What is bullying behaviour?

If you’ve been called a bully, it means that someone is telling you that your behaviour is not okay. That’s because bullying is a serious issue that can cause all people involved real harm. For the person being bullied, it’s a very stressful experience that can have a serious and long-term impact on their life. It also can cause stress for the people watching it, who may feel helpless and afraid that they’ll be next.

If you’ve been called a bully, you have a chance to:

  • take responsibility for and change the way you treat others

  • stop causing others to feel helpless or unsafe

  • help find a way forward so everyone involved can coexist without feeling blame or shame.

What is bullying?

Here’s the formal definition: Bullying is deliberate behavior that is usually repeated and causes harm to someone else. It can be verbal, physical, psychological or social. It can happen in person, or online. It can either be really obvious, or it can be hidden from others. It can be an individual person doing the bullying, or a group of people , who have greater power over someone else.

The defining factors are that it is:

  • on purpose

  • ongoing

  • very harmful

  • an abuse of power.

What does bullying behaviour look like?

Bullying comes in many different forms and can happen anywhere: school, home, work, or online (texts or DMs, social media, forums etc.)

Some common examples of bullying behaviour include:

  • talking badly about someone behind their back (online or in person)

  • teasing someone, calling them names, giving nasty looks or making rude gestures

  • spreading rumours or lies about someone (online or in person)

  • hurting someone physically by pushing, hitting, slapping, ganging up on or restraining them

  • excluding someone from a group (online or in person)

  • harassing someone because of their race, sex, religion, gender or a disability

  • sharing embarrassing photos of someone online

  • posting mean things about someone on social media

  • harassing someone online with comments or DMs, or in person by intimidating them or following them.

Do I bully others?

Sometimes what you think is teasing someone is really something more. Maybe you think the person deserves it. Maybe you think they don’t mind. Maybe you’re not sure but you just don’t feel right about the way you treat someone.

Answering these questions may help clarify things for you:

Is it teasing?

If it’s just teasing then everyone should be having fun with it and nobody feels hurt. Is everyone involved up for it?

Ask yourself: Who’s laughing? If the answer isn’t everyone then something more is probably happening.

Is it conflict?

Conflict isn’t planned – it just happens sometimes when people get angry with each other. Both parties are upset and no-one is having fun, but there’s a possible solution to the disagreement.

Ask yourself: Can we work it out? If so, that means there is equal power among you, rather than you abusing your power over someone else.

Is it a mean moment?

It’s inevitable that sometimes people will be mean and nasty toward each other, but if it’s just a mean moment then it’s an isolated event. It might be an emotional reaction to something.

Ask yourself: Will it blow over? If it’s repeated and ongoing aggression against someone, then it’s more than just a one-off.

Is it bullying?

Is your behaviour planned, on purpose, ongoing and intended to hurt the other person?

Ask yourself: Who has the power and how are they using it? Are there more of you? Are you bigger than them? Are you more popular?

Does this sound like you? It takes courage to recognise you might not be treating others with respect, and to do something about it. Respect for yourself and other people matters, and our differences are something to celebrate – not make fun of and cause shame over.

There are NO good reasons to bully someone

  • No-one deserves to be victimised, and there is nothing to gain from it.

  • Bullying is always a big deal that affects everyone around the person showing bullying behaviours and the person being bullied.

  • You don’t have the right to take your frustrations out on someone else.

  • You can coexist with someone you don’t like.

  • You don’t have to go out of your way to hurt other people.

  • Fitting in with the group shouldn’t come at the cost of someone else’s rights.

  • You can change your behaviours and make things better.

It may sound like a cliché, but try thinking about how the other person might feel. Would you like to be treated that way in front of others? Have you ever thought about what they may be feeling? We never know what might be going on in someone else’s life.

What can I do now?

  • Check out this video where one young person reflects on the bullying situation she really regrets.

  • Talk to friends and family, or even your school counsellor, about what’s been going on. We know this is not as simple as it sounds, so check out our infographic for a step-by-step guide.

  • If you’re not ready to talk to your friends or family, you can get support in the ReachOut Forums.


I've been called a bully