Does bullying stop in childhood?

Adult bullying – are you getting bullied or are you a bully?

When we think about bullying we often think about children. In schools and social settings children are suffering at the hands of bullies and we work hard to put an end to it, but what about adults?

Do we think that bullying stops when you become an adult? Think about the people you know, in work or personal life, how many of them are honest to goodness nice people all the time? Of course we all can be judgemental or critical of others but when does this become bullying?

I was shocked to discover how many adults suffer bullying. Some suffer at home at the hands of their partners or family, others in work at the hands of their boss or co-workers and some at the hands of people who they thought of as friends. 

It has to be accepted that we are never going to be able to get on with everyone. We are all individual, with individual thoughts and ideas and not everyone is going to agree and that is perfectly fine. So when does not particularly liking someone become bullying?

I tell clients that what others say about them is none of their business and if it is not affecting them then they should ignore it. However, the sad reality is that it may very well be having a impact. It could be affecting self-esteem and self-worth. It could be affecting how others view and interact with them. It could be affecting their career and yet as adults we are supposed to ignore it, say nothing, move on.

How do adults bully each other? Like with children, there is of course verbal and physical bullying, as an adult we are not immune to cyber bullying. However, more common with adults are material bullying and passive-aggressive/covert bullying.

Material bullying is when someone uses their title or professional power to intimidate, threat or harass another person. This can be seen in workplaces when the boss threatens to fire an employee for no tangible reason or in social settings when someone threatens another with legal action to exert power over them.

Passive-aggressive/covert bullying is perhaps the most deceitful. The bully will act in a certain way, portray themselves to be nice, kind and caring but subtly destroys another person personally or professionally. This type of bullying takes the form of negative gossip, joking at someone’s expense, sarcasm, condescending facial expressions or hand gestures, deliberately causing embarrassment and/or insecurity, social exclusion, professional isolation or deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness or success.

So think, are you a bully? Are you being bullied? Is someone you know being bullied? Speak up, bullying is wrong at any age!


Psychology Today. (2018). 5 Ways That Adults Bully Each Other. [online] Available at:

YourTango. (2018). 6 Signs You’re An Adult Bully And Why You Seriously Need To STOP. [online] Available at:

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