Dealing with Bullies

At some point in our lives, most of us must deal with a person who takes pleasure from hurting us emotionally or physically. That person may call us names, spread rumors about us, or physically attack us. What can we do about it?

First of all, step back and examine how you treat yourself. People base their actions toward someone partly according to how that person treats his or herself. If you take good care of your body, exercise, eat well, groom yourself well, clean yourself well, and carry yourself with a healthy, confident, strong posture, people will see the respect you give yourself and will be more likely to give you respect as well. Who do you think a bully is more likely to pick on?...

A person with messed up hair, dirty clothes, walking with his head down and looking pitiful...

or a person standing up straight, chest out, chin up, walking with confidence, clean clothes and a descent haircut...

The first person is a much more likely target. For help becoming the second more confident person, read our Strengthening Self Image section.

Second of all, ask yourself if this bully is mean toward many people or mainly just toward you. If the bully picks on most people he/she encounters, you know it's not your fault. That person probably has major problems at home, and releases his or her anger on the world. In this situation you have a very good reason for not taking these attacks personally. Why should you - he/she does it to everyone. You should try to understand that the bully must be in a lot of pain. You may even try being their friend. Obviously they'll be resistant and skeptical at first. What reason would you have to be their friend after they were mean to you. With some persistence you may turn a bully into a friend.

If the bully seems to direct most of his/her attacks toward you specifically, you can take steps to figure out why.

If you are the main target, examine closely how you normally react to the bully's attacks. Do you get angry and show it. Do you cry. Do you get embarrassed and cower away. Do you talk back. Do you get revenge. Do you try to ignore the attack. Whatever your reaction is, it probably either gives the bully satisfaction or gives the bully a reason to do it again. Otherwise why would he/she bother to do it so often and why mostly toward you.

Once you figure out what your typical reaction is,
change it.

If you normally get upset, then decide not to take it personally and laugh it off. Make it obvious that you're having a great time regardless of their actions. Heck, ask him/her to join you!strong

Note: You may find this very difficult, because you really are furious inside. To learn how to avoid taking attacks personally, read our Strengthening Self Image section.

If you normally become embarrassed, silent and cower away, then stand up straight, look him/her in the eyes and say what you feel. Make sure everyone around you hears it. Be clear and concise. Don't over explain yourself. Say for example, "Tom, I am not ok with you making comments about my weight." or "Jessica, I am not ok with the lies you are spreading about me." or "Butch, I am not ok with the way you treat me."

If you normally stop what your doing and try desperately to ignore them, it may still be obvious you are upset. Either laugh it off and appear happy and friendly, or approach them and say what you feel without appearing upset.

If you normally run from a physically abusive bully, then travel with a group of friends and together stand your ground.

Stick with it. Don't return to your old reaction.
We tend to act the way people expect us to act. For this reason it's easier to act the way we normally do than to change. Don't give in. For a while your reaction change may tick the bully off. It may not work the first few times. The bully may think you are trying to appear happy when they know you are upset. They may think if they keep at you long enough, you'll get upset again. Don't give them the satisfaction. If you are persistent, and don't give them the satisfaction they are looking for, eventually they will give up.

If you are physically attacked make sure you know how to defend yourself. Check out our Self Defense section.

If a bully threatens to shoot you, kill you, or seriously harm you, you must tell an adult, your principal, your parents, your teacher, your coach, etc. If the adult brushes you off, tell another adult. Threats on your life are no joke. Violence can strike at school, so protect yourself by seeking help from an adult. Professional adults at school are there for your protection. They can have the bully expelled. Telling them is your best option when your life is in danger, regardless of what the bully tells you.

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Related Info

Self defense

Boys Town National Hotline
Crisis counseling for girls and boys and referral to local help

The National "YOUTH" Crisis Help line