Adult bullies on TV are typically shown getting a visit by the karma wheel. But if you have to deal with an adult bully you might find real life is rarely so simple and satisfying.

If you have to deal with an adult bully, you’re not alone. A 2017 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 60.3 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying! While this number may be somewhat staggering, the problem isn’t unsurmountable. Dealing with a bully as an adult is the same as dealing with one as a child: you don’t need to rely on anyone to help, and the solution begins and ends with you. 

5 strategies to deal with An adult bully

1. Don’t try to fix them


If you have to deal with an adult bully, don’t waste your time trying to understand or help them see the error of their ways.

You might be tempted to try and understand or help the bully. However, adults who bully have deep-rooted issues, and their cruelty can only be mended by self-realization and self-reflection – which doesn’t fall under your purview. The odds are quite high that any attempt on your part to help your bully will be unproductive. Your time is better spent focused on yourself.

2. Don’t sink to their level


If you deal with an adult bully it might be tempting to respond in kind, but this will likely only make things worse for you – especially if it’s in the workplace.

It’s a completely natural response to want to return the bully’s abuse. But if you sink to their level, it could backfire by either the bully turning it on you, or you may be seen by others as the source of the problem. More importantly, all you’re doing is giving the bully exactly what they want. Take the high road (ignore, laugh off, etc.) so the bully doesn’t get their pay off. With this approach you can’t be seen as having brought the problem on yourself.

3. Stop being a victim


If you have to deal with an adult bully, you have to be smart enough to not give them what they want. Check your ego at the door and use your smarts.

For whatever reason, the bully has singled you out as a target. Changing your behavior and responses will change the dynamic. Keep your cool, be confident in your abilities, and laugh along with them. If you don’t respond negatively, which is what they want, this will cause them to lose interest and find another target.

4. Limit your exposure


Be strategic about your interactions if you have to deal with an adult bully. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best path to take.

If you have to deal with an adult bully at work, do what you can to avoid being in their presence. Take a different lunch hour, change your schedule, change departments if possible. Block the bully on social media, and if necessary, block their friends so you aren’t exposed to their negativity.

5. Talk to someone


Sometimes it’s helpful to get a different perspective – especially from an objective party who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.

If your bully is at the workplace, it might be in your best interest to talk to your manager or Human Resources. However, before you do so, consider possible repercussions. Anticipate worst-case scenarios so you can be prepared in case it’s somehow turned on you and your job is in jeopardy. Reach out to your support system to get some advice and perspective. It might even help to talk to a awesome therapist you like and trust who can help you with specific strategies for managing this situation.

James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.