How to Cope with Bullying

Bullying is repetitive, intentionally aggressive behavior that causes hurt or discomfort to another person. Bullying comes in many forms: violent or unwanted physical contact, behavior meant to provoke a fight or confrontation, verbal comments meant to belittle, demean or control, or other kinds of actions with the intent of harassing, humiliating or otherwise causing emotional and/or physical discomfort. Bullying may feel and be unprovoked, and people experiencing bullying often feel powerlessness to defend themselves. Remember that you are not at fault and that there is nothing wrong with you.

Bullying is more than physical or verbal abuse. It can also take a toll on mental health. Coping with being bullied is different for everyone, but we’re going to review some things that can help if you or someone you know is being bullied.

Recognizing When Someone is Being Bullied

It’s important to recognize the signs of bullying, for ourselves and others. Bullying may happen to people who are different from their peers in one or more ways. But it is not your fault. According to stopbullying.gov this can manifest or show up in many different ways including:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Missing or destroyed clothing or possessions
  • Frequently feeling or faking sick
  • Suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; kids may come home from school hungry because they didn’t eat lunch
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining academic performance or interest
  • Unexplained or sudden social avoidance or loss of friendships
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, self-harm, or suicidal ideation

How to Help Yourself or Someone Who’s Being Bullied

If you, or someone you know is being bullied, there are several things you can do.

Report It

  • Many people experiencing bullying report feeling incredibly lonely and helpless. But it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that there are others who share or understand your experience who can help. As soon as you can, report bullying to an adult you trust.
  • It’s understandable to be scared to report bullying and often people being bullied feel shame. But this isn’t your fault! Keep in mind that most adults want and need to help, and will respond to your situation with empathy, not punishment.

Avoid Being Alone

  • If you’re being bullied at school, try to avoid being in situations where you’re alone and you know you might encounter a bully. Some things you can do are changing your usual hallway routes, or walking to lunch or the bus with other students.

Ignore It and Walk Away

If you feel safe and comfortable enough to deal with your bully on your own,  try some of these effective strategies:

  • Bullying is a bid for attention, so try walking away or ignoring your bully instead of reacting or bullying back. They may lose interest if you don’t give them the reaction they’re seeking.
  • Stay calm and assert yourself. Simply and definitively tell them to stop, without saying more than you need to.
  • Laugh instead of showing the fear or discomfort that your bully wants and expects.
  • Tell your friends. Having a group you can trust can make a big difference. Let them help by speaking up, or even just staying close to you. Bullies are often deterred by groups.

As with any dangerous situation, if you feel a crime has been committed or you’re in immediate danger, call 911. It should also be noted that bullying is a cycle. Many people who have experienced bullying become perpetrators in the future. Resist the urge to become a bully yourself.

Coping with Being a Bully

Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re actually the perpetrator of bullying behavior. So what can you do if you recognize that you’re engaging in bullying behavior?

Someone who uses bullying behavior may also often feel resentful, jealous or like they’re not getting the recognition they deserve. We may struggle with feeling empathy and may become aggressive when we’re unhappy with someone. Regularly feeling angry, frustrated or resentful often results in behavior and outbursts that upset people around us, causing them to be agitated or tearful in reaction to our moods and behaviors. Read more about perpetuating bullying.

It’s perfectly understandable to not want to see or admit that we’re bullying someone and it can be challenging to recognize behavior we don’t want to see. If you think that anyone in your life perceives you to be engaging in bullying behavior, it’s helpful to ask people close to you to see if they notice anything. Since one of the core causes of bullying behavior is low empathy (for others and for yourself) you can also take an empathy assessment to see where you fall. Using bullying behavior to express deep seated frustration or resentment isn’t just harmful for those who are bullied, it can lead to addiction, mental health challenges and problems with relationships in your personal and professional life.

It’s very possible to recognize and stop bullying behavior. It takes self-honesty and courage. If you think you are exhibiting bullying behavior, we encourage you to consider talking to a mental health professional to find and address the root causes of your behavior.

Intervening as an Upstander

An upstander is someone who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied. This is a powerful role in stopping the cycle of bullying. Here are some strategies to being an effective upstander:

  • If you see something, say something! When we stay quiet, we send a message that this behavior is acceptable and when we don’t intervene we allow the behavior to continue.
  • Start a conversation. If you’re worried about a friend who you think is being bullied, consider starting the conversation and checking in to see if they’re okay or need help. If you’re not sure what to say, check out seizetheawkward.org for a variety of conversation starters.
  • Clearly refuse to be involved in bullying behavior
  • Never stand by and watch or encourage bullying behavior; go get help if you don’t feel safe
  • Don’t harass, tease or gossip about others
  • Support the person experiencing bullying by bringing them to a place where they can report bullying or find information about where to go for help
  • If you witness someone you know engaging in bullying behavior, find a way to share what you notice and how it makes you and others affected, such as the person being bullied, feel. We can do more good for a friend who engages in bullying when we’re honest and respectful in sharing what we see, but it’s critical to avoid tolerating bullying behavior and do what you can to stop it.

In some instances where the bullying becomes physical it might not be easy or obvious how to help, but standing idly by is never the answer. If you’re afraid for your safety or someone else’s, go get help or call the police immediately.

Remember, bullying is never ok and there are ways to protect yourself from being bullied and from bullying others. Speak up, get help, talk to someone and if possible, work with a mental health professional.

You’re Not Alone

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.