Bullying is when a person deliberately and repeatedly hurts someone else.

The hurt can be physical or emotional. Bullying can occur in a range of different contexts, but it is most commonly discussed in relation to children at school, cyber-bullying or people at work.

Psychologists can help people affected by bullying, but more importantly, they can also help to create safe and healthy schools and workplaces that promote physical and psychological wellbeing.

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bullying
  • Bullying includes hitting, pushing, name calling, leaving people out and teasing.
  • If someone often feels scared or hurt when they are with a particular person or group, they may be being bullied. Bullying is a form of aggression that can escalate into violence.
  • Cyber-bullying is a particular form of bullying through the internet and mobile phones. Cyber-bullying can include spreading malicious rumours about a person, sending threatening messages, sharing embarrassing images, and excluding people from social networking groups.
  • Children who are being bullied need adults to intervene and provide support.
  • Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety (definition used by WorkSafe Victoria). Four key elements of workplace bullying are:
    • a workplace conflict that:
    • is enduring and repeated in nature
    • is inappropriate and possibly aggressive
    • results in a level of (physical and/or psychological) distress.

Signs to indicate a child may be being bullied can include:

  • gets hurt or bruised
  • is scared or has nightmares
  • loses or has damaged possessions
  • puts him/herself down; doesn’t want to go to school
  • has no friends or party invitations
  • often feels sick
  • acts aggressively.

Signs and symptoms indicative of workplace bullying may include:

  • experiences ranging from mild annoyance through to severe psychological, social and economic trauma.
  • depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, decreased self-confidence, panic attacks, fatigue, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and/or suicidal ideation.

There are many different types of bullying that can be experienced by children and adults alike, some are obvious to spot while others can be more subtle. The different types of bullying that we look at below are some of the ways that bullying could be happening.

Physical bullying

Physical bullying includes hitting, kicking, tripping, pinching and pushing or damaging property. Physical bullying causes both short term and long term damage. 

Verbal bullying

Verbal bullying includes name calling, insults, teasing, intimidation, homophobic or racist remarks, or verbal abuse. While verbal bullying can start off harmless, it can escalate to levels which start affecting the individual target. Keep reading in this section for techniques to deal with verbal bullying.

Social bullying

Social bullying, sometimes referred to as covert bullying, is often harder to recognise and can be carried out behind the bullied person’s back. It is designed to harm someone’s social reputation and/or cause humiliation. Social bullying includes:

  • lying and spreading rumours
  • negative facial or physical gestures, menacing or contemptuous looks
  • playing nasty jokes to embarrass and humiliate
  • mimicking unkindly
  • encouraging others to socially exclude someone
  • damaging someone’s social reputation or social acceptance.

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying can be overt or covert bullying behaviours using digital technologies, including hardware such as computers and smartphones, and software such as social media, instant messaging, texts, websites and other online platforms.

Cyber bullying can happen at any time. It can be in public or in private and sometimes only known to the target and the person bullying. Cyber bullying can include:

  • Abusive or hurtful texts emails or posts, images or videos
  • Deliberately excluding others online
  • Nasty gossip or rumours
  • Imitating others online or using their log-in

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work. 

Workplace bullying can happen in any type of workplace, from offices to shops, cafes, restaurants, workshops, community groups and government organisations. 

Workplace bullying can happen to volunteers, work experience students, interns, apprentices, casual and permanent employees.

Some types of workplace bullying are criminal offences. If you have experienced violence, assault and stalking you can report it directly to the police.

What does bullying in the workplace look like?
  • repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, or making fun of your work or you as a person (including your family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)  
  • sexual harassment, particularly stuff like unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments and requests that make you uncomfortable 
  • excluding you or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relates to your work
  • playing mind games, ganging up on you, or other types of psychological harassment 
  • intimidation (making you feel less important and undervalued)  
  • giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job  
  • giving you impossible jobs that can’t be done in the given time or with the resources provided  
  • deliberately changing your work hours or schedule to make it difficult for you 
  • deliberately holding back information you need for getting your work done properly
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing you in the workplace 
  • attacking or threatening with equipment, knives, guns, clubs or any other type of object that can be turned into a weapon  
  • initiation or hazing – where you are made to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team.  

