How to Respond to Bullies

In this article, I’m going to instruct you on how to respond to bullies. First of all, we need to define what a bully is.

My Definition of a Bully

A bully is someone who tries to make another person do something against that person’s wishes.

If you witness someone trying to get others to do things by threatening them, shaming them, manipulating them, lying to them, or in any other way hurting or attempting to hurt them, then you can know that you’re witnessing a bully. Sometimes the hardest bully to spot is the one that is bullying you personally.

Bullies will punch, pinch, push, name-call, try to make you flinch, send you long and unpleasant emails, troll you online, yell at you, blame you, and generally take zero responsibility for their emotional reactions or their physical actions.

Inside, bullies feel profoundly disempowered and in pain. The only way that they can experience any sense of power is to use force, or threats of force, to make other people do things that they wouldn’t otherwise want to do. Bullies also often feel emotions to which they’re not willing to pay attention. They try to invoke those emotions in others as an alternative way of experiencing them. Feelings they don’t yet have the courage to own include fear, anxiety, powerlessness, anger, frustration, loneliness, worthlessness, and rage.

How Not to Respond

Don’t engage with the bullying. Don’t protest. Don’t argue. Don’t attack back (see exception below). Try not to get upset. Remember that they are powerless and in pain. You’re just living your life. It’s not your responsibility to help them metabolize their distress. It would be more adaptive if they politely asked you for help, but they won’t. Remember that you should probably charge a high professional fee to sit in their pain with them, perhaps one day a court will mandate it. Remember to say internally, “What you think of me is none of my business.”

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but try not to respond to bullying by becoming a bully yourself. All bullies were once bullied themselves, often as children. The profound sense of disempowerment they felt, and continue to feel, is what drives their behavior. Often children who are being bullied at home will bully other children at school. While all bullies were once bullied, many people who were bullied did not take the path of becoming bullies themselves. It’s possible to recover from bullying, to have compassion for bullies, to not take bullying personally, and to learn how to get your needs met adaptively. It’s possible to rediscover and reclaim your intrinsic power.

How to Respond

There are two distinct ways of responding. The first way should be your default: don’t give them any attention. Simply don’t respond. Ignore. Walk away. Do everything you can to not allow the bullying to disrupt your life. Don’t stop writing because the troll tells you to. Don’t get angry because the kid is calling you a name. Don’t hand over your valuable possessions because they say it will make them stop. If you give in to threats and manipulation then you will train the bully do more of the same. Do not give the bully the satisfaction of controlling your life. They are powerless, and you are not. Continue with your mission. Continue with your purpose. When you do this, the bully will simply lose interest and seek gratification elsewhere.

When using this first way of responding, if you have to interact with the bully for practical reasons—let’s say you work with them—then make sure to stay focused on the practical aspects of the interaction. Keep it all-business, and simply focus on achieving the stated goals. Meanwhile, begin to reposition yourself so that you have to interact with the bully less and less. Metaphorically, or literally, back away slowly while smiling. Then run. Even if you keep telling yourself that functional progress is possible in relationship with a bully, the sooner you learn to set your expectations low the better. A bully’s goal is not success and thriving. A bully is wallowing in self-pitying victimhood and their primary objective is to drag you down into that pit with them.

The second main way of responding to a bully is to strike them hard, either metaphorically or literally. Reserve this approach for moments of self-defense only. If your safety and wellbeing are in imminent danger, then feel free to defend yourself as necessary (while adhering to your local laws). Generally, bullies are cowards who spend their time trying to intimidate others in order to keep their cowardice hidden. One solid, confident strike will knock sense into them. Even if you are much smaller and weaker than the bully, know that their pain tolerance is very low and their fear of strength is very high. You will shock them, and they will run away. At the very least, they will think twice about messing with you again.


Don’t get emotionally caught up with bullies unless you’re a trained professional. They’re severely wounded individuals. Since they have no esteem for themselves or from others, they try to acquire it through intimidation and control. On the other hand, you have been developing the qualities that garner true admiration: kindness, empathy, perseverance, courage, patience, responsibility, moderation, self-awareness, confidence, and vulnerability. Your goals do not include helping bullies with bullying, either of yourself or of others.

Please let me know in the comments about your experiences dealing with bullies.

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives |

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