8 Troubling Signs You're An Adult Bully

Could you be a bully? It's more plausible than you think.

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We all bully others to some extent. It is part of being human.

How do I bully, you ask? Or, maybe you do not ask; maybe you already know you do it. The ones crying, "I am being bullied," are often secret bullies. (I have been one myself, though it is sad to say.)

We all know about the bully who steals your lunch money and tells you he will hurt you if you tell on him. This, or a similar stereotype, may spring to mind when we hear the word "bully," but bullying takes many forms, and there are a few that are even more dangerous to another's psychological well-being. 


What is an adult bully?

In basic terms, an adult bully is just that — a bully who is an adult. They are not in high school or struggling through finals at college; rather, they are grown people with real jobs and real problems.

These adults are often mean or hurtful towards others in order to control or intimidate them. These actions can include name-calling, exclusion, or even physical and emotional harm. Not only that, but adult bullies also don't feel remorse for what they do.

If you're asking yourself, "Am I an adult bully?" there are a few indicators that can determine if you are guilty of this behavior in your own life.


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Here are 8 signs you’re an adult bully.

1. You lie or pretend.

Lying is a tactic that can be used to bully. This may manifest in several ways. It could be saying you didn't do something you did in order to prove your point or get your way, blaming someone else for your mistake, or taking credit for someone else's work.

Pretending everything is okay while doing things behind another's back is also bullying and lying. It is sometimes referred to as being passive-aggressive. In other words, adult bullies think, "I will get my way, but not when you are looking and not when you know about it. I will quietly do things while smiling to your face."


2. You give others the silent treatment.

The silent treatment is often called emotional abuse, and is a refusal to verbally communicate with someone as a way to "punish" them. Adult bullies may use this tactic.

Their thinking may go a little something like this: "Did you say something? Oh, I was not paying attention because I do not care about what you say, because you are of little or no consequence when it comes to me getting my way. I will not talk to you until you cave and tell me I was right and you are wrong, or you apologize for not letting me get my way."

3. You withhold emotions or approval.

We do this to our children, our siblings, our spouses. We call it "teaching them" or "behavior modification," instead of what it really is: bullying with a nicer name. It's essentially "Until you do things exactly the way I want them, I will not give you any emotional feedback or approval."

While I have used this technique because I did not know any other, I have since learned it does not support my belief that we are all creative, resourceful, and whole. If you truly believe that someone is creative, resourceful, and whole, the conversation changes. You do not need to withhold. With children, you may need to withhold toys/games/privileges, but not emotions.


4. You wear others down to get your way.

There are numerous ways adult bullies do this:

  • Talking someone to death, asking the same question over and over and over until they tell you what you want to hear
  • Discussing something to death, not ending the conversation until the other party agrees with you
  • Financial force, where, if you control the money in the relationship, it is taking away things that you know they want
  • Repayment, or making your spouse submit a detailed business plan for the repayment of family money for something that they want.

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5. You say 'no,' 'you are wrong,' or constantly criticize others.

When the first thing out of your mouth is "no," there is little room for negotiation or discussion. When you start with "no," there is no place for your spouse/friend/child to go. And, discounting everything your spouse/child/friend says, by telling them they are wrong or saying no, just creates deep emotional issues of not being worthy of being heard or known.

It stops all communication. It taints the communication that has already happened. As I tell my children, "Every time you say no, a door closes."


When you set out to "prove someone wrong" at every turn, you completely undermine who they are. You are, in essence, telling them that they do not belong in the world because they think "wrong." The thought process inside of them is broken.

6. You throw adult temper tantrums.

We all recognize tantrums in children, but many adults have them, too. And if you are an adult bully, there is no doubt you have had them as well.

An adult temper tantrum can be humorous and a bit scary — the scary part is that it can often work. The temper tantrum gets the adult's way even more often than the child's because they know how to "wear the opponent down," and can play better mind games.

