups so you have it in writing what occurred. This will be included in the documentation if the behavior continues.

Part 3
Avoiding Bullying Traps

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    Refuse to take bullying behavior personally. The behavior, not matter how personal of an attack that is used, is never about you. It’s about the need of the bully to get attention or to perseverate behaviors picked up elsewhere. [11]
    • Understanding the motive of a bully helps you to realize that his or her behavior is not personally-directed at you. Such behavior may stem from jealousy, feeling threatened, or not getting the attention he or she feels is deserved. You’re not doing anything wrong—it’s not about you.[12]
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    Don’t reciprocate bullying behavior. This probably is not the first time the bully has acted like this so he or she is probably pretty good at it. You do not want to open yourself up to a situation where the only behavior anyone sees is your reaction and you get into trouble.[13]
    • It may be tempting to react online if this is a case of cyber-bullying, but keep in mind it is very easy to bait you into saying really horrible things online and then the bully can simply erase what started the exchange. Now you are left looking like the bad guy.
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    Refrain from getting into a physical altercation. Becoming physical with a bully should be avoided at all costs. Whether you are at school, work, or in another environment, getting into an altercation can mean being arrested and charged with assault.
    • Physical self-defense should only be used as a last resort when required to protect yourself from the other person. Try to avoid this if you can.[14]
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    Choose not to allow yourself to become isolated by a bully. The bully may choose to intimidate you to the point that you feel like there’s no one you can turn to. Share the experience with others. See a counselor. Deny this person the opportunity to steal away your voice.[15]


  • It's not always easy to tell the difference between what is bullying and what might just be the result of somebody's temporary bad mood. Be charitable initially but do not tolerate persistent bad moods and bad behavior; repetition is a sign that you are being targeted.
  • Sometimes, the only thing to do in a bullying situation is to walk away.


  • Assertive behavior can be very effective if used in the early stages of bullying. However, if the bullying has already been going on for a long time it might not have the desired effects.

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Categories: Dealing with Bullying