Upset boy sitting and holding knees

Bullying is an attempt, usually systematic and ongoing, to undermine and harm someone based on some perceived weakness. Although commonly associated with children, bullying can occur at any age, and members of minority groups are significantly more likely to be bullied in adulthood.

Examples of Bullying

Bullying of schoolchildren is perhaps the most well-known form of bullying. Children may physically bully other children by hitting them, taking their possessions, or damaging their property. Bullying can also be verbal and may include exclusionary tactics, name-calling, and threats. A modern-day form of bullying—cyberbullying—takes place via the Internet and other communication technologies and is a growing concern among schools and parents.

Bullying can also occur in adulthood. In recent years, workplace bullying has received significant attention. This bullying can take the form of sexual harassment, attempts to extract favors, excluding people from meetings, gossip, and other forms of overt hostility. Some forms of workplace bullying, particularly sexual harassment, are legally actionable and can result in lawsuits.

Effects of Bullying

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Bullying can dramatically lower the self-esteem of the victim. When it occurs in childhood, it may interfere with the development of social skills and normal relationships. Bullying victims often feel afraid to revisit the location of bullying, which is especially problematic when bullying occurs at work or at school. In extreme cases, bullying victims may attempt suicide. In recent years, there have been several well-publicized suicides that were caused at least in part by bullying.

Therapy for Bullying

Victims of bullying may find a supportive and safe environment to address their feelings in counseling or therapy. Being a victim of bullying can result in difficult emotions such as anger, shame, anxiety, and isolation. Therapy can help victims of bullying notice, share, and process painful feelings, which left unattended can negatively impact one's personal well-being. Some people who are victims of bullying may internalize the role of victim, which can cause challenges in one's relationships and one's sense of self. A trained therapist can help a person better understand how this role impacts their lives, as well as teach coping skills for moving forward, such as assertive communication and boundary-setting. Some victims of bullying benefit from support groups or group therapy, in which people who have experienced similar types of victimization can support one another in healing.

People who bully others may also benefit from therapy, though they may be reluctant to acknowledge their bullying behavior openly. In therapy, bullies may begin to understand the impact their hurtful behavior has on others, explore reasons for why they bully, learn new skills for communicating positively with others, and address personal experiences that may have contributed to their bullying behavior. Often bullies have unresolved personal wounds that contribute to their bullying behavior, and addressing these emotional wounds or identity and social issues with a qualified therapist can be an integral step towards stopping bullying behavior.

Case Example

Getting Bullied at School: Josie, age 11, is the victim of bullying at her middle school. A group of popular girls have been calling her names, teasing her in public, throwing paper at her, and posting mean messages about her online for other students to see. Josie is very afraid, anxious, and upset about how the girls are treating her, but keeps her feelings to herself because she is ashamed to be considered a tattle-tale. One day the girls at school humiliate Josie so badly that she tells her mom about the experience after school. Josie's mom immediately contacts school officials and meets with school administration to discuss the bullying problem. Josie begins seeing the school counselor regularly to talk about her feelings, practice behaviors for responding to bullies, and building self-esteem. The school administration also begins a school-wide program to crack down on peer bullying. With the support of her parents, the school, and the school counselor, Josie feels much safer and is better able to assert herself in the presence of bullies.


  1. Beck, J. (2014, April 23). Study: Bullied kids at risk for mental health problems 40 years later. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/study-bullied-kids-at-risk-for-mental-health-problems-40-years-later/361055/
  2. Bullying. (n.d.). U.S National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bullying.html
  3. Effects of Bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/effects/
  4. How Bullying Affects Children. (n.d.). Violence Prevention Works! Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_effects.page


Last updated: 07-28-2015

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