Whether you have witnessed or experienced it first-hand, bullying is a behaviour that most of us are familiar with. It is uncommon to go through childhood without becoming aware of this negative conduct. We often associate bullying with adolescence, but what happens when we experience or witness bullying as an adult? In this blog we discuss how to recognize signs of bullying as an adult, the associated emotions of being or witnessing adult bullying, and how to react and respond to this negative behaviour.



There is little difference between childhood and adult bullying, but what may have changed is the individual’s ability to hide the fact they are bullying and not just teasing or “joking around.” Children who show signs of aggression towards others usually act out both physically and mentally, such as belittling your character, or ignoring and excluding you from group activities. As adults, we may dismiss negative comments and actions towards another as hazing or teasing but this doesn’t diminish the fact that these are, in fact, signs of bullying. Adult bullies are more prone to mental and psychological aggression than physical. This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t resort to physical abuse but, in most cases, they show signs of emotional misconduct instead.

Some individuals may not even realize that they are being bullied. If you are experiencing an individual in your life that is demanding, aggressive, dominant, and controlling you may be the target of an adult bully. Unfortunately, many individuals who exhibit this behaviour are in supervising or management roles in the workplace, or coaches for sports teams. Bully’s thrive on being in positions of power so that they can diminish those around them. Where then do we draw the line from assertive to aggressive? And how do we manage our reactions to this behaviour?



Once you realize that you may be the target of an adult bully, you may experience a range of emotions that are difficult to control. This is a very normal reaction and there is no shame in the feelings associated with bullying. You may have been targeted because you are quieter than your peers, have a kind disposition, or are significantly younger than those around you. There are a number of reasons why a bully may target an individual.

Being the target of a bully is extremely upsetting and it can have a major impact on your physical and emotional health. You may experience sleep loss, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle pain, and more. Bullying can even lead to major health problems such as elevated blood pressure, mood disorders, stomach problems, and substance use disorder.

The first step towards managing your reaction isn’t to confront the individual or individuals as this could cause further harm. Managing your reaction and emotions is the best first step to take towards improving your situation. There are a number of practices and techniques that may help with your emotional well-being. Some of these techniques are writing about your experiences and associated emotions in a journal, taking up a physical activity such as yoga or jogging, and speaking to a professional about your experiences. These practices may help you become more grounded and build awareness about your situation. With a better understanding of what you are experiencing, you can come up with a response plan – whether that includes confronting the bully or exiting the situation.



As children, standing up to a bully can be extremely scary and intimidating, and it can also be just as frightening as an adult. If you are able to, separating yourself from the situation may be the best tactic. If you do not need to be in direct contact with the individual, keeping your distance and limiting your interactions with them may be all that you need to do to stop the negative behaviour.

If you are unable to put distance between yourself and the bully, speaking to your HR department or manager may be your best solution. If your problem is with the individuals in HR or management, you may want to think about finding a new and more supportive work environment. Although it may be a difficult decision to make, the long-term effects of bullying may outweigh the inconvenience of finding a new workspace.

Another tactic that may improve your situation is to stop reacting to your bully in the same way you have been. Your bully may continued to target you because they enjoy your reaction. Your bully most likely exhibits narcissistic tendencies (although it is important not to diagnose or discuss this with them). They want a reaction from you and they want to see that they have succeeded in their belittling of your character. By not playing the “victim,” they may stop their bullying towards you. Knowing what type of bully you are dealing with is the best way to understand how to confront them. For example, your aggressor may prefer physical, verbal, mental, emotional, or social bullying. It is also worth investigating as to where your bullying takes place (e.g., in person, at work in one on one meetings, at work in front of others, or online).


Bullying is not limited to children and many individuals face this behaviour in adulthood. How we manage our reactions and confront these bullies may be different as we grow older, but we can face this problem and learn to better our situation if given the right tools. If you would like to discuss mental health, bullying, or how to better communicate with others, speak with a professional by contacting our team HERE.