Breaking the Silence on Adult Bullies

Written on November 13, 2013 at 11:00 am , by

Bullying is not just child’s play. Jonathan Martin, a 300-pound tackle for the Miami Dolphins, recently took a break from playing professional football due to alleged bullying from a teammate. His complaints of harassment from, intimidation by and physical altercations with his colleague Richie Incognito typify the very definition of bullying.

Aside from their ages, the fact that their differences couldn’t be handled on their own highlights the destructiveness of bullying at any stage of life. Bullies make people change their attitudes, moods and behavior. They force others to quit, cry, get angry or depressed, withdraw or stay silent because being the victim of a bully is both painful and embarrassing. It’s hard for kids to speak up and even more difficult for adults. As we get older, there’s pressure to “suck it up” or “just deal with it.”

The perception that bullying stops in the schoolyard isn’t just challenged by what happens on the sports field. It’s also countered by the hordes of adults who report that they are bullied on the job by coworkers or bosses, older siblings who continue to harass younger siblings into adulthood and teens bullied by parents and coaches. Whether you are 12 or 42, bullying can be psychologically detrimental and physically painful.

Adult bullies use emotional tactics, verbal abuse and technology to provide consistent harassment and hurt feelings meant to create fear, powerlessness and helplessness in individuals. These are not out-of-body experiences. Adult bullies are aware of their behavior. Their tactics are detrimental not only to the victim but also to bystanders, who may feel uneasy, be forced to pick sides or end up feeling unsafe.

We need to break the silence on adult bullies. Bullying in not acceptable at any age or size. If you are dealing with an adult bully, follow Jonathan Martin’s example.

* Document incidents and speak out. If this is happening at your job, know that most companies have a policy on workplace behavior. Familiarize yourself with the employee handbook outlining those rules.

* Identify your support network and engage them as a sounding board for assistance.

* Avoid self-blame by focusing on doing your best job at work and not getting distracted by negative behaviors.

* Treat others the way you’d like to be treated and avoid engaging in the same behavior.

Bullying needs to stop. I applaud Jonathan Martin for highlighting his experiences. Perhaps he’s meant to make a difference not just on the field, but off it as well.

Has an adult bully ever harassed you? Post a comment, share what happened and help break the silence.


Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at

4 Responses to “Breaking the Silence on Adult Bullies”

  1. While I’ve witnessed in the work place and, sadly, am related to an adult bully (who has made my life hell), I do not feel this article contains solutions. Just mere ways to allow the bully to continue doing what they do best while the victim does what is already suggested. People need tools for their toolbox to counter bullies. I’ve watched a bully run an entire office into silence. Everyone watching what they say or do and cowering every time the bully opens their mouth. The boss is aware, but does nothing because they always feel their hands are tied and they are busy dealing with things that ‘really matter’.

    I’ve watched a bully silence an entire family. Creating hard feelings and broken relationships and people just put up with it. Because what else do you do?

  2. I have unfortunately had to deal with three different adult bullies in two different work places. What’s even more unfortunate is that the company just shuffled me around instead of dealing with the problem. I lost a ton of weight, and had severe physical symptoms because I was terrified to go to work every day. And both of them at that company were supervisors and women. The last one I had to deal with was a man that had made his way to plant manager and got to terrify whomever he pleased. I find it very sad that adult bullies are allowed to progress into positions of power.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The point of my post refers to the silence that occurs from being bullied. As you accurately point out, a sense of powerlessness (and silence) seemingly gives the bully power because of a lack of consequences. My point is that the power has to come from an indiviudal or collective(family) sense of saying enough. That may mean calling out the bully or putting pressure on management to stop, and even therapy for families destroyed by broken relationships. You are right there are no easy solutions, but acceptance doesn’t have to be an answer.