How to cope with being bullied as an adult

adult bullying

Being bullied as an adult can lead to low self-esteem and a decrease in physical and mental health. Here are some ways to cope if you’re a victim of bullying in the workplace and beyond.

Are you being bullied?

You might be surprised at just how many people don’t realise they are being bullied. Why? Because they’re adults. We are prone to believe that such spiteful and childish behaviour is left in the school yard – we’ve grown up and no longer have to deal with it. If only that were true. Sadly bullying can and does occur once you’ve left school and entered the adult world.

Do you think you’re being bullied? Are you trying to find ways to cope so you can plan next steps? Identifying what defines bullying is a good place to start.

Simply put, bullying is mean behaviour targeted at one or more people.

Harassment is any form of unwanted and unwelcome behaviour which may range from mildly unpleasant remarks to physical violence.

Bullying and harassment (at work, in society, at school and at home) is a major cause of both physical and mental illness.

Bullying in the workplace and beyond

Bullies in the workplace know how to prod at your weak spots without attracting the attention of their superiors. Even worse, they might be your superior. Recent statistics documented by Portsmouth University say that 80% of managers know that bullying is occurring in their workplace.

The last thing you should do is accept it. You need to tackle that shiz head on. It’s daunting, but don’t be intimidated – that’s what bullies rely on.

Is it bullying? Am I being too sensitive?

Here are some common forms of bullying in the workplace, although they apply to adult relationships too.

  • Staring, glaring, being non verbally intimidating and clearly showing hostility.
  • Discounting the person’s thoughts or feelings (“oh, that’s silly”) in meetings.
  • Using the “silent treatment” to “ice out” and separate from others.
  • Encouraging people to turn against the person being tormented.
  • Starting, or failing to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person.
  • Using confidential information about a person to humiliate privately or publicly.
  • Retaliating against the person after a complaint was filed.
  • Yelling, screaming, and throwing tantrums in front of others to humiliate a person.

What can I do?

Prepare yourself. This isn’t going to be easy but you’re strong – you got this!

You can develop the confidence to fight back which includes embracing the concept that you do not deserve this kind of behavior and you will not accept it. Make it a mantra, repeat it every time you need that boost of confidence when dealing with the bully. I do not deserve this kind of behavior and I will not accept it.

  • Document the bullying that’s happening. Include dates, location, who is involved, and details of the behavior.
  • Expose the bully.
  • Do not feel guilty for not confronting your bully.
  • Do not wait for the impact of bullying to fade with time.

Employers control the work environment. Your employer has the responsibility to fix the problem, so talk to them.

If it happens to be your employer that’s bullying you, you may feel more confident having someone with you when you talk to them. This is perfectly acceptable. Do not allow your boss to tell you that you must speak with them alone. Having backup is not a weakness.

Being bullied by your ‘friends’

Friendship is a strange thing. It can be fierce and loyal, and it can be fickle and unstable. Simple, yet extremely subtle forms of bullying like undermining you aren’t something you shouldn’t have to deal with as a mature adult.

When it comes to a toxic friendship, you are caught between a rock and a hard place. There is no higher authority to take your complaint to. This is between you and the person in question.

The first step is to talk to them, scary as it may be.

Confront them about their behaviour towards you and make it clear you don’t accept that kind of behaviour.

If they refuse to accept they are acting in a way that’s causing you distress, I’m afraid it’s time to cut and run. Friends shouldn’t make you miserable. It’s that simple. I understand the pull of long-term friendship and how you may even feel lonely without this person in your life if you were very close. Honestly, though, if they can’t see that their behaviour is questionable at best and downright vicious at worst, it’s time to let them go. You’ll be happier in the long run.


While it may be seen as something that mainly children have to deal with, cyberbullying is actually quite a common form of adult bullying.

Cyberbullying is serious. When dealing with bullying outside of your own home, you know you can come home and feel safe. When cyberbullying comes into play you’re suddenly having a panic attack just by logging into Facebook. It feels like you have literally no escape.

What qualifies as cyberbullying?

It’s important to make the distinction between genuine cyberbullying and just general unpleasant behaviour over the internet.

Cyberbullying can take place through email, instant messaging or phone texting. To be fully satisfying to the bully, there has to be an audience, so they are likely to take the bullying to social media, Twitter/Facebook etc. This way the humiliation is public and twice as shaming.

Making things public may seem like the bully is taking a risk, but this often gives them a chance to manipulate others into joining in the bullying.

Examples of cyberbullying

  • Harassment: repeatedly sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages directly to you.
  • Denigration: posting derogatory information about someone, and/or digitally altered photos.
  • Flaming: fighting online, often using vulgar language.
  • Impersonation: hacking another’s email or social media to post embarrassing material.
  • Outing and Trickery: sharing another’s secrets or tricking someone into revealing embarrassing information.
  • Cyberstalking: repeated threats or online activity that makes a person afraid for their safety.

What can you do?

There are several steps to take when there is evidence of cyberbullying. It is critical to keep a record of the incidents and to save any texts or photos associated with it. It is also important to report the incidents to the online service provider of the site where the event occurred. You can also block the person who is harassing you.

If the cyberbullying is being done by a work colleague then you must report it to your manager.

If the bullying seems to cross the line from harassment to criminal intent, it’s time to contact the police. If violence is threatened or any sexually explicit material is received or if you feel there has been an invasion of your privacy, then the cyber bully has committed a crime and it should be investigated by the proper authorities.

Help Create Awareness

The first step towards a bully-free working environment is to create an awareness of bullying in the workplace. For employers, this can mean teaching staff how to spot signs and what strategy they should follow. For staff, this can mean highlighting useful resources to the boss or to HR. This can be easier to do for staff who are not being bullied themselves.

Creating awareness makes you and everyone else in your working environment protected, safer and more productive. It will help ensure the continued success and longevity of the company, so it’s definitely in an employer’s best interests to get involved.

Being bullied? Talk about it.

Being bullied at any age is a horrible experience and it can feel isolating but by talking about it you’re taking power away from the bully. A bully counts on you doing nothing. They want you to stay quiet. If you talk about it you have taken some of the power back.

I know it’s not easy and sometimes you feel intimidated into keeping quiet about the bullying even long after the situation is resolved. However, talking about it can help others who are going through a similar situation. It’s not always obvious who is struggling with bullies. Just by talking about it you may inspire someone to stand up for themselves or even just let them know that they are not alone, that this has happened to others.

Bullying helplines

If you’re struggling with being bullied either at work or by someone in your peer group you can talk to National Bullying Helpline and

Please never suffer in silence. You are not alone.