Bullying: How to identify and what to do

Bullying has been an especially frequent topic in our practice and in the media. How can we identify when someone is being bullied? Is it when someone disagrees with you? Is it when someone makes aggressive physical contact?

Bullying is the same whether we are 30 years old, or whether we are an elementary-aged school child. Let’s examine how to identify when you are being bullied.

  1. Is the child, adolescent or adult speaking negatively behind your back?
  2. Have they spoken about you with constructive criticism or did it have malicious intent (e.g., are they calling you names or are they working out a problem about you with someone else).
  3. Does the person know you well enough to make a comment about you?
  4. Does the person become physically aggressive with you?
  5. Does the person invade your personal space and raise their voice at you, or call you names?
  6. When asked to stop, does the person continue with the abovementioned behaviors?
  7. Do these behaviors happen with frequency? If they are not frequent, did the episode/s have severe consequences (e.g., damaging a professional reputation, social reputation)?

It is important to note that a bully does not have to be someone who repetitively verbally or physically attacks someone else. One instance or experience with a bully can have long-lasting emotional effects and implications. I frequently hear from my patients and their parents, “what do we do? Do we have any power in this situation to change these circumstances?” The answer is, yes you do.

  1. Can you identify the person or persons?
  2. Are you able to speak with them or their parents to discuss your concerns with their behaviors and see if there is an amicable solution?
  3. If #2 did not work, is there a teacher, supervisor, parent, or boss to whom you can express your concerns and develop a productive solution?
  4. If #3 does not work, is there an academic advocate that can work with your child and school to develop a proactive solution without ramifications for the child. Is there a Human Resource advocate that can help work with you to identify a proactive solution that has minimal ramifications for you?

Unfortunately, in dealing with a bully, there can be a “whistle blower syndrome.” You or your child may hear, “well, they must have done something to be treated like this, it’s not a big deal, it’s just normal kid/teenage behavior, just get over it.” Be strong and steadfast. Your mental health and physical safety trump someone else’s need to bully you. Make sure to take care of your kids, teenagers and adults who experience bullying. You have support!



I am a clinical psychologist with approximately 15 years of experience assessing and treating anxiety and depressive disorders in young children, adolescents, young adults, adults and geriatric populations. I completed a 6-year predoctoral training award at the National Institute of Mental Health, and postdoctoral training at the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital. From my clinical and research experiences, I have come to see the struggles of many families deciding when to pursue professional help and feeling very lost in the process. I will address several mental health issues that will help educate and empower my readers to make better mental health decisions for themselves. Welcome to my blog! Johanna Kaplan, Ph.D. Disclaimer-This blog is not and cannot be used in replace of formal therapy. This blog is used to inform and educate and is not a form of informal or formal advice.

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