They can throw barbs that hit just the right emotional triggers for the other person, and lead to everyone feeling abused and scarred.


7. You love to gossip.

While some studies have found that gossiping is actually good for you, in the case of adult bullies, it does nothing but harm their intended targets. By spreading rumors, discussing inappropriate details, and instigating drama, "gossip" quickly devolves into something malicious.

For adult bullies, gossiping is a mean girl tactic that could stem from their horrid high school days.

8. You demonstrate negative body language.

Negative body language can be anything from rolling your eyes to crossing your arms. It can include not looking at someone when they are talking to you, or not looking at someone when you are talking to them.

Having negative body language with others shows that you are uninterested in what they have to say. And it also means you are purposely putting yourself in a position that allows the exclusion of someone else.


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How To Stop Being An Adult Bully

All of these behavior examples hold the same basic premise for an adult bully: You need to control something or someone mentally or physically or both, and how you control them is by getting your way or making it all about you through physical or emotional means.

If you can heal this, it can make all of the difference, because even bullies are not broken. They are also creative, resourceful, and whole, but somewhere along the way, they find a method of social and personal interaction that feels like it is beneficial to them. Underneath, it hurts them as much as it hurts the person they bully.

So, what now? There are questions you can ask yourself when you feel that you must get your way. Then, you can begin to unravel the knotted cord that has been building on itself to stop being an adult bully.


1. Ask yourself: What is it I really want?

Say, for example, you want a new car, and you are used to just pushing until you get what you want. You are ready to do just that: push. Ask yourself what it's really about. Then, take it deeper.

  • If I am jealous, what am I really jealous of?
  • What do they have that I want? Is it approval? Is it a good relationship with their spouse?
  • If I deserve it, what makes that the case? Because I work hard? Am I the only one who works hard? Am I the only one who deserves it because I have not had one in a while?

Another example is criticizing your partner about something like not closing the dishwasher. If you continually discuss this issue, and you are not making any headway in resolving it, you need to look at what it means to you.

  • What message am I getting when he does not close the dishwasher door? What is important about it to me?
  • Does it just look sloppy? Have you hit your shin on it too many times? What is under that?
  • Do you feel like your partner does not care that you like it to be clean? Or, that you are getting hurt because it is open? And what is under that?

We often make more out of little things than is actually there because we do not look at what is really underneath the thought.

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2. Ask yourself: Is this important enough to potentially hurt those that I love?

If you are willing to hurt others by forcing your way, it must be pretty darn important. Think about these questions:

  • What makes it so important?
  • Is it a basic need?
  • Would it cover a basic need for your family or friends?
  • Is it life or death?

Bullying often takes on this dramatic "life or death" aura that is just not true. Who would benefit most from this? Who else would benefit?

3. Ask yourself: Is it important or is it just about my ego?

Winning, proving, and showing off are all things that your ego requires, not your deep personal relationships. Does your partner care if you drive a brand new car, or that you are communicating deeply and sharing what is really going on in your heart and mind?

Well, maybe they do just care about what you drive, and maybe that is where you are. That is okay, but that is not what this article is about. And, if they do not actually care, then you need to think about what makes it so important to you, as stated earlier.

  • Does it matter if all of the neighbors really like your car?
  • Does it matter if you look good driving up to your friend's house?
  • Does it matter if you look good driving down the road and others turn their heads and look?
  • Really? What do these things give you that you are not getting?

Bullies need to feel in control. Often, it is because they have been bullied and do not know of another way to get what they want.

Most of the population has used one of these tactics at some point in their lives. Or maybe, it is not about getting our own way, but how we go about it. Maybe it is more about hoping to get what we want, but not counting on it and hurting others if we don't.

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Marcy Goss Garcea is a life coach, Reiki Master, and writer from Illinois. She specializes in many issues, including marriage, body image, anxiety, abandonment, and self-esteem, and motherhood.