How to Deal with Bullies on and off the Web

Peace out, bullies!

In an online survey of more than 2,000 adults across the U.S., conducted on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association in October, 31 percent of respondents said they’ve been bullied as adults, and 43 percent believe that bullying behavior has become more accepted in the past year. As upsetting as being bullied is at any given moment, what’s worse is it can have a significant impact on your physical and emotional health, leading to sleep loss, headaches, muscle pain, anxiety and depression, or frequent sick days, according to the AOA poll. (Source: US News)

Real talk: We’ve all been bullied or the target of negativity at some point in our lives. Even though I was never physically bullied growing up, I still remember how it felt to not fit and would often get teased for being short and Asian. 

Fast forward to today. Even though people are older and supposedly wiser, bullying often worsens! Adult bullying is real – it exists on social media, at the workplace, and even within families and social circles. As adults, it’s something we generally don’t like to talk about because it can be embarrassing, intimidating and hurtful. We need to change this stigma! It’s ok to acknowledge that bullying still exists, even when we’re well into our 20s and 30s. Don’t suppress your experiences or suffering – you’re not alone and there are other people going through similar struggles. Most importantly, know that YOU are strong enough to overcome any challenge.

The Online Troll

Social media has been very positive for me overall, but I’ve come across a few internet trolls along the way. I try to take them in stride because I know that it comes with the territory of being on social media. One time, a stranger left a comment that “there’s nothing special about you, you look like the girl next door with bad skin and short legs.” Last I checked, looking like the girl next door wasn’t a bad thing! I’ve also been told I look like a goat (still trying to figure that one out) and an “airhead with nothing important to say”. In each instance, the trolls wanted me to react to them. The best revenge is to ignore the negative comments and not respond at all. This shows that their words or actions don’t affect you! It’s important to realize that online bullies have nothing better to do with their time and that at the end of the day, they don’t know a single thing about you. They simply aren’t worth your time or energy.

The Power Abuser

Even after the #METOO movement, sexual harassment is still rampant. There have been executives I worked with during my career that would literally stop meetings to comment on my appearance and refused to continue the meeting until I acknowledged their “compliments” in front of everyone. Men would stop by my desk to say inappropriate comments and leave unwanted gifts. All the while, I stayed silent and didn’t report anything because I didn’t want to get them in trouble. Looking back, I wish I had the confidence and strength to have done the right thing. No one deserves to feel unsafe or disrespected at their job. Speaking up or talking to HR (even if done anonymously) also helps put an end to their behavior and ability to bully someone else. 

The Real-Life Bully

Unfortunately, I’ve had recent and on-going experience with a real-life bully. When this person leaves us alone, life is great. But when the bully becomes bored, defensive or upset, they will send streams of emails and try to make us feel bad. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen victim to this trap. Countless nights have been ruined where I would focus on the bully’s negativity and allow this person to affect my life – to the point if I heard an email notification, I could feel the anxiety riddle through my entire body. For the longest time, I suppressed all my feelings and never allowed myself to have a voice. I’ve learned a lot from this experience and even about myself. Some important takeaways: Don’t ever allow yourself to feel victim shamed for speaking out – it’s your right to do so. Also, don’t ever let the bully shape your thoughts. You alone are in charge of your thoughts and emotions. If someone upsets you, it’s only because you let them. 

1.       Recognize the signs of bullying. Some signs can be harder to recognize than others.

  • Physically abuses you
  • Abuses their power to scare, intimidate or manipulate you into doing something 
  • Lies to others to ostracize and turn others against you 
  • Harasses and makes you feel anxious, fearful, shamed, or embarrassed
  • Ignores and disrespects you and/or your time
  • Gaslights you – a form manipulation/brainwashing that makes you feel like you are at fault or causes you to doubt yourself

2.       Limit exposure to your bully. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. Try to avoid contact with the bully and lay low. But if it’s necessary to communicate with the bully, try to avoid being reactive. From my personal experience, a bully typically doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say and will instead use your words against you. A very important piece of advice that my therapist once told me regarding a bullying narcissist is that “they don’t forgive or forget, they get even.”  

3.       Understand that it’s not about you.  It’s not about winning or losing – it’s about understanding that a bully is insecure. They may target you because they see you as a threat, are unhappy with themselves, or envy you. 

4.       Know your basic rights.  (Source: UN.org)

  • You have the right to be treated with respect.
  • You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.
  • You have the right to set your own priorities.
  • You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty. 
  • You have the right to have opinions different than others.
  • You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.
  • You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.

5.       Talk About Your Experience. Some victims remain silent about their experience because of fear, embarrassment or helplessness. This is mentally and emotionally unhealthy! It can also encourage the bully to repeat and even increase their behavior. Sharing your experience and talking about it is not only cathartic, but the support from others can help strengthen and empower you against the abuser. 

6.       Keep a “paper trail” of all communications – texts, emails, and voicemails.  This is very important to keep as evidence in case you need to reference it in the future.

7.       Don’t confront the bully directly if you feel threatened. Always put yourself and your safety first. Don’t be afraid to seek protection and get a third party involved if necessary – whether it’s a friend, counselor, legal representation or law enforcement.

This was a very personal post for me to write and while I’m not an expert by any means, I hope that my words can help reach even a single victim of bullying. Know that you are not alone and you’re strong enough to get past this. I’m always here to lend a listening ear or offer support!

xx, Kelly

  • Cyber Bully Hotline: 1-800-420-1879
  • Crisis text line: Text CONNECT to 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

4 thoughts on “How to Deal with Bullies on and off the Web

  1. Good blog! You are correct…don’t react to bulling if possible. Understand that no one has power over you unless you decide to give it them. Good Job Kelly!

  2. GREAT read! We adults are so hesitant to talk about this, yet you’re right… it impacts so many people in one form or another. Well-written, well-researched and well-said!

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