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Monday, 29 Mar 2021

5 Adult Bullying Tactics and How to Diffuse Them

By Dr Becky Spelman
5 Adult Bullying Tactics and How to Diffuse Them | Private Therapy Clinic

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, in all walks of life and throughout many points in our life. But… that doesn’t mean that they’re a ‘fact of life.’ You do not have to put up with any behaviour that is encroaching on your personal boundaries or demeaning you in any way. Bullying, at its core, is “a form of aggressive behaviour in which someone repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.” And sometimes, quite often times, in fact, it can be the case that the bully is so close to us that we seek to justify their treatment of us. We don’t want to believe that we’re being bullied so much to the extent that we’ll look for any other explanation to rationalise their behaviour.

As bullying exists very much as a grey area concept and something that you have to judge on a case-by-case basis, it pays to know in precisely what manner it can present itself. It can often be a combination of various interaction styles that when framed within a wider context, presents a picture that’s quite unsavoury. The main thing to consider when trying to discern whether you’re the subject of bullying is the manner in which your interactions with others take place. Bullying is an umbrella approach of manipulation, exerting excessive influence and you and your decision-making process, and boost their own position of authority over you. Here are the five most common approaches you may encounter.

Physical Bullying: This is the classic form of bullying that we imagine when discussing the phrase, which relates to acts of the direct intimidation, threats, harassment and/or harm. The spectrum of physical bullying covers a wide gamut of experiences. Examples include physical attacks simulated violence – the raising of fists in a way of wanting to hit – throwing things, extortion, rape, domestic violence and more.

Material Bullying: You could also think of this tactic as ‘leveraged bullying,’ meaning that the abuser in question is using their position and /or power to unduly exert influence on you. This could be through financial means, as can be the case in certain dysfunctional marriages. But it can also be common in the workplace where someone in a management position may use their authority in unjust ways.

Verbal Abuse: This ties in somewhat with physical bullying and extends to acts such as threatening, shaming, judging, racist or sexist language. Verbal abuse includes any and all language that seeks to demean, demoralise and condescend to another person.

Passive-Aggressive/Covert Bullying: This can be much harder to pick up on than more overt forms of bullying because it’s so subtle. And because of this, it’s often the most insidious. It’s very much the slow game of dismantling you piece by piece until all of your confidence has been sapped, leaving deep emotional scarring. Examples include negative rumour spreading, making someone the butt of all jokes, sarcasm, deliberately causing embarrassment in front of peers and more.

Cyberbullying: This isn’t so much its own category of bullying as much as it is more of a medium, which for many of those tactics mentioned above to be conveyed. Cyberbullying may sound like a grandiose term, but in the time since the term has been coined, we now live so much more of our lives through technology. With the rise of social media, texts, email, forums, it’s becoming an ever-increasing problem, especially with the direct access and anonymity that can be employed.

Strategies You Can Use to Diffuse Attempts at Bullying

Here are some of the most effective approaches you can start using today to help you alleviate the stress brought on by bullying.

Know When to Distance Yourself (And Conserve Your Energy)

Wherever possible, before engaging with a bully, think about the amount of life force you’re going to expend in dealing with them versus what you’ll gain by doing so. In many instances, such as one-off heat of the moment encounters in public, you’re better off just walking away. And you can employ this tactic in many of your interpersonal relationships to a certain degree. But in cases where you’re tethered to someone at work or at home, you may need to come up with a different strategy.

Don’t Allow Yourself to Become Reactive

One of the key tactics a bully uses is to keep you off-balance by constantly trying to trigger you into moments of emotional distress. By doing this, they can keep in a state of not being able formulate proper responses – keeping you in a mode of reaction. When you know this is the case, it’s important that you keep your head. Don’t rush into the first thing that comes to your mind. Play them at their own game, just stare at them – for an uncomfortable amount of time if necessary – and only respond when you’re good and ready. And if you don’t have anything to offer, simply give a minimum answer such as I don’t know. Brush the off rather than playing into their control narrative.

Create Consequences

The best way to wrong-foot a bully and shift the dynamic of power is to start creating consequences. When a bully doesn’t take no for an answer, you can use these consequences as a form of pattern interruption. When you’re able to articulate consequences confidently that are both strong and yet reasonable at the same time, it will give the bully pause to consider their actions. It may be that it takes several of these instances to truly makes a change and shift the paradigm. You will need to be consistent in maintaining your boundaries. What consequences you offer will be unique to your own situation. But when communicated in the right manner, they’ll shift the narrative from one of incurring into your reality to one of respect.

About the author:

Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.

***If you’ve been the subject of bullying and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.


Psychology Today (22nd Mar 2017) 5 Ways That Adults Bully Each Other. Retrieved on 23rd December, 2020 from,

Psychology Today (6th Nov 2016) 8 Keys to Handling Adult Bullies. Retrieved on 23rd December, 2020 from,

Very Well Mind (8th Mar 2020) 6 Reasons Why People Are Bullied at Work. Retrieved on 23rd December, 2020 from,

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