What can I do if I’m being bullied?
Living in fear and wondering ‘why me?’ are common symptoms of bullying
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Bullying is the act of seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce another person or people. Bullying is largely about power and about one person or a group wanting to feel more powerful than another or others perceived as vulnerable.
Bullying may be aimed at your sexual orientation, gender expression, ethnicity, colour, religion, appearance, disability, or anything the bully feels they can exploit to feel powerful over you. However, anyone can experience bullying and it can happen anywhere, including school, at home, at work, online and in your community. Bullying can take many forms. If you are experiencing any type of bullying, it is important to remember two things: it is not your fault, and it can be stopped. There is support available for those who are being bullied.
Am I being bullied?
Bullying is when someone uses their power over you to cause harm. To understand if you are being bullied, it is helpful to know about the different types.
Direct vs indirect bullying
Direct bullying involves verbal and psychological aggression, gestures, extortion and cyberbullying. The bully is clearly identified in instances of direct bullying. However, bullying is not always obvious or visible.
Indirect bullying may include passing around nasty notes, the writing of offensive graffiti in public places in or out of school, or the damage of personal property. Cyberbullying can be considered indirect if the bully keeps their identity private.
Relational or social bullying
Relational and social bullying is another form of indirect bullying. Bullies engaging in this form of abuse threaten to cause damage to someone’s relationships. They manipulate the social connections of their victim by ignoring, excluding and isolating them, as well as influencing their friends and trying to damage their victim’s reputation. Through this behaviour, the bully aims to encourage others to reject the victim.
Verbal bullying is when a person says or writes hurtful things about you. This can be in the form of name calling, put downs, mimicking, threatening to cause harm and spreading rumours.
A person who puts you down or calls you names may say that they’re “only joking”. However, it is always up to you to decide whether the behaviour is acceptable or not.
Physical bullying is another type of bullying that many people experience. It involves harmful actions against another person’s body. This can include kicking, punching, hitting, pushing and pinching. Physical bullying does not have to hurt for it to be considered bullying. It can also include damaging or hiding your belongings, your physical space like a room or locker, or harm to pets.
A person may make threatening or intimidating gestures towards you on purpose. This is known as gesture bullying.
If someone is choosing to ignore you or exclude you from activities, it can also be described as bullying. This is known as exclusion bullying. Sometimes, a bully will encourage other people to leave you out also.
Extortion bullying is when a person threatens to harm you or your belongings if you don’t do what they say. They may force you to do things that you do not want to do or things that you feel are wrong. While extortion bullying may involve peer pressure, peer pressure doesn’t always involve bullying.
Bullying does not always happen in person. Bullies may also use the internet, phone calls or text messages to try to harm you. This is known as cyberbullying. It can involve hurtful texts, emails, posts, images or videos. Sometimes, a bully might harm you online by spreading rumours, or by using your login details to imitate you. Cyberbullying might make it easier for a bully to hide, but it is just as serious as any other form of bullying.
Effects of being bullied
Bullying can have a huge effect on your physical and mental health, both now and in the future. Anxiety, low self-esteem, self-harm and difficulty sleeping are just some of the many things you may experience if you are being bullied. Those who experience cyberbullying may also have higher levels of depressive symptoms than victims of in-person bullying.
If you are being bullied, you may experience:
Emotional distress, sadness and tearfulness
Frustration and high levels of anger
Shame, embarrassment and self-blame
Damage to physical and emotional well-being
Reduced self-esteem, lack of confidence and depression
A sense of fear
Reduced academic performance, particularly if you are not feeling safe in school or college
If you are experiencing any of these effects, you are not alone. It is very normal to have these feelings when you are being bullied. Remember, there are things you can do about bullying. By reaching out for support, you can stop the bullying and reduce these unwanted effects.
Why do people bully?
There are many reasons why people bully. A person might bully because of abuse and violence in the home, a lack of love or attention, anger problems or low self-esteem. They may have been bullied themselves. While there are many reasons why someone may bully, there is no excuse for it. It is a serious issue that needs to be stopped.
What can you do if you’re being bullied?
While it might be hard to believe, bullying can always be stopped, no matter how bad it is or how long it has been going on for. There are several steps you can take if you are experiencing bullying.
Talk to someone you trust
Speak with an adult that you trust about your situation. This could be a friend, a family member or a teacher. They will be able to provide you with advice and take further action to address the bullying. If you are experiencing harassment, you are also completely within your rights to report the harassment to the Gardaí.
Report the bully
If you feel comfortable doing so, you can report the bully to the appropriate person.
If the bullying is taking place at school or involves a person or group at your school, you can report it to your teacher, principal or guidance counsellor, who should be able to provide support in line with your school’s anti-bullying policy. If you are bullied at college or by somebody at your college, you can report it to the head of school, college counsellor or welfare officer. Your college should also have a policy which explains how reports of bullying will be dealt with.
All employers are required by law to prevent bullying and harassment at work. If someone is bullying you at work, on a training course, on a work trip or at a work social event, you can report it to someone in human resources (HR).
If you are experiencing cyberbullying, you can report it to the relevant platform. Some forms of cyberbullying are illegal including inappropriate sexual suggestions and comments, racist remarks, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent, harassment and any form of persistent bullying. In cases that could be illegal, you can report the bullying to the Gardaí.
Confront the bully
If you feel safe doing so, you could speak calmly to the bully about their behaviour. Tell them that their actions are hurting you and that you would like them to stop. Asking a trusted friend to come with you for this conversation may be helpful. Speaking with the bully may not lead them to stop bullying. If this happens, do not fight back as it may make the situation worse. It can be very difficult to deal with a bully on your own, so it is important to remember you are not alone in this experience. You have other places to turn to.
If you don’t think confronting the bully will help or if you do not want to do so, that’s ok. It’s important to take care of yourself and only do what feels comfortable for you. There are many things that you can do to stop bullying that do not involve speaking with the bully directly.
Look after yourself
If you have experienced bullying, you might find that you are feeling low in yourself and forgetting about your own needs. Rather than judging these feelings, try to see them as a sign that you need extra care and support. Through self-care, you can offer this to yourself. Self-care is always important, particularly during challenging times like this. It can be as simple as reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea or making sure you get enough sleep at night.
There are several organisations that offer free and confidential support and counselling to those who are being bullied. You will find a list of these services below.
Remember that this is not your fault. What the bully is saying about you is not true, they are just trying to hurt you. You did not do anything to cause them to bully you. Listen to those who love and value you.
Finding support for bullying
Experiencing bullying can be incredibly distressing – you can reach out to the support organisations below for support:
50808 is a free, 24/7 text message support service providing everything from a calming chat to immediate support for people going through a mental health or emotional crisis – big or small.
To talk to a trained volunteer now, free-text SPUNOUT to 50808 to begin.
If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.
Childline has a 24 hour freephone number for under 18’s – you can call 1800 666 666 any time, day or night.
Their text service is available from 10am to 4pm every day – you can start a conversation by texting 50101. You can also chat online at childline.ie from 10am to 4pm every day.
Teenline is a 24/7 national active listening service for children and young people up to the age of 18 in Ireland. You can contact them for free any time of the day or night by calling 1800 833 634.
TeenLine is free to contact and is confidential, non-directive and non-judgmental.
Samaritans are a 24/7 active listening service, there to listen to you no matter what’s going on. You can talk to a Samaritans volunteer for free by calling 116 123 any time of the day or night.