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What Is Bullying?

Bullying is when one or more people repeatedly attempt to hurt, intimidate, or torment another person. Bullying can be either physical or emotional. Bullying is most common among youths and young adults, but it can also occur in adulthood. Bullying is a common concern for school-aged youths. It has potentially serious consequences.

Physical bullying includes any attempts to cause harm to another person. Emotional attacks include name-calling, teasing, threatening, or publicly humiliating the victim. Both physical and emotional attacks can be either direct or indirect.

Direct bullying involves an actual confrontation between the bully and victim. Indirect attacks include the spread of rumors or attempts to humiliate the victim when he or she is not present. Cyberbullying, or bullying that occurs online or in social media forums, is a form of indirect bullying.

Who Is Bullied?

People who are bullied are often physically smaller or perceived as weaker than the bully. This weakness can be real or imagined. Other people who are bullied are targeted for their differences. They may have a disability, or have developed differently from their immediate peers. They may have a different sexual orientation, be of a different socio-economic class, or possess traits that others are jealous of. 

Bullying can occur between peers or between adults and youths. It can occur between people of the same gender or people of different genders. 

What Causes Bullying?

A victim of bullying often does nothing to cause the attacks. Bullying occurs when one person, the attacker, has some sort of power over his or her victim, and acts on it.

Bullies may be popular and powerful in their social circles. Sometimes they are isolated and not accepted by their peers. Children with mental health conditions, little parental involvement, violent tendencies, aggressive personalities, or issues at home are more likely to bully others.

A person may bully another in order to:

  • increase his or her self-esteem
  • feel powerful
  • get his or her way
  • get respect from others
  • become more popular
  • make others laugh
  • fit in

What Are the Effects of Bullying?

Victims of bullying may experience significant physical and emotional stress. Some effects of bullying include:

  • hurt feelings
  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • depression or anxiety
  • fear
  • low self-esteem
  • poor performance in school
  • physical pain (headaches or stomachaches)
  • insomnia

Ongoing abuse can lead to long-term stress or fear. Some victims of bullying end up taking matters into their own hands with violence. Bullying can also lead to suicide. The effects of bullying can last well into adulthood.

For adults, bullying in the workplace can lead to frequent missed days and poor work performance. Employers can attempt to stop bullying with new policies, training, education, or by determining the root cause of the bullying.

How to Stop Bullying?

Victims of bullying often don’t report the abuse to teachers or parents out of fear of embarrassment or reprisals. They often feel isolated. They may feel that they will not be believed. They might also be afraid of backlash from the bullies or rejection from classmates.

Educators can prevent bullying by talking openly about issues related to respect, by looking for signs of bullying, and by making sure students are aware they can come to educators with problems. Educators should intervene in and mediate bullying situations.

Parents should discuss concerns with children—behavioral changes can be a sign of bullying (either being bullied or being a bully) and, if applicable, with school authorities.

To stop bullying of yourself or another person, it usually helps to inform a trusted adult. Victims can learn to stand up for themselves. This may cause them to be targeted at first, because the bully will not expect this change in behavior. Victims should remain confident, tell their bullies to stop, and remove themselves from the situation. They should not use violence or reciprocate bullying.

People who see others being bullied can help them by standing up for them and telling a trusted adult about the incident. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically reviewed on: Dec 05, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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