14 Ways to Identify a Bully


We all have a story about being bullied as a child. Whether we were bullied for the way we spoke, what we believed or how bad we were at sports, we’ve all experienced bullying in one way or another.

It is easy to presume this sort f behaviour is only prevalent for children and adolescents, especially since the school yard is such a great cultivator for this behaviour. The truth is though, bullying goes way beyond these years. And even though we may have left it behind us, many of our colleagues, friends or family members haven’t.

How do you spot a bully? Here are 14 ways you will immediately recognise them. If someone you know holds several or all of these traits, you need to change your interaction with them.

  1. They take up your space

A bully is an uninvited guest, who physically, mentally or emotionally barges into your space. Sometimes their physical attributes, such as height or weight, will play a role in this. Other times, the way a person behaves or the things they say will create a sensation of claustrophobia.

In any case, if you feel like a person is dominating you and can’t quite put your finger on how or why, this characteristic of a bully will be familiar to you.

  1. The speak down to you

Some bullies will speak with a domineering voice, using volume and harsh, manipulative words to minimise you. Other bullies will speak to you like a child, or will have a superior tone that leaves you feeling an inch tall.

  1. They are always the ‘victim’

Aside from not taking criticism well, a bully will always position themselves as the ‘victim’. If you come to them with a problem, they flip it around and somehow make you the perpetrator. There is a sense that the world is ‘against them’, and they perceive any unpleasant interaction as an ‘attack’.

  1. Their tone of voice

A bully is always on guard, and their walls are always up. Therefore, their tone of voice will reek of (sometimes fake) apathy, anger, disappointment or sarcasm. If someone says all the right things but their tone doesn’t match their words, you’ve potentially identified a bully.

  1. They control your behaviour

A friend or partner who controls who you know, who you contact, how you dress and how you act is not a lover or a kindred spirit, they are a bully. You have the autonomy and the maturity to determine who you communicate with and how you do this. The moment someone cuts of access to freedom, you’re being bullied.

  1. They manipulate you

Guilt is a bully’s tool of choice, and in most situations they will use this to have their way. Did something go wrong at home? They’ll say, or insinuate, that it’s your fault. Did they flip out and start swearing loudly; physically, verbally or emotionally abusing you?

Perhaps they took to the bottle again or lashed out on social media? A bully will say you were the trigger, ultimately making every situation about them and insisting you change.

  1. They are two faced

Perhaps your friend acts one way towards other people, but speaks badly behind their backs. Or, they swing between anger and infatuation with you, using their ‘compassionate’ moments to make up for the hurt caused previously. Sometimes you think they have multiple personalities, and other times you’re sure this is all in your head. Trust me, it’s not.

  1. They sap you of energy and time

When you leave a bully, you feel emotionally and physically drained. You’ll often question your own values and logic due to what they have said or done, and feel guilty for not spending more time with them. This doesn’t just happen physically, this can also occur over social media, through phone calls or text, or by email.

  1. Your friends and family don’t like them

Next time your loved ones say, “That’s a strange one” or “Be careful of that person,” ask them why. It’s often easier for the people around us to spot a bully, especially when the bully is friend, relative or a partner.

  1. They isolate you

A bully will restrict you from having other friends, from seeing certain people, or from interacting with others. They use their words and actions to turn you against your friends, family or colleagues, and manipulate what you do and say. In an attempt to make you an ‘exclusive team’ they actually socially and emotionally ostracise you.

  1. They give you the cold shoulder

If a friend goes through periods of shutting you out, not responding to important text messages, emails or pretending not to hear your voice, they are bullying you. Like a child at school, the cold shoulder is used to make you feel inferior and inadequate.

  1. You dread seeing them

If the thought of a person makes you sick to the stomach or you’re gripped by anxiety before, during or after interacting with them, this bully has a substantial hold over your life. Often out body will go into fight or flight mode before our brain, because we are weighed down by guilt and emotional manipulation. Listen to your body, it’s sending you an important message.

  1. They threaten you

If someone threatens to physically harm you, sexually violate you, turn people against you, ruin your plans or possessions, or do any or all of these things to the people you love, you’re bully is near their peek. Get help immediately. If this involves children, remove them immediately.

  1. You are afraid of them

It doesn’t matter how long you have known someone, who they are, or how much or little you interact with them—if you are afraid of a person, it’s a good indicator they may be bullying you. Do they make you feel weak, make you question your own worth, have you terrified of going home or driving to work? This is not normal. Get help immediately.

If you are in crisis please call emergency on 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Are you being bullied? Do you need support facilitating a healthy relationship? Here’s what you need to do: contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.


  1. I like the way you described who a bully is. Taking up your space, whether it be physically or mentally or emotionally, is something that’s a defining characteristic of people like that. I really appreciated your outlook on how to to recognize who bullies are and what to do in certain situations. I really appreciate it.

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