Adults Can Be Bullies

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. I’m still on the topic of being a bully. Today I wanted to talk about how adults can be bullies and what that can look like. The idea behind this is to increase awareness around these behaviors. Often times, when we are raised in environments that are inappropriate, we are taught that unhealthy behaviors are normal without ever realizing that they are harmful. When we talk about these kinds of behaviors it gives us a chance to self evaluate and consider if there are things that we could be doing better.

There can be many reasons why adults may engage in bullying behavior. Some common factors include feelings of powerlessness, insecurity, or inadequacy, a lack of empathy or emotional regulation, and a tendency towards aggression or dominance. Additionally, some adults may have experienced bullying themselves in the past and may be repeating the pattern. In some cases, bullying may also be a symptom of underlying mental health issues such as depression or a personality disorder. It is important to note that no one is born a bully and that behaviors can be changed with the right tools and support.

“The Workplace Bullying Institute found that 19% of adults said they’d personally been bullied by a higher-up or colleague, while another 19% said they’d seen it happen to someone else.” [1] That’s about 1 in 5 adults being bullied while they are at work. Which means that being a bully is a pretty common thing. But what kind of behaviors are bullies engaging in?


Adult bullies often use humiliation as a social weapon because it is emotionally powerful. This means that a bully often waits to have an audience before they criticize others. This is often why we see people making comments online. This is a very public place where their comments can get a lot of attention. In general, the idea is to say something embarrassing, mock or call the person into question when there is an audience. The bully may or may not be subtle while they are doing this. Asking pointed questions that lead to uncomfortable answers or the avoidance of answering the question can be a more subtle approach.

This isn’t to say that if someone disagrees with you in a meeting they are being a bully. There are respectful ways to disagree with a person. Stating that you have a concern regarding the proposal or stating that you have additional information that might change the risk. These are part of normal and respectful debate. This is what makes humiliation so powerful. It can be really hard to tell that is what a person is doing rather then just trying to offer a different point of view. The key piece in this is asking if it is a pattern. Does this person always challenge and/or question your authority or proposals while in a public setting? If so, it is more likely a bully rather then someone who is engaging in honest debate.


Talking about other people behind their back in a negative way is always harmful and something you should never engage in. This behavior is a rather normalized form of bullying, but it is still bullying. What good ever comes from talking about how someone failed a test or is never on time for work? If you have a problem with someone’s behavior it isn’t appropriate for you to complain about them behind their back. You should be talking to them about their behavior and in a work setting you might also need to speak with their supervisor.

Passive Aggression

“Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There’s a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.” [2] These are the people that will agree with you verbally. They will state that they are going to work on a task or provide assistance, but then they don’t or they perform well below what they are known to be capable of performing. These are the people that tell you they are on your side but they engage in behaviors that sabotage your efforts.

Physical Abuse

There are plenty of adults that are physically hurting others. This one is pretty clearly not considered alright in our society as it always falls under the umbrella of abuse or assault. However, it is pretty common for people to rationalize this behavior as being a momentary loss of control. Even if that is the case, it doesn’t change the reality of what the behavior is.

Threatening or Intimidation

This could be implied threats like throwing items or slamming your fists into the wall or table. It can be a physical threat such as raising a fist or brandishing a weapon. There is also the threats of taking things away or inflicting punishment if a person doesn’t comply. Any time someone makes another person feel that they are in danger or that they might loose their freedoms or not have their needs met, this is threatening.

This is not the same as when your boss has to tell you that if you continue to not come to work on time they will have to fire you after they have written you up for poor attendance. It is appropriate for a person to tell you that there are consequences to the choices that you make. This means that when someone is informing you of their boundaries and that if you continue they will leave, it is not a threat. You are not being put into a situation where you have reason to believe that you might become harmed, loose freedom or loose access to having your needs met.

Silent Treatment

It is pretty common for someone to engage in “the silent treatment” when they are angry, but this isn’t appropriate behavior and is harmful to others. It is completely alright to say that you need some time to think about something before you talk about it. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to the person about anything while you are thinking about the problem. It is also alright to say that you emotionally need some time to be alone. During that time, go be alone and then come back and engage. Needing emotional space does not mean you are sitting in the same room as another person and pretending that they don’t exist.


When a person in your life demands that you cut ties with others in order to maintain a relationship with them it is inappropriate behavior. Friends and partners should never ask you to choose between them and someone else. This is a tactic to isolate you for social support. Having social support makes people more resilient. Thus, isolating a person from social support is a tactic used to make someone more vulnerable and it is very effective.

It is completely alright for your partner to say that they don’t like your friend and say that they don’t want to be around that person. As long as they are not trying to stop you from hanging out with other people. The only time it is appropriate for a person to try to keep you from being around another person is when they believe that person is bullying or abusing you. It is appropriate for a person to say: “Hey that person hurts you, I don’t think you should hang out with them.” But a respectful relationship will still respect that the choice is yours.

Not Evil People

In conclusion, I want to say that if you have discovered that you engage in any of the behaviors that have been discussed in this article, know that it doesn’t make you an evil person. It means that you are one of the many victims of the cycle of violence or that you are dealing with mental health issues that are not being properly addressed. But being aware of these behaviors gives you the power of choice. You can always choose to do something different then what you have been doing. You are not locked into the person you have been. Know that you can wake every day and make the commitment to the spirit of kindness. You won’t be perfect because changing patterns of behavior is really hard, but over time you can become a different person.

No person is born evil. Things happen to us in our lives and that leads us to become the people that we are. What science has taught us is that our health outcomes, including our mental health, is not greatly effected by our DNA. Our genes only have a 5% impact on the course that our lives take. [6] The majority of who we become in life is a direct result of what has happened to us in our life.

None of us are beyond the power of choice. With the power of choice we can reshape who we are. Choice allows us to change the environment that we are in and the way that we engage with that environment. The result is that we can become different people over time.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

References and Additional Reading

  1. Adults Can Be Bullies, Too. Here Are The Red Flags To Look Out For.
  2. What is passive-aggressive behavior? What are some of the signs?
  3. The 5 Major Ways Adults Bully Each Other
  4. Adult Bullies: How to Spot Them, and How to Handle Them
  5. What happens when bullies become adults?
  6. Your DNA is not your destiny — or a good predictor of your health

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