Types of Bullying and its Effects

Published on: 21 Nov 2018
A child hides their face

Many people wonder exactly what bullying is and what types of bullying there are. Bullying takes many different forms and can impact children and adults alike. From physical and verbal bullying to social and cyber bullying, this form of unwanted, aggressive behavior can be either obvious to spot or more subtle. It entails a person intentionally and repeatedly causing discomfort or injury to another individual without cause. Generally, a bullied person is unable to defend him or herself and is likely not in a position of power, according to the American Psychological Association.

In order to prevent and mitigate bullying when it occurs, it’s important to know the signs and types. It can happen in any number of places, contexts or locations, including online and via a cell phone. There are two broad modes of bullying: Direct and indirect. Direct bullying occurs between the people involved in a situation, whereas indirect actions involve others, such as passing on insults or spreading rumors. Indirect bullying mostly inflicts harm by damaging another person’s social reputation, peer relationships and self-esteem.

Types of Bullying Behavior

Bullying entails a repeated, aggressive behavior over a period of time and is categorized in four primary ways: Physical, verbal, social, and cyber. Below you’ll find an in-depth view into each kind of bullying behavior:

  • Physical bullying is the most overt type of bullying behavior to spot and involves harming a person’s body or possessions. This may take the form of hitting, kicking, tripping, pinching, pushing or damaging another person’s property and can cause both short-term and long-term physical harm.
  • Verbal bullying entails saying or writing mean words and includes name calling, insults, teasing, intimidation, inappropriate sexual comments, homophobic or racist remarks or verbal abuse. While verbal bullying behavior may start off harmlessly or in a joking context, it can escalate quickly, causing emotional distress.
  • Social bullying is often harder to recognize, as it involves harming someone’s reputation or relationships. Sometimes referred to as relational bullying, this type of bullying behavior entails leaving someone out on purpose, telling people not to be friends with another person, spreading rumors and/or intentionally embarrassing someone in public.
  • Cyber bullying can be overt or covert, as it entails bullying behaviors through digital technologies, such as computers and smartphones. Because of the nature of technology, this can happen at any time and can include abusive texts, emails, or social media posts, a deliberate exclusion of a person online, spreading rumors and imitating others by using their login information.

The Effects of Bullying

Bullying behavior impacts everyone involved and not just the targeted person, including those who bully and those who witness the action. While many reported instances of bullying impact children, adults are also susceptible to the harmful ripple effects of this behavior. It takes a toll on a person’s mental health and is linked to many negative outcomes including substance abuse, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts or feelings.

The physical and emotional effects of bullying may include:

  • Higher risk for developing depression and anxiety
  • Increased and more frequent feelings of sadness and loneliness
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia or exhaustion
  • Changes in eating patterns and appetite
  • Loss of interest and desire in activities
  • More health complaints, including a person’s physical well-being

When it happens at work, a person’s ability to focus and ability to perform is impaired and can lead to a toxic environment over the long term. Bullies may target individuals that pose a threat to them with the goal of making the individual feel less confident and more inadequate in the workplace. But even witnessing this type of bullying can have a harmful impact. One study found that a bystander is at an increased risk of developing depressive symptoms over the subsequent 18 months after bullying occurs.

What to Do if You are Bullied

When a bullying behavior occurs, whether a person is the intended target or a bystander, there are actions that can be taken to help stop the behavior and prevent it in the future. Start by recording what is occurring, documenting the words or behaviors of the bully and describing when and where it took place. If it occurred through email, text or social media, print those instances for documentation purposes. This will ensure a thorough account of the incident(s) when you take action.

While anger, withdrawal and the fear of a stigma may lead a bullied person to suffer alone and in silence, it is important to report bullying behavior to make sure the pattern does not continue to harm those around you. Whenever possible, put distance between yourself and the bully while seeking support. Whether you confide in a close friend or family member, or seek professional health counseling, know that bullying has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

Bullying behavior is upsetting and can have a significant impact on a person’s short-term and long-term physical and emotional health. While it can take many forms, whether direct or indirect, or through physical, verbal, social and cyber behaviors, the harmful effects impact not just the person bullied, but for anyone who witnesses the action as well. If you are experiencing bullying, it’s important to document, report and seek support, remembering that you are not alone in your experience and help is available.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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