How to Tell If It’s Bullying or Playful Banter

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“Can’t you take a joke!”

Bullies are notorious for that line when targets speak out and call them out on their abuse. It’s the most manipulative and dangerous, and most popular excuse for crappy behavior because it uses social pressure to make the target out to be a party pooper who doesn’t know how to relax and have a good time.

Understand that bullies use this old, worn-out comeback to cover themselves and dupe bystanders and witnesses into believing that the abuse was just playful banter while making the victim look and feel like some dysfunctional whiner who’s just too sensitive and needs to lighten up.

But how do you know the difference between playful banter and bullying? Here are your answers:

1. There’s no power imbalance- With bullying, there’s always a power imbalance, and harm is intended. Also, the relationship is always harmful and abusive. Banter is done strictly among friends, family members- people with equal power. There’s no harm intended, and people who exchange banter have a positive and fulfilling relationship.

2. In banter, people respect you enough to stay away from your “no-go zones”- Your “no-go zones” are often called your hot buttons or triggers. These are things that you’re insecure about- something you’re embarrassed about, ashamed of, or can be any adverse experiences you’ve had in the past. In banter, people know to stay away from those areas and won’t bring them up. Also, banter is never threatening to the other person.

On the other hand, bullies will deliberately zero in on things they know you’re insecure about and will only continue to bring them up in front of an audience when they see that you’re upset.

3. In a nutshell, it all comes down to how it makes you feel and your relationship with the other person! If the person is not a friend or family memberanyone you have a negative or hostile relationship with, they do NOT get the privilege to banter or joke with you! Ever!

Understand that banter is reserved for the people you feel good about (Close friends and family members)! Because they know your triggers and remember never to go near those tender areas!

4. Always read the person’s nonverbal body language- If the person is smirking and snickering instead of genuinely smiling and laughing out loud, that’s a sign of contempt, and it’s more than likely bullying instead of banter.

Sadly, anytime the bully plays the “Can’t-You-Take-A-Joke card, many targets are caught off guard and left speechless or paralyzed by humiliation. They’re left so upset they walk away feeling indignant because it’s sometimes difficult to adequately address the bully’s comeback without being made to look and feel even lower.

So, here is the perfect way to clap back at a bully who claims to be playing or joking and walk away feeling great about yourself and that you handled it like a boss!

Father told a funny story to his son.

You can shut him/her down by saying something to the tune of:

“Only my friends can joke with me like that! You’re not my friend, so you need to back off!”


“Newsflash! I don’t like you! You’re not my friend! So, you don’t get to say that, I don’t give a __ if you’re playing or not!”

And say it like you mean it! Then watch the bully pathetically slink away with their tail tucked between their legs! It has worked for me, and it’ll work for you too!

With knowledge comes empowerment!

0 thoughts on “How to Tell If It’s Bullying or Playful Banter

  1. Jim Wingrove says:

    This is a good one, I’ve had CAN’T TAKE A JOKE thrown at me a million times…or PARTY POOPER, STICK IN THE MUD, TOO SENSITIVE, WIMP, WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM, ANTISOCIAL…These people have never been my friends. The worst thing is when a bully pretends to be concerned about you just to draw you out and attack you even more. Also bullies almost always make sure to say these things in front of other people. I’ve been humiliated in front of groups of people so many times, I can hardly look people in the eye anymore

  2. 80smetalman says:

    Bullies are usually the ones who can’t take a joke. I’ve seen it many times where a harmless comeback by the target gets a response that is blown way our of proportion to the joke.

  3. CareTrain says:

    You hit on a few things here. I think the biggest one is when someone attacks something they know you are sensitive about. Maybe it is your looks, your success in school, a job, a relationship or lack thereof, etc. A big way to tell too is if they are insensitive to your reaction or they keep brining it up repeatedly. That isn’t playful banter that is intended to hurt. Another thing is the closeness of your relationship. If they are a friend you are close to and you like to playfully pick at one another a little that is one thing, but if it is someone you barely know something else. Also does the person treat you different when they are in front of others, that is a red flag to. In other words, consistency. Also how many times has playful banter turned into anger or even in extreme cases a physical altercation. If getting in a fight or almost getting in a fight doesn’t send them a message then stay away from that person.

  4. annemariedemyen says:

    You definitely hit the nail with this one. The worst is when I hear political leaders, media, or others in power use this instead of apologizing for saying or doing something that is very obviously ignorant.

  5. Kym Gordon Moore says:

    UGH, so predictable those ole jokesters! Let’s see who is laughing last huh??? 🤨 Can’t take a joke? Oh boy, do I have some expletives to answer that question! 😜😅🤣😆😂

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