Should Adults Speak Out About Bullying?

Researchers discovered a strong link between bullying and depression.   Both bullies and their victims are more likely to suffer from depression than youth who are not involved in bullying.  This connection can be long-lasting; people who are bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression as an adult than children not involved in bullying.

Depression can have serious effects on a person’s life. The link between bullying and depression can also extend to other problems, like:

  • Low self  esteem
  • Anxiety
  • High rates of school absence
  • Physical illness


The relationship between bullying and depression is not limited to face-to-face bullying.  The Cyberbullying Research Center found that victims of cyber bullying were more likely to suffer from low self esteem and suicidal thoughts.  They suggest further research needs to be done to see if low self esteem is a result of being cyber bullied or if it makes a person more likely to be a target of cyber bullying.  A recent study by the US National Institute of Health found that victims of cyber bullying showed more signs of depression than other bullying victims.  This may be because cyber bullying can be more relentless and more frightening or discouraging, especially if the bully is anonymous.


One would think that as people mature and progress through life, that they would stop behaviors of their youth.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Sadly, adults can be bullies, just as children and teenagers can be bullies.  While adults are more likely to use verbal bullying as opposed to physical bullying, the fact of the matter is that adult bullying exists.  The goal of an adult bully is to gain power over another person, and make himself or herself the dominant adult.  They try to humiliate victims and show them who is boss.

There are several different types of adult bullies, and it helps to know how they operate:

  1. Narcissistic Adult Bully:  This type of adult bully is self-centered and does not share empathy with others.  Additionally, there is little anxiety about consequences.  He or she seems to feel good about him or herself, but in reality has a brittle narcissism that requires putting others down.
  2. Impulsive Adult Bully:  Adult bullies in this category are more spontaneous and plan their bullying out less.  Even if consequences are likely, this adult bully has a hard time restraining his or her behavior.  In some cases, this type of bullying may be unintentional, resulting in periods of stress, or when the bully is actually upset or concerned about something unconnected with the victim.
  3. Physical Bully:  While adult bullying rarely turns to physical confrontation there are bullies that use physicality.  In some cases, the adult bully may not actually physically harm the victim, but may use the threat of harm or physical domination through looming.   Additionally, a physical bully may damage or steal a victim’s property rather than physically confronting the victim.
  4. Verbal Adult Bully:  Words can be quite damaging. Adult bullies who use this type of tactic may start rumors about the victim, or use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate or humiliate another person. This subtle type of bullying also has the advantage to the bully of being difficult to document.  However, emotional and psychological impacts of verbal bullying is felt quite keenly and can result in reduced job performance and even depression.
  5. Secondary Adult Bully:  This is someone who does not initiate the bullying, but joins in so that he or she does not actually become a victim down the road.  Secondary bullies may feel bad about what they are doing, but are more concerned about protecting themselves.

Workplace bullying is when a person or group of people in a workplace single out another person for unreasonable, embarrassing or intimidating treatment.  Usually the bully is a person in a position in authority who feels threatened by the victim, but in some cases the bully is a co-worker who is insecure or immature.  Workplace bullying can be the result of a single individual acting as a bully or of a company culture that allows or even encourages this kind of negative behavior.

Workplace bullying can take many forms:

  • Shouting or  swearing at an employee or otherwise verbally abusing them
  • One employee being singled out for unjustified criticism or blame
  • An employee  being excluded from company activities or having his or her work or contributions purposefully ignored
  • Language or actions that embarrass or humiliate an employee
  • Practical jokes, especially if they occur repeatedly to the same person

There are some things usually not considered workplace bullying:

  • A manager  who shouts at or criticizes all of his or her employees.  While this is a sign of a bad manager and makes a workplace unpleasant, it is not bullying unless only one or a few individuals are being unjustifiably singled out.
  • A co-worker  who is critical of everything, always takes credit for successes and  passes blame for mistakes, and/or frequently makes hurtful comments or jokes about others. Unless these actions are directed at one individual,      they represent poor social skills, but not bullying.
  • Negative  comments or actions that are based on a person’s  gender, ethnicity, religion, or other legally protected status.  This is  considered harassment and, unlike bullying, is illegal in the U.S. and gives the victim legal rights to stop the behavior.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, up to a third of workers may be the victims of workplace bullying.  About twenty percent of workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment.  The NY Times found that about 60% of workplace bullies are men, and they tend to bully male and female employees equally.  Female bullies, however, are more likely to bully other females. This may be because there is more pressure on females trying to succeed in male-dominated workplace, and more competition between females for promotions.




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