What is considered bullying?

Bullying is a form of repetitive physical or emotional behaviour that is used to intimidate or hurt somebody. In general behaviour is classed as bullying when it results in the victim feeling belittled or worthless.

Bullying can take many forms including:

  • Abuse – This may be verbal or physical.
  • Threats – Threatening to harm the person or someone/something they love.
  • Defamation – Spreading rumours or lying in order to make the bully look good or the victim look bad.
  • Exclusion – Leaving someone out of a group or activity to make them feel inadequate or unwanted.
  • Intimidation – Intentionally dominating a person or group in order to gain power over them. This could be done by physical strength, shouting or using others to ‘gang up’ on the victim.
  • Stealing possessions – Schoolyard bullies might steal lunches and ask victims for payment. Adults may repeatedly ask for money or just help themselves to other people’s property.


Where can bullying occur?

During childhood

Bullying behaviours can develop at a very young age in social settings, families and schools. The Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS) study showed 27% of students reported being the victim of bullying. It also showed that in as many as 87% of cases there were others present who did not intervene.


Cyber bullying is a major issue in today’s society. It can be very frightening for children as many do not understand the behaviour or know what to do about it.

Studies have shown many children who bully others online often also do so in ‘real’ life. Conversely many cyber bullying victims are also the target of bulling behaviour offline.

Adults can experience cyber bullying too. It can happen via emails, text messages, chat rooms, gaming sites, hacking and social media. Bullying in this manner might include sending inappropriate images, posting abusive comments or threatening family and friends.

In the workplace

Unfortunately, negative behaviour patterns often continue into adulthood both for bullies and their victims. In many workplaces, bullying is still a ‘silent’ problem as people are afraid of losing their jobs or being further victimised if they speak up.

Sometimes bullying is disguised as teasing or assertiveness but in reality, it is still about fear, power and control. Ongoing harassment is also a form of bullying.

During later life

It is horrific to hear of elderly people being bullied but sadly it does happen especially if the person can no longer communicate effectively. The bullies could be paid carers but also family members.  Money or possessions might be taken without consent or the person may be intimidated or physically abused.

Within relationships

Bullying can occur between couples, within families or in any other type of relationship. It can be a form of domestic abuse and may involve threats, harassment, violence, intimidation or sexual abuse.


Why do people bully others?

Bullies usually have very poor self-esteem. They need to put others down in order to show themselves as superior, stronger or more capable. Often they feel threatened in some way so they pounce first in an attempt to maintain control.

Children can pick up behaviours from their peers. Some become bullies because they want to be socially accepted themselves.

Young bullies are often influenced by parents or other adult role-models. When parents bully their own children or fail to show kindness the children may believe such behaviour is normal. In some cases, early-childhood bullying is a cry for attention as children lack the ability to vocalise their needs, fears and frustrations. Also seeing parents being bullied by others can influence behavioural development.


How to handle bullying

If you are being bullied

Sometimes we dismiss bullying behaviour as being minor or incidental. However, once it starts to have a negative effect on your own thoughts and actions then it needs to be stopped. You have a right to feel safe at all times and the longer you allow the bullying to continue, the harder it will be for you to take action against it.

Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Depending on the situation you could confront the person directly and tell them how their behaviour affects you. They may not have even been aware they were doing it. If used early enough, this approach may allow you to talk through the issues together.

Unfortunately, the direct approach is not always possible. You may lack the confidence, a cyber bully may be hard to pin down or confrontation may put you in potential danger. That does not mean that you have to put up with bullying behaviour. There are many options available to you including:

  • Telling someone - Most schools have programs in place that students, parents and teachers can follow to deal with the problem quickly and privately. This is also true of many workplaces and other organisations.
  • Blocking and reporting cyber bullies – Social networks have greatly improved their handling of online bullying. If needed, save any abusive comments or images as evidence to show an adult or site administrator.
  • Finding help online – Sites such as those listed below have pages of information and advice to help you take the next step. Many also offer counselling hotlines or discussion forums.
  • Seeking professional help – Trained counsellors can help you explore all the issues involved and develop appropriate strategies for your situation.
  • Seeking refuge – If you fear for your physical safety do not hesitate to go to the police or an organisation such as the Salvation Army.
  • Taking legal action – Sadly this may be necessary in cases of abuse, defamation or violence.

Doing nothing rarely changes the situation. If the behaviour is allowed to continue it can lead to physical harm or mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and even suicide.

If you are the bully

People are not born bullies. You may have become a bully as a result of childhood experiences beyond your control. Even once you are aware of the affect your behaviour has on others you may have no idea how to alter it. If you genuinely want to change you can benefit greatly from professional help.

Preventing bullying in your organisation

As a colleague or fellow student, it is important to speak up if you see instances of bullying. Supporting the victim will help their confidence and potentially give the bully less power. Telling others may also help them to believe the victim’s story.

If you help to run the organisation in some way you can ensure that zero-tolerances practices are in place and adhered to. You can also lead by example by being a positive role model and encouraging inclusive traits such as kindness and empathy.


Why seek professional help?

Seeing a counsellor can help you deal with bullying has multiple benefits. Sometimes just talking to someone impartial is a huge relief. You can discuss past or current events and reflect on your response to them.

Whether you are the bully or victim, you may suffer from low self-esteem. Your counsellor could help you find ways to express yourself in a more positive and constructive manner. You can also learn to see the bigger picture and see why others behave the way they do.

By examining the thoughts and beliefs behind negative behaviour patterns you can discover ways to avoid or change them. Creating new, healthier strategies will help you overcome the effects of bullying and prevent it happening again.

Couples counselling, family counselling or separation counselling may also help you with your relationship issues.


Where to find help

Our directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other therapists from around Australia. These mental health experts offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars. 

Enter your postcode or suburb into our search box to see a comprehensive list of the health care professionals near you.

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