Upset boy sitting and holding knees

Bullying is an attempt, usually a systematic and ongoing one, to undermine and harm someone based on some perceived weakness. Although commonly associated with children, bullying can occur at any age. Members of minority groups are significantly more likely to be bullied in adulthood. A person who experiences mental or emotional health effects as a result of bullying may find it helpful to seek support from a compassionate therapist or counselor 

What Is 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.


Instances of cyberbullying have greatly increased over the past several years. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying in which electronic technology, such as cell phones, tablets, computers, social networking sites, and the internet are used to target other individuals. As the use of social media has become increasingly widespread, cyberbullying has become more prevalent and has also garnered more attention in the media and from awareness and prevention groups.

Cyberbullying often involves harassing and threatening messages that may come from an individual or a group, threats made through electronic technology, or the distribution of an individual’s private information or photos in a public forum. It can also involve exclusion (intentionally leaving a person out of online activities, group chats, etc) and masquerading, which is when a bully pretends to be somebody else online to either harass an individual anonymously or post false messages online. 

Although all types of bullying can have a serious impact on an individual, cyberbullying can be particularly harmful. Not only can it happen any time of day or night, making it nearly impossible for an individual who is being cyberbullied to remove themselves from the situation, but it also frequently involves a wide audience, as messages can be posted in very public forums and/or widely disseminated. 

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.

The negative effects of cyberbullying often include health concerns—mental, emotional, and physical—and low self-esteem. Cyberbullying can lead to substance use and the avoidance of situations in which one feels embarrassed or targeted (most often school). Many people who are the victims of cyberbullying also experience in-person bullying. One of the most concerning effects of this type of bullying is its link to teen suicide. Children and adolescents who are bullied are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicide. One study found those who were victims of cyberbullying to be almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide when compared with those who had not experienced cyberbullying.  

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

  • Preteen experiencing bullying at school: Josie, 11, has been experiencing frequent bullying at her middle school and cyberbullying in private. 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 afraid, anxious, and upset about how the girls are treating her, but she keeps her feelings to herself because she does not want to be considered a tattletale. One day the girls at school humiliate Josie so badly she finally 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 effectively responding to bullies, and build 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. Five different types of cyberbullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.endcyberbullying.org/5-different-types-of-cyberbullying
  5. Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3). Retrieved from http://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying_and_suicide_research_fact_sheet.pdf
  6. How Bullying Affects Children. (n.d.). Violence Prevention Works! Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_effects.page
  7. What is cyberbullying? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html


Last updated: 11-30-2016

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