How To Recognize And Deal With Adult Bullying

How To Recognize And Deal With Adult Bullying Shutterstock

You would hope that bullying could be left on the playground, employed only by little ones who don’t fully understand the weight of their actions. But unfortunately, adults are quite the bullies. Their tactics are often more manipulative, deceptive, judgmental, and seeped in unhealed childhood trauma. No matter the excuses, adults have no right to bully other adults, so we must recognize their behaviors. Then, we owe it to ourselves to respectfully and maturely deal with their hateful tactics. Here’s how.

1. Recognize their patterns.

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Bullies have patterns. They are particular about who they target, how they target them, and the damage they leave behind. It’s hard to be bullied when you can spot the bully a mile away. Do yourself a favor and let people’s actions speak for themselves. Notice who gets a kick out of belittling others, and then, keep your distance.

2. Analyze their friend groups.

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Bullies keep certain friend groups, even as adults. Their inner circle is often restricted to people who either agree with their manipulative tactics or are afraid not to agree with them. Bullies’ friends act more like pets, like dogs who submit all too easily in hopes of a meager dog biscuit. They often have no unique thoughts, and if they do, they sure aren’t going to share them for fear they conflict with their leader’s ideas.

3. Note their end goals.

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One easy way to recognize a bully is to figure out what they’re trying to gain. If these people always have their sights set on tearing others down as a means to elevate themselves, beware. If they are always corning people who are quieter, shy, and unsure of themselves, they are out to control “weaker” people. They would rather walk all over others than encourage them. That’s a bully for you.

4. Make the connection they have with you.

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If you’re afraid someone is trying to bully you, take time to discover the connection they have with you. Bullies are particular. They have a purpose for why they bully who they bully. Is it a coworker who didn’t get the job promotion, but you did? Is it a girl who came out of nowhere in your DMs… and it turns out you’re dating her ex-boyfriend? It helps to unpack why you’re the bully’s target.

5. Understand what your words and actions are communicating.

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If you can’t seem to shake this bully—if they continue taking petty jabs where they can—understand what your words and actions are communicating. If you can’t avoid them, are you allowing them to walk all over you? Are you reacting to their criticisms and hatred with submission and cowardice? How is your response contributing to their continued immaturity?

6. See if you have something they want.

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Could it be you have something they want for themselves? As I mentioned, maybe you got the promotion they worked hard for. Or perhaps your now-boyfriend was their high school sweetheart, someone they spent years with. Maybe you have the social status, financial security, or familial support they never received. If they have their sights set on using you to get what they never had, understand that there isn’t another option besides facing them head-on.

7. Address their manipulative behavior.

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When you have no choice but to address their manipulative behavior, prepare for face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, see this as an opportunity to defend yourself. If you have nothing to be ashamed of, if you earned the promotion fair and square, you and their ex-boyfriend did nothing sketchy, or you’re proud of the healthy background you come from, they have no right to tear you down. And you have a right to an explanation for their spitefulness.

8. Call out any deception.

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Bullies enjoy gaslighting. Gaslighting often takes the truth and tweaks it a bit to continue pushing a false narrative, hoping you eventually accept the lies. Take note of any lies, no matter how big or small, and call them out. This forces the bully to backtrack and often reveals the cracks in the armor, the falsehoods in their story. When they’re seen as a liar, they often lose their confidence and are wary of trying you again.

9. Draw a line in the sand.

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Though bullies have no boundaries, damaging you however they want, whenever they want, once you call them out for who they are, draw a line in the sand. Define your boundaries and back them with a tone of confidence. This doesn’t require you to be a jerk—no need to stoop to their level. However, you owe it to yourself to respectfully defend who you are and keep the bullies out of your life. Drawing a line in the sand might seem intimidating at first, but it frees you of a bully looming over you.

10. Distance yourself as needed.

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If the conversation goes nowhere and they continue pushing your boundaries, distance yourself. Cut ties with them all together if you have to. This doesn’t make you rude, petty, immature, or weak. This isn’t tucking and hiding somewhere in the corner of the playground. It’s simply you recognizing that if a bully is closing in, whether through friendly deception or hateful spite, it’s time to ward them off.

11. Block who you need to on social media.

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If the bully in your life lives on the other side of a phone screen somewhere, don’t underestimate the “block” button. So what if you lose them as a follower? Were they following your content because they enjoy the reels and posts you create? Is it because they felt inspired by what you had to share? Or did they follow you simply to stalk out your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and exploit them?

12. Report to the authorities if things are life-threatening.

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Some bullies, yes, even adult bullies, take it way too far. Don’t ignore the gut feeling you get when it seems someone’s name-calling and manipulation have turned into literal threats. Report to HR if a coworker is using their bullying tactics to get you wrongfully fired. Report to police if someone’s threats are full-fledged violent. Turn those death threats from social media into the police too. It’s worth your peace of mind and personal safety to report any bullying that even hints at harm.

13. Know your worth.

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You have the right to keep bullies away. Why? Because you have self-worth. You are deserving of a life that’s free from the drama, hurt, and fear that bullies happily instill. Just as a little kid must find the courage to go toe-to-toe with the class punk, you have to unlock such courage and put a stop to anyone who thinks they can degrade who you are.

14. Speak out.

We find bullies in all sorts of social settings, whether in businesses, friend groups, across generations, and yeah, even in churches, because, well, we often allow bullies to keep bullying. If you know what it’s like to be bullied, whether from your school days or as an adult, speak out. Let others know that though it seems easier or safer to cave to a bully, they won’t relent until they get their way… which means you lose in the end, regardless of whether or not you play their sick games. Keep speaking up, warning others of bullies’ tactics, so we can put an end to this recurring drama.

15. Guard your heart.

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If you’ve taken up for yourself and put the bully in their place, awesome! My hat goes off to you. It’s not always easy, let alone comfortable, to take up for yourself. After all, bullies are usually professionals in the sick art of intimidation and threats. However, continue to guard your heart, not as a means of becoming a cynic but to live your life free of other people’s manipulation.

Peyton Garland is a boy mama and Tennessee farmer who loves sharing her heart on OCD, postpartum life, and hope in the messy places.
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