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What is bullying?

Bullying means actions or words that are meant to hurt, harm, or injure someone. It’s not just jokes and teasing among friends, since the bully’s target feels real pain. Bullying can be direct or indirect:

Direct bullying

Bullying can be direct, which means that the bully is directly addressing the person he/she wants to bully. For example, it includes actions or words that are easy to recognize and observe: hitting, stealing, taxing, taunting, insulting, etc.

Indirect bullying

Bullying can also be indirect. The bully doesn’t directly address his/her victim but tries to harm him/her by talking to other people or ignoring the victim (passive aggression). These actions are harder to see. We would call it indirect bullying, for example, if a person spreads rumours about someone else to damage their reputation, insult them behind their back, make them lose friends, etc.

How do we recognize bullying?

Whether it’s direct or indirect, we call something bullying when the following 3 criteria are met: intention (deliberately wanting to hurt or harm), repetition (of behaviour or words) and balance of power (which is unequal between the 2 parties).


The bully’s intention is to harm the other person, to deliberately hurt him/her and cause him/her injury. In addition, it doesn’t matter whether or not the bully admits that his/her actions were intentional… from the moment it causes distress in the victim, it’s bullying.


Bullying is usually repeated behaviour. However, some serious actions may happen only once but still be considered as bullying (for example, a death threat).

Imbalance of power

Bullying is a situation where the balance of power between the bully and the victim is unequal. For example, it might be a group attacking a single person, a popular kid making fun of a kid who’s more isolated or has fewer friends, a person in a position of authority (a teacher, an adult) dealing with a young person, etc.

Frequently asked questions

What did I do? Why am I being bullied?
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It can be hard to figure out why someone’s picking on you in particular. A bully is a person who uses his/her power to take advantage of a victim. Often, the problem relates to the bully and has nothing to do with anything you may have said or done. Sometimes you might be affected by what’s happening to you and end up thinking you deserve it. Wrong! Remember that you’re worthwhile: you’re a beautiful person, with strengths and qualities. Stand up for yourself, talk about the situation and don’t keep it to yourself, focus on your strengths, passions, activities, and friends, and most importantly, report unacceptable situations.

How can we help someone who’s being bullied?
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Don’t encourage the bully by laughing at his/her insults or standing by without doing anything, or you become an accomplice. If you feel comfortable doing it, you could tell the bully that you don’t agree with what he/she’s saying or doing. You can also show your disagreement through your actions and attitudes, for example by leaving the area so as not to give the bully an audience. You can also report the situation directly or go and see the victim and help him/her look for support from a trusted adult. Finally, encourage other witnesses to join forces in reporting the situation you all witnessed.

Why do some people bully others?
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People who bully other people think it will give them some advantages, such as power or popularity. They think that violence is a good way of asserting themselves or getting revenge. A bully might want to let someone else know that he/she doesn’t like them or might do it so his/her friends think he/she’s special. But in the end, all reasons for bullying are bad ones, because there’s no good reason to hurt someone.

What should I do if I’ve bullied someone?
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Recognizing it is already something! But to make sure it doesn’t happen again, look for the reasons and situations that lead you to bully someone. In addition, think about the consequences for your life, the impact of your bullying on your relationships and on the victim. Sometimes, people do things to attract their friends’ attention or to have fun… but bullying isn’t a game! Make an effort to find activities that will make you feel good without hurting anyone else. And if you’ve hurt someone, show humility and apologize sincerely to the person or people you bullied.

Different kinds of bullying

No matter what form it takes, bullying hurts and leaves its marks.

It can take different forms: verbal (direct or indirect), social, physical, and sexual. Taxing (threats used to get money or things) and cyberbullying (online bullying) are also examples. If you realize you’re a victim of bullying, don’t keep silent. Take steps to break the cycle of threats by reporting the situation, keeping your friends around you, and looking for help.