We tend to think of bullying of something that happens only at school, but the reality is that abuse and power control commonly extend into adulthood too. Dee Marques looks at the forms adult bullies take and offers nine ways to deal with them...


We all know bullying is a serious problem in certain age groups. We may have been bullied ourselves growing up or may have been the one being unkind to others. Bullying is mostly associated with school-age children or teenagers, but bullying can – and does – happen to adults too.

For example, a study carried out in the United States showed that nearly one third of all adult Americans surveyed had been bullied. And the numbers are similar for other Western countries, which suggests that this is an ongoing problem that persists well into adulthood.

Adult bullying can have a serious negative impact on physical and mental health. In this article, I’ll explain how to recognise adult bullying and offer some coping strategies so you can protect yourself or help others who may be struggling with this problem.

Types of adult bullying

Adult bullying can happen in a wide range of environments, from work to family settings and online, too. Bullies use different tactics and they don’t always involve openly berating others. Here’s an overview of a few of the different types of adult bullies that exist:

1. Bullying in the workplace

Statistics published by the Trades Union Congress claim that approximately one third of adults in the UK have experienced bullying in their workplace. The report highlights the fact that bullying is actually more prevalent in the 40 to 59 year-old age group, which confirms that age doesn’t make us immune to bullies.

Some of the common strategies used by workplace bullies include:

  • Spreading lies or rumours about you or trying to get other coworkers to have a negative opinion of you.
  • Giving you the silent treatment.
  • Using aggressive body language, glaring, or staring.
  • Being verbally abusive or disrespectful.
  • Pushing unreasonable deadlines.
  • Holding you to different or stricter standards than other colleagues.
  • Disregarding or criticising good-quality work.

2. Elder bullying

This is not as well-known as other types of adult bullying, but it’s still common and heartbreaking. Elder bullying usually happens in nursing homes, and bullies can be staff or other residents. Examples include:

  • Excluding someone from group activities.
  • Verbal abuse, including insults, threats or derogatory comments.
  • Gossiping or spreading malicious rumours.
  • Mocking someone for their appearance or physical disabilities.
  • Stealing or destroying someone’s belongings.

Adult bullying can extend to care homes shutterstock/Pixel-Shot


3. Online adult bullying or cyber-bullying

A great deal of our lives is now conducted online, so this opens up a back door to cyber-bullying. Research shows that 40 per cent of adults in the US have been victims of online bullies.


“Adult bullying happens in many environments, from work to family and online. Bullies use different tactics and don’t always involve openly berating others.”

Social media platforms (especially Instagram and Facebook) are a prime target for this type of behaviour, but it can also happen in chat rooms or generally on the internet. Some examples include:

  • Cyberstalking.
  • Outing, or publishing private information or photos.
  • Blogs or websites that are solely written to criticise or insult someone.
  • Comments that mock someone’s physical appearance.
  • Sending written threats.


Dealing with adult bullying

The effects of adult bullying can be devastating, irrespective of where it happens. This guide can help you deal with adult bullies and step out of the toxic environment they create.


1. Don’t blame yourself

The first thing to understand is that bullies act the way they do because they want to assert their power over you. Bullies get pleasure when seeing others lose their self-confidence, feel weak or disempowered. Don’t give them fodder by blaming yourself. Whatever a bully says or does, it has nothing to do with who you are and what you look like. They’re just saying it because they want to feel superior.


2. Assess the situation

Not all bullies are created equal, so it’s wise to assess how serious the situation is and act accordingly. For example, if you don’t have frequent contact with the bully, you may want to stay away and keep your distance, unless they become aggressive or the situation gets worse. If the bullying is affecting your mood or mental health, you have no time to waste.


3. Set boundaries

A common reaction  to adult bullies is to think that maybe you’re exaggerating things or wanting to believe that the other person doesn’t mean to hurt you. While you’re engaged in this internal debate, the bully will only get encouraged to continue harassing you. Clear boundaries often deter bullies, as they don’t really expect others to stand up to them.

If someone is bullying you at work, establish direct eye contact, be firm and say that their behaviour won’t be tolerated. Bullies don’t expect you to show strength, so in some cases being assertive about your boundaries can make it stop.

Keep a cool head but don't ignore adult bullying


4. Gather proof

Whether bullying happens online or in person, you’ll want to document what’s happening in case being assertive doesn’t make the bully back off. This can also come in handy if you have to report the bullying. Keep track of time, dates, and emails, and write a detailed description of each incident.


5. Keep a cool head

Bullies are very good at pushing your buttons until you break down or go off in a burst of anger. However, they don’t expect their victims to be firm and keep calm, so learning tactics to keep a cool head can make them realise you’re not an easy target.


6. Don’t ignore it

By this I mean ignore the content of the abuse, but don’t ignore the situation. If you’re a victim of adult bullying and ignore the situation thinking that the bully will get tired of it soon, you may just be encouraging them to harass you.

“Adult bullying can happen in a wide range of environments, from work to family settings and online, too. Bullies use different tactics and they don’t always involve openly berating others.”

If you’re affected by adult bullying in the workplace, talk to someone in your human resources department to explain the situation and find out what the company’s policy is. If it happens online, websites have tools to report bullying and to update your profile privacy settings.


7. Don’t go through it alone

Isolation is one of the tactics used by many bullies. This is why they try to turn others against you, so that you’ll feel alone and without any resources to stand your ground. On the other hand, if a bully sees that you have a good support network, they’re less likely to see you as a target.


8. Counter the effects

Bullies make hurtful comments with the expectation that you’ll internalise their painful nature. The effects of adult bullying can last well after you no longer have contact with the bully, so self-care is essential to counter the effects of bullying. 

RELATED: Be good to yourself – 8 self-love techniques


9. Share your experience

Have you been bottling up negative emotions while the bullying was taking place or being resolved? It’s time to release those emotions so they’re no longer a mental or emotional burden. You can join a group, share what you went through with people you trust, and be confident that putting your experience out there can be encouraging to others who are going through the same thing. 

Takeaway: you can overcome adult bullying

Adult bullying can leave a painful footprint on your emotional well-being, but you don’t have to live with its effects or carry the burden alone. Handling bullying requires firmness and determination, as well as self-care and the support of loving people. Once you overcome adult bullying, you’ll have a valuable experience to share with others who are struggling with it, and your story may even be the inspiration they need to take action and end the bullying. 

Main image: shutterstock/lightwavemedia


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Written by Dee Marques

dee.jpgA social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.





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I have never been able to stand a bully. I know that they are showing signs of abuse in some cases, but something about seeing them be mean to other people sends me somewhere. In Jr. High, I got suspended all the time for for fighting the bully. Today, I would just turn around and ask if they were having fun showing their cowardice and immaturity.

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