Subtle Bullying may not be as easy to spot as outright name-calling or physical aggression, but it can be just as upsetting and isolating. Subtle bullying may include expressing “fake” compliments, being excluded from group activities on purpose, or having one’s reputation or work sabotaged. If this is happening to you, you can help counter it by acting more confidently. Also, distance yourself from the bully and rally up a support system. Learn what your rights are and talk to someone who can help you take a stand against the bully.
- Walk with your chin up and shoulders back. Convey an aura of confidence around others and the bully may be less likely to target you. Even if you don’t feel confident, acting confident can make other people think you are confident! Pull down your shoulders, lift your head, and look ahead as you’re walking. Smile brightly when you greet others.
- Bullies often pick on people who appear weaker than they are and lack confidence. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” and maybe you won’t get picked on anymore.
- Plus, pretending to be confident may actually help you to feel more confident in the long run.
- Don’t give them the reaction they want. The key to undermining a bully is to not play into their hand. The bully hopes to make you squirm and feel powerless, so giving them a reaction is the last thing you should do. Practice putting on a poker face and completely ignoring the person’s advances.
- Resist the urge to blush, flee, or show that you are embarrassed by the bullying. Stay calm and act as though it isn’t affecting you at all.
- If you have trouble putting on a poker face, try to think of something serious (like a work or school project) whenever the person is nearby.
- Shrug or laugh off their attempts to hurt you. Act nonchalant around a subtle bully by coolly responding in a way that's opposite of what they would expect. This shows them that you're not going to deliver the reaction they want and that they should move along. If they make a joke directed at you, laugh, too. If the bully tries to put you down by dwelling on a mistake, simply shrug and walk away.
- Try not to take the bullying personally. As annoying and hurtful as subtle bullying is, it’s often not really about you at all. The bully is the problem, not you. Remember that you are a wonderful, worthy person, no matter what the bully says.
- If it helps, try repeating to yourself, "It's about them, not me," over and over again.
- Build your confidence internally. Don't just act confident—make a real effort to enhance your self-esteem. You can do this by making a list of your best traits to remind yourself how awesome you are. You can also build your confidence by trying new things, like joining a new club or picking up a new skill.
EditDistancing Yourself from the Bully
- Steer clear of them whenever possible. If someone is subtly bullying you, try your best to avoid them. If they typically hang out in the breakroom during lunch, have your meal in the courtyard. You’re not running from the person. You’re just making yourself less of a target. 
- If you have to be around them, cut the interactions as short as possible. If you're in a meeting, sit several chairs down. If you're at a gathering, mingle with guests in a different room.
- You don't have to make it obvious that you're avoiding the person—just limit time around them overall.
- If the bully begins to follow you, their behavior has escalated to stalking and should be reported immediately.
- Switch up your schedule or routine. Another way to steer clear of the bully is by changing up your daily patterns. If the 2 of you walk home using the same route, try riding your bike for a few weeks. Or, you might even take a different route than the bully.
- If the bully calls you out for changing your routine, remember that it’s none of their concern. Simply ignore them. Avoid eye contact and carry on with what you were doing.
- Block online bullies on social media and increase your privacy settings. If the bullying is taking place online, set parameters to decrease your chances of interacting with them. Unfollow or unfriend the person and make your profile private.
- You can also report the person to the website administrator.
- If you're worried that unfriending them will make them upset, try simply unfollowing them. That way, the connection is still there, but you won't have to see their posts anymore. You can go into your privacy settings and limit what they see on your profile, too.
- You can stop using social media if their behavior continues to bother you.
- Build a network of supportive peers. Bullies are less likely to target someone in a group, so gather a strong support system. Ask friends to walk with you in between classes. Suggest that you and a group of colleagues have lunch outside together.
- Being with others will also help you strengthen your self-esteem, which will make you feel more capable of standing up to the bully.
EditTaking a Stand
- Set firm boundaries with others. If you draw healthy lines with your social connections, others are more likely to respect your limitations. Make it clear to everybody what you will not accept. Say something like, “I really don’t like it when people borrow my stuff without asking. I’d appreciate it if you asked me next time.”
- Be firm with your boundaries. Don’t waver—otherwise, the abuse may continue.
- Setting healthy boundaries will make you feel more confident about yourself and your ability to speak up to others.
- Point out their behavior and tell them it's not okay. Bullies never expect their victims to stand up to them. Use this element of surprise and tell the bully to “back off!” When you confront them, stand in a power pose with your hand on your hips. Speak in a strong, unwavering voice and clearly tell them that the behavior is unacceptable and that they should “stop!”
- You might say, “Whenever I walk into the room, you burst out laughing. That’s really rude. Please stop it.”
- Know your rights. Get familiar with the rules at your school or workplace. What kind of safeguards are in place to protect you against bullying? Learn what you can do to stop the behavior, so that you’re informed if you need to take action.
- Examples of rights against bullying may include having the freedom to speak out against bullying without fear of retribution. In addition, the facility (work, school, etc.) is required to investigate the situation and put an action plan in place to stop it.
- Check out your school or employee handbook to find out your rights.
- Document incidents of subtle bullying. Hang onto any evidence you have of the bullying behavior. Emails, notes, or online comments should be filed away for future use. Keeping track of the incidents and any documentation could help your case if you ever go to someone in authority.
- Gather witnesses to the bullying. Has someone else witnessed the subtle bullying taking place? If so, ask this person to speak on your behalf to the school administrators or human resources office.
- Having someone to back up your claims may prompt those in authority to take the situation seriously.
- If the bullying comes down to their tone of voice or nonverbal actions, just try to document it as best you can by making notes and dating each incidence.
- Talk to someone who can help. If, despite your asking them to stop, the bullying continues, speak to someone who can take action. This may be a parent, teacher, coach, principal, boss, or HR representative. Let the person know what’s happening and tell them what methods you have tried to deter it.
- You might say something like, “I have repeatedly asked Don to include me in the group brainstorm meetings, but he continually plans them behind my back. His subtle bullying is keeping me from doing my job effectively. I need your help.”
- Examples of subtle bullying may include being excluded from an event on purpose, being overlooked and not having your questions answered or considered, or being talked down to using snide or overly sarcastic language.
- It may feel hard to put your finger on subtle bullying. Remember that's the point—if you saw the behavior from an outsider's point-of-view, it might look harmless. You may have to rely on gut feelings to determine if you have a case of subtle bullying.