The Adult Bully/Victim Dynamic: How to deal with childish behavior in a mature manner

When you think of bullying, and bullies in general, what comes to mind? If you envision a big, mean kid picking on a smaller kid in the playground of some grade school, you’d be right: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly a third of all students aged 12 – 18 reported having been bullied at school, some almost daily. If you think of a group of girls singling out a girl, spreading rumors about her in the hallways of a high school during the day and on the internet after school, you’d also be right: “pack bullying” may be physical or emotional and is perpetrated either in person or in cyberspace. The commonality in both of these scenarios is the age group of the bully and victim: children, below the age of 18.

Would you be surprised to learn that adult bullying has been on an exponential rise since the prevalence of social media and the affordability of personal computers? People tend to think (maybe even hope) that as we progress through life we mature and as a result of this maturation we’d stop the ill behaviors of our youth. Adult bullying does exist and it is a serious problem. It can make life miserable, difficult and depressing. As a result, many victims of adult bullying are filled with so much stress that productivity in the workplace can decrease. Absences at work may occur more frequently. Suddenly your career is in jeopardy. The worst part of it all: there is little you can do about an adult bully, other than ignore and try to avoid them. If it’s at work, your only option may be to start reporting the abuse to a supervisor. If it’s a family member, not many are wiling to burn bridges so as to “ruin the family.” Have anyone ever said to you: “You’re an adult so be adult about it.”? What choice then do you have but to suck it up like a sponge. Adult bullies are especially hard to deal with because, unlike children, adults are much less interested in working things to a compromise or eradication of the ill will altogether. 

While there is little you can do to change the bully, there is a lot you can do to fortify yourself so as to break free from the “role” of being their victim. Understand that bullying, at any age, is about power, and the lack thereof. The bully may have their own insecurities and personal issues so they need to bring you down to their level to feel good about themselves. The bully may also be jealous of you and your happiness so they may downplay your accomplishments and try to make you feel like a worthless loser. Don’t buy into that! Remember that just like you your bully is only human. They will make their own life decisions how they choose but they have no right to infringe upon the quality of your mental health and your life. 

So what can you do? The good news is the adult world can be ‘no nonsense’ if you know what steps to take and are willing to take those steps. Adults are way more confined to the laws and regulations set by social norms, legality, and business/institution/company policies. 

  • The most important and the smartest thing you can ever do is DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Be extremely thorough – if you respond to your bully make sure you have also captured your side of the story which would be your response, the totality of the conversation. It’s not hard for a bully to twist things or put words in your mouth. That is called manipulation and it is a favorite tactic amongst adult bullies.
  • Take screenshots.
  • Save text messages.
  • Print out threatening e-mails and harassing comments on social media sites.
  • Google your name from time to time.
  • Check a known bully’s social media sites regularly. It’s not stalking – that accusation makes me throw my head back in laughter. They didn’t want it read? Then they shouldn’t have put it up there on a public platform to begin with.
  • Check your credit scores.
  • Request and/or Find police reports. That’s how I found out my bully had stolen my identity. She had gotten arrested and my ID was found in her wallet. I was then able to file a police report.
  • Protect yourself. Please. please. PLEASE don’t feel bad or guilty about having to take legal action. You need to protect yourself, your livelihood, your future. Take back the control – otherwise the bully wins and your world crashes down around you. 
  • And lastly… please be good to yourself. If your bully was a former friend, or even someone in your family, sometimes it’s better to just walk away and out of their lives. Change your number and e-mail address, make your social media accounts private.. these are easy, low key, non earth shattering ways to get your life back. 


Additional Resources/Interesting information about adult bullying and cyberbullying: 


  1. This Emotional Life, PBS                                                                   
  2. Adult Bullying: Harassment by People You Respect, Huffington Post                                  
  3. Bullying… It’s Not Just Child’s Play, Mental Health Support     




The Bullying Institute has a video compilation of “Illustrative Adult Bullying Cases” available here:

   “Sometimes the press covers remarkable stories about abusive incidents in the workplace.                                                          Mostly they involve illegal harassment. Sometimes they are incidents of bullying.                                                                                Most bullying stories also appear in our In the News Playlist.”

And finally, reach out to your Human Resources Department. You can find that on your company’s website or by asking a fellow co-worker/supervisor. HR will answer your questions and steer you in the right direction – often anonymously!  


I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, worries, concerns. Leave a comment or e-mail

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