Strategies for helping children affected by school bullying include:

  • increasing supervision of children when with other children
  • letting children know what bullying is, why it is unacceptable, and how to spot it
  • making clear rules and consistent consequences for all children
  • praising children when they play cooperatively with others
  • teaching them that telling a trusted person about bullying is okay
  • teaching children how to stand up for themselves
  • helping children to improve their social skills.

Strategies for children affected by cyber-bullying include:

  • talking with children about how cyber-bullying can happen, why it is not ok, and how it can affect the receiver
  • encouraging them to talk if they feel uncomfortable, bullied or intimidated
  • teaching them strategies for blocking, deleting, reporting bullies
  • trying not to rely on blocking access to online environments as the only way to protect children.

Strategies for dealing with children who are bullying others can include:

  • increasing supervision when the child is with other children
  • explaining what bullying is and why it is not acceptable
  • talking with the child about the impact of bullying on others. Try to get them to understand what it is like for the person being bullied, for example by asking how they would feel if they were being bullied
  • talking with the child about what they think might help them to stop bullying
  • showing them how to join in with other children in a friendly way (for example: first observe a game and the other children, look for a natural break in the game for joining in, choose a person with a friendly face and ask them if you can join)
  • making clear rules and consequences, and being consistent in dealing with inappropriate behaviour;
  • praising children when they play cooperatively with others
  • enrolling the child in a group program that helps children learn to manage their behaviour.

Strategies for dealing with workplace bullying include:

  • creating channels for employees to voice their concerns around bullying in the workplace
  • breaking the collusion of silence amongst colleagues about the bully’s behaviour and its effects on victim(s)
  • offering the bully every assistance possible (in good faith) to improve and change his or her behaviour
  • dealing with bullying through supervisory support and disciplinary processes
  • modelling respectful behaviour from the top down and setting clear expectations at all levels of the organisation

There are three main components of treatment for victims of chronic bullying:

  1. Realisation and acknowledgement of the damage and humiliation that has occurred
  2. Dealing with the events associated with the bullying
  3. Making sense of what has happened, as for any trauma victim.
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  2. Burger, Christoph; Strohmeier, Dagmar; Spröber, Nina; Bauman, Sheri; Rigby, Ken (2015). “How teachers respond to school bullying: An examination of self-reported intervention strategy use, moderator effects, and concurrent use of multiple strategies”. Teaching and Teacher Education51: 191–202. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2015.07.004.
  3. Elizabeth Bennett (1 January 2006). Peer Abuse Know More!: Bullying from a Psychological Perspective. Infinity. ISBN 978-0-7414-3265-0Archived from the original on 14 September 2014. Retrieved 2013-10-29.
  4. “History”OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program. OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
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  6. Williams, Ray (3 May 2011). “The Silent Epidemic: Workplace Bullying”Psychology Today. Archived from the original on 2015-11-21. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
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  8. Steinfeldt, Jesse A.; Vaughan, Ellen L.; LaFollette, Julie R.; Steinfeldt, Matthew C. (October 2012). “Bullying among adolescent football players: Role of masculinity and moral atmosphere”Psychology of Men and Masculinity13 (4): 340–353. doi:10.1037/a0026645hdl:2022/14023Archived from the original on 2015-10-19. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
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Seeking Help

If bullying is affecting your day-to-day life or your child’s, a psychologist may be able to help. 

  • Life Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including the impacts of bullying.
  • A Life Psychologist can help you to identify and address factors that might be contributing to your reaction and the most effective ways to manage the impact of bullying using techniques based on best available research.
  • Life Psychologists usually see clients individually, but can also include family members to support treatment where appropriate.

   A medical check-up with a GP might also be helpful to see if there is an underlying health issue.

Consult a Psychologist

Life PsychologistsThere are number of ways to access a Life Psychologist: medicareIf you are referred to a psychologist by your GP, you might be eligible for a Medicare rebate. Ask your psychologist or GP for details.