Definition of Bullying: What Is and Is Not Bullying

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bully word in a dictionary. bully concept.

Because people use the term “bullying” so widely today, they too often misuse and abuse it. In today’s climate, people throw the word around flippantly, and “bullying” is used in situations that don’t fit its use.

Many are too quick to stick the “bully” label on anyone who says anything they either disagree with or don’t like. There’s so much confusion about what is bullying and what is only rudeness, being a jerk, or voicing an individual opinion, whether good or bad.

Therefore, I feel an obligation to point out the definition of bullying and to clarify what truly is and isn’t bullying.

Here is the definition:

Bullying – an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical, and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social, and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening (

All too often, bullying is confused with:

1. Disagreements and truthful debates

2. Misunderstandings

3. Stubbornness

4. Incivility and jerky behavior

Bullying has become a blanket term to describe anyone who is only rude or opinionated. The label of “bully” is too quickly stuck to people who are not necessarily bullies but only uncivil jerks and jackasses- basically anyone who says, does, or believes anything that the labeler doesn’t find comfortable. This is wrong.


For something to be considered bullying, there must be all of these ingredients:

1. An imbalance of power

2. Repetition

3. Repeated attacks against the same person over a long time.

4. The behavior has to be a habit or the same pattern, against the same victim.

If a 6’5” tall and muscular knucklehead on the street bumps into you and says, “Hey, idiot! Watch where the hell you’re going!”, then keeps walking. That’s not bullying. Is the person a total jackhole? Absolutely. But he isn’t necessarily a bully.

Now, if he deliberately ran into you and shot his mouth off to you every day, every time he saw you on the street. And he made a habit of it by continuing to harass you, then yes! He would be a bully. Because he would be using his size and height to intimidate you and he’d be repeating the behavior every day.

Here’s another example:

A person is voicing an opinion. When someone asks them if what they think of their new next-door neighbor, the person answers by saying,

“I think he is an arrogant, egotistical jackass.”

This is NOT bullying. It’s only voicing an opinion.

But! If the person continued this behavior for a length of time and smeared the new neighbor to everyone in the neighborhood in an attempt to turn everyone against her, then yes! It is bullying.

If two people are arguing over different beliefs, it’s not bullying Even if the argument is heated.


Only when one of the arguers resort to repeatedly (notice I said, repeatedly) calling their opponent names and shaming them because they don’t agree nor share their beliefs, and the harassment goes on for a long time, against the same opponent! That, my friends, is bullying!

To prevent innocent people from being labeled as bullies, we MUST get clear on exactly what it is that constitutes bullying! Only then will we be able to apply it to those who are truly deserving of the label.

0 thoughts on “Definition of Bullying: What Is and Is Not Bullying

  1. 80smetalman says:

    That is a fear of mine, that the bullying term is thrown around too easily that it loses its intended meaning. I know the bullying I suffered was so repetitive that it could be nothing else.

    • cheriewhite says:

      Absolutely, Michael. And, these days, it is indeed thrown around way too loosely. Especially in today’s climate of people getting offended at everything. It’s sad.

    • cheriewhite says:

      Thank you so much, Ben. I’ve done a little research on it. But only a moderate amount of it. I do know that bullies like to stare down their targets, and they do it without blinking and I’ve seen it firsthand. But I could always learn more. Reading about facial expressions and body language has always fascinated me and I’d love to learn more.

      And with your career in corrections, and the fact that you deal with narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths every day, I have no doubt that you’d know a lot more about that than I do.

  2. Pajama Party 39 says:

    Good thoughts. I think sibling rivalries are one of those areas where the lines get blurred sometimes or some playful picking at our friends etc where it is tongue in cheek.

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