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Best Practices for Handling Adult Bullies


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Many of us think that bullying stops once we enter adulthood. Unfortunately, grownups don’t stop abusing and harassing other people just because they are no longer at school. Though the mechanism or manner of bullying may change as we age, the psychology behind the bullying does not.


When we feel attacked or belittled, it can impact our entire self-image. It can make us question ourselves and wonder if we are overreacting. This can make us feel confused, frustrated, angered, and hurt. Luckily, the more we know about adult bullying, the better equipped we are to handle it.


What is Adult Bullying?

An online survey of roughly 2000 adults found that 31% of people over the age of 18 have felt bullied. Bullying typically occurs at work, but can also happen in our personal lives. Bullying is defined as being subjected to repeated, negative behavior that is used to hurt or intimidate us. Because bullying is such a broad term, it’s helpful to look at specific examples of how an adult may be bullied –


· A manager using passive-aggressive put-downs at work

· A friend making snide comments about your looks or clothes

· An acquaintance constantly harassing you to join a cause or group that doesn’t interest you

· An acquaintance gaslighting you to accuse you of something they are doing

· A spouse belittling you or frequently making fun of you

· Anyone who slanders you or commits libel repeatedly without any evidence


How is Adult Bullying Different Than Being Bullied as a Child?

Adult bullying and child bullying are similar in many ways but different in others. Because grownups must act a certain way to be considered acceptable members of society, their bullying tactics usually differ from children.


Passive-aggressive comments, frequent gaslighting, or pressuring you into doing something you don’t want to do are typical adult bullying tactics. A child bully is more blatant and openly cruel to the bullied child’s face. He/she typically includes taunting or other cruel gestures to openly mock another child in front of others.


An adult bully has the same intent as a child bully but is usually slyer in carrying it out. This can cause the bullied adult to feel frustrated, angry, and confused. Bullied individuals may even start questioning or doubting themselves because the adult bully is so inconspicuous at what they do.


Effects of Adult Bullying

A survey recorded the primary negative effects of adult bullying, which include –


· 70% suffer from increased stress and anxiety

· 70% suffer from depression

· 55% claim they feel less confident

· 40% have sleeping problems, headaches, or other physical ailments

· 20% have mental breakdowns

· 20% said they had difficulty functioning from day-to-day


How to Recover from Bullying

If you feel that you have been bullied, the best thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation until you can sort out your feelings. This can be more difficult if the perpetrator is a colleague, manager, or family member. It may require speaking to HR, leaving a toxic home environment for a few weeks, or staying away from a specific family member.


Acknowledging the problem is the first step in recovery. If you are experiencing a low-level depression and have frequent anxiety around a particular person due to things he/she has said, you might be the victim of adult bullying. If at work, begin documenting all of the various things this person has said to you so you can bring this inventory to confront the perpetrator (if you choose to), or file a complaint with HR.


Speaking to a therapist or medical professional can assist in managing the symptoms of bullying. Journaling, exercise, meditation, and prioritizing sleep can be enormously beneficial in the healing process.


Many aren’t always sure how to approach or handle the bullying. Experts advise adults to disengage if possible, file a complaint, or confront the bully. While it’s not possible to always stop a bully, he/she does tend to pick on people that don’t seem like a threat. If you act rather than sitting back passively, the bully may stop bothering you. This can be a difficult decision that is best left up to the individual or the therapist.


Do you feel bullied at work, school, or home? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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