The many faces of bullying Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
the word #Me too with a sand background
25 November marks the onset of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

This worldwide campaign aims to raise awareness of the negative impact that violence and abuse have on women and children and to rid society of abuse permanently. However, the success of the campaign is dependent on our daily individual and collective actions to safeguard our society against the cycle of abuse.

*The full article appears on Prof Schoeman’s blog.

What is abuse?

Abuse is any form of behaviour that can instill fear in a victim, cause emotional, physical or financial damage to a person, or coerce victims in doing something against their will (e.g. engage in sexual activities). Abuse can take place through commission (e.g. visible, physical behaviour), but also omission (the subtle withholding of e.g. care, support, and finances).

“Bullying is not about you. Bullying might be targeted at you, but the first step to handling them is realising that you’re not doing anything wrong. Find support.”

Adult bullies have many faces: it is not only the controlling romantic partner, but also the intimidating boss or colleague, the difficult neighbour, the pushy sales representative, the condescending family member, or the social acquaintance or friend who shames you. Bullying is a deliberate act with the purpose of harming another – either through using power to instil fear, victimisation, or harassment. A bully (male or female) gains power in a relationship by reducing another’s and shows little regard for the consequences to a victim’s health or well-being. Bullying is abuse.

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying can make life quite miserable and difficult. A 2017 American survey found that adults are being bullied at levels similar to adolescents. Examples of workplace bullying are being ignored (the “silent treatment”), refusing to help you when asked, not responding to your attempts to communicate (phone calls, emails), cutting you off while you’re talking, or even keeping you out of the loop for work-related social events. The bully may also not respect your time by intentionally showing up late to meetings, or missing agreed deadlines deliberately. They may also sabotage your ideas or projects, denying you well-deserved praise, taking credit for your work, or blame you for problems at work. But it may be even worse…

What types of abuse are there?

  • Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body, or threats to hurt you, or loved ones (including pets).
  • Verbal/emotional abuse may not cause physical damage, but it does cause long lasting emotional pain and scarring. Constantly being criticised and told you aren’t good enough causes you to lose confidence and lowers your self-esteem.
  • Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do.
  • Financial abuse can be very subtle and can include behaviour such as giving you an allowance and monitoring closely how you spend it, placing your salary in their account and denying you access to it, using your credit card without permission, keeping you from seeing shared bank accounts or records, or controlling the amount of hours you are allowed to work.
  • Technological abuse (“cyberbullying”) is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate another person or partner.
  • Stalking, i.e. when a person repeatedly watches, follows or harasses you, making you feel afraid or unsafe, is another type of abuse. A stalker can be someone you know, a past partner or a stranger.

“Bullying and abuse are never acceptable. Let us stand together in speaking up, supporting one another and stop the cycle of men and women being abused.”

Nine tips on beating the bullies and recovering from abuse

  1. Acknowledge the problem: If you are unsure whether you are being bullied or abuse, try describing the situation as if it were happening to someone else.
  2. Be safe: The most important priority in the face of an adult bully or abuser is to protect yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable with a situation, leave.
  3. Limit exposure: With adult bullies whom you need to interact with on a regular basis, it’s important to put a stop to any serious, potentially damaging patterns early on. Keep a healthy distance and avoid engagement unless you absolutely have to. Ask to be moved in the office or removed from the specific team.
  4. Keep calm: Bullies try to provoke you. They project their aggression to push your buttons and keep you off balance.
  5. Speak up: We all have a part in stopping bullies, so if a peer is being bullied, be their support, and if you are being bullied, find support from co-workers, friends, and professionals.
  6. Empower yourself and build confidence: Bullying is not about you. Bullying might be targeted at you, but the first step to handling them is realising that you’re not doing anything wrong. Find support.
  7. Seek professional assistance: Recovering from the emotional scars may take longer than recovering from physical scars. Do consult with a qualified professional (psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist) to address the trauma, anxiety, and depression which may be associated with or follow on from being bullied and abused.
  8. Self-care: Take care of yourself. Sleep enough, eat healthy, exercise regularly and socialise. Investing in these activities will make you more resilient to address the situation, and also to recover. You are worthwhile. You deserve this.
  9. Legal action: Harassment and threats are criminal offenses and should never be ignored. When your boundaries and rights are violated, deploy consequences. Take legal action if needed.

Bullying and abuse are never acceptable. Let us stand together in speaking up, supporting one another and stop the cycle of men and women being abused.


Want to stay in touch with the Stellenbosch Business School community? Sign up and receive newsletters from our desk to your inbox.