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Adult Bullying and Its Harmful Effects

By Beau Black

Most of us reasonably expect that our days of dealing with bullies will end when we leave high school. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, as their presence often carries on into our offices and neighborhoods as adults. While adult bullying has become more common — especially in the age of social media — it can be a factor both inside and outside the workplace.

Bullying is a traumatic fixture of many of our childhoods; it can take the form of social isolation, or abuse that is emotional, psychological or physical. And the effects of bullying in childhood can be significant, including diminished academic performance, loneliness, and gravitating to the “wrong crowd” just to have friends. It can also bring on struggles with depression, anxiety, self-harm, rage, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation or attempts. Approximately 20% of junior high and high school students report being bullied, according to The Meadows’ Claudia Black Young Adult Center. 

More recently, we’ve seen adult bullying tied to political topics and COVID: The former can involve abuse for supporting a particular candidate, party, or position, and the latter over whether or not to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or go to work or school virtually versus in-person.

Being subjected to inappropriate pressure to act in a way you don’t feel comfortable or is right is bullying. Workplace bullying can range from denigrating comments about you or your performance (made to you or others), being cursed or yelled at, or having your success sabotaged by a peer or superior.

More recently, we’ve seen adult bullying tied to political topics and COVID: The former can involve abuse for supporting a particular candidate, party, or position, and the latter over whether or not to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or go to work or school virtually versus in-person.

Insperity.com featured a survey by CareerBuilder.com that revealed a third of all workers have been bullied at work. The research also concluded the following:

  • 45% have been falsely accused of making mistakes
  • 42% have had their contributions “ignored” or minimized
  • 37% reported being the subject of constant criticism
  • 34% have had different standards applied to them versus their co-workers

Bullying in the workplace can lead to lost productivity and poor morale, which can translate to significant costs to an employer; it can also open up the company to legal liability if it’s not addressed properly.

Protecting Yourself from Adult Bullying

The following list, adapted from Insperity.com and Wisestep.com, will give you some strategies for addressing ongoing workplace bullying:

  • Keep calm, and refuse to be provoked emotionally. This is easier said than done, but sidestepping a bully’s emotional manipulation robs him or her of gratification.
  • Document the bully’s behavior. Supervisors, human resources (HR) executives, or the authorities will need clear documentation to be able to address the mistreatment if it escalates. Record the specifics of each bullying incident clearly, objectively, and dispassionately with dates and times included.
  • Limit your exposure to the bully as much as possible.
  • Push back against bullying behavior firmly but calmly, and professionally.
  • Be prepared. Arm yourself with allies who support you emotionally and practically, and know your company’s HR policies that may apply to your situation.

man-sad-on-phoneHow to Deal with Online Bullying

Many of the techniques listed above can be adapted for online application. For example, use a social network’s support or reporting features to flag offensive posts or aggressively block or mute abusers. Suspend or delete social media accounts that aren’t necessary for your livelihood. Online bullying gives us one more reason to consider carefully how many of our private-life details we share publicly. It may also make us more cautious about how we talk about politics or current events.

Recovering From the Emotional Effects of Bullying

Being on the receiving end of bullying as an adult can have lingering effects on our mental and physical well-being. According to VerywellMind.com, here are some ways we can begin to recover from these experiences:

  • Keep the responsibility for the bullying behavior where it belongs: on the bully, not you.
  • Remember to care for your mental and physical health. Recovering from trauma requires time and attention and possibly professional help.
  • Gather support. Instead of letting a bully isolate you, build a support network around yourself, outside or inside your work environment.
  • Read about bullying to understand the phenomenon better and to learn coping strategies that fit your situation.
  • Keep everything in perspective. Being bullied doesn’t define us, so as much as you’re able, don’t let it consume more space in your thoughts than it deserves.

How to Get Help

Rio Retreat Center offers several workshops for survivors of trauma, which can include bullying, aimed at helping participants recover from its effects. If you’re struggling with the effects of bullying or past or ongoing trauma, seeking outside help can create a lifeline for yourself.