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What Is Bullying?

by Stefanie Faith Bloom, Ed.D., NBC-HWC

Life Coach, Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates

Bullying can be defined as a repeated attack be it physical, psychological, social or verbal - by those in a position of power on those who are powerless to resist. The intention of bullying is to cause distress for the bully’s own gain or gratification. Bullying is characterized by aggressive behavior, or intentional “harm doing”, which is carried out “repeatedly and over time.” Of course, when bullying occurs with children, power differentials can be harder to identify. As can the intent, or even the bully’s full understanding of both their own motivation and the harm they are doing. Similarly, children may have a hard time identifying the difference between momentary unkindness, and prolonged bullying.


Bullying can be direct or indirect. Indirect bullying includes slandering and spreading of rumors, and manipulation of friendship relationships, the latter of which is more common among girls. Harassment with non-physical means (words, gestures, threats) is also the most common form of bullying among boys.

The proliferation of smartphones, and the rise of social media has transformed where, when, and how bullying takes place. Cyber-bullying adds a new level of bullying where the bully can have the advantage of being anonymous, leading to even higher levels of meanness and aggression. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one type of abusive online behaviors. Cyber-bullying also makes it harder for kids who have a hard time at school to get a break from the mistreatment they may be receiving.

Why People Bully Others:

People bully because it can be an effective way of getting what they want, at least in the short term, and/or because they lack the social skills to do so without harming others. Bullying also is a way of establishing social dominance. Bullies often single out others to prey upon and use a “shopping process” to determine which peers would make suitably submissive victims. Bullies like victims who become visibly upset when they are picked on, and they are most likely to select those who do not have friends or allies.

Bullying carries the implicit message that violence and aggression are viable solutions to problems when they are not.

Signs That Your Child May Have Been Bullied

  • Comes home with unexplainable injuries

  • Comes home with damaged clothing or other belongings

  • Frequently “loses” items like books, electronics, clothes, or other valuable items

  • Tries to find excuses to avoid going to school, is often sick, or has other excuses

  • Hurts themselves like with cutting, burning, or eating restrictions

  • Loses interest in friends or participating in extracurricular activities

  • Acts afraid of going to school or school activities

  • Appears moody, anxious, depressed, or withdrawn

  • Feels helpless

  • Exhibits low self-esteem


Consequences of Bullying

Bullying has been linked to serious negative consequences for those who are bullied, those who engage in the behavior, and even for those who witness bullying. The outcomes of being bullied may persist from childhood through adulthood.

Young people who are bullied or who bully others are at the highest risk for negative outcomes such as:

  • increased anxiety and depression

  • increased suicidality

  • increased substance use

  • decreased academic achievement, and

  • diminished earning potential.

Helping Those Who Have Been Bullied:


When it comes to the serious issues surrounding bullying victims, there are many emotional concerns involved. If your child or teen has been bullied, and does not show signs of recovery or returning to being their regular self, it is a good idea to seek outside help in the form of counseling or a support group. Even though the actions of the bully have stopped, that does not mean your teen or child has recovered from the emotional damage they received as one of the bullying victims. Bullying can often do long-lasting damage to a person’s self-esteem. Without support, a bullying victim is at risk for becoming a bully, or they may project the lingering feelings of rejection and hurt onto themselves.

We Are Here to Help. If you have concerns, please reach out to us.