Bullying and Toxic Relationships

What is Bullying?

Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour 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. Bullying of any form or for any reason can have immediate, medium and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. Single incidents and conflict or fights between equals, whether in person or online, are not defined as bullying.

Bullying has three main features:

  • It involves a misuse of power in a relationship
  • It is ongoing and repeated
  • It involves behaviours that can cause harm

Bullying at School

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.


In order to be considered bullying, the behaviour must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviours happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Warning signs of Bullying at School

Changes in mood, behaviour and physical appearance are some of the warning signs of being bullied. Some students may not display any warning signs at all. If a student is being bullied at school they might:

  • Become aggressive and unreasonable
  • Refuse to talk about what is wrong
  • Have falling school grades
  • Appear insecure or frightened
  • Show a change in the their ability or willingness to speak up in class
  • Start to get into fights
  • Have missing or damaged belongings or clothes
  • Be alone often or excluded from friendship groups at school
  • A frequent target for teasing, mimicking or ridicule.
  • Have unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches, particularly those appearing after recess or lunch

Warning signs at home

A parent may observe changes in their child’s behaviour at home which they can report to the school. Their child may:

  • Have trouble getting out of bed
  • Change their sleeping or eating patterns
  • Have unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches
  • Have missing or damaged belongings or clothes
  • Arrive home hungry
  • Show an unwillingness to discuss, or secrecy about, their online communication.
  • Not want to go to school
  • Have frequent tears, anger, mood swings and anxiety
  • Have stomach aches or unexplained pain
  • Ask for extra pocket money or food
  • Change their method or route to school or become frightened of walking to school

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Types of Bullying

There are three types of bullying:

Verbal bullying is saying or writing nasty and hurtful things. Verbal bullying includes:

  • Teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Taunting
  • Threatening to cause harm

Social bullying involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose
  • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
  • Spreading rumours about someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public

Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:

  • Hitting/kicking/pinching
  • Spitting
  • Tripping/pushing
  • Taking or breaking someone’s things
  • Making nasty or rude hand gestures

Bullying in the Workplace

Given that communication is mostly non-verbal, we very often pick up on hidden cues, which can leave a person feeling anxious or uneasy. Bullying in the workplace can either be subtle; often going unnoticed or can be overt; humiliating, blaming and shaming. Bullying is repeated, harmful and contemptuous treatment of others, taking on many forms, such as: verbal, mental and emotional abuse, psychological manipulation, offensive treatment, threatening, humiliating, or intimidating conduct; work interference and sabotage.

1. Deceit. Repeatedly lying, concealing the truth, deceiving others, and creating false hopes with no plans to fulfil them

2. Intimidation. Overt or veiled threats; fear inducing communication and behaviour

3. Isolation/ ignoring / exclusion. Intentionally excluding someone or making them feel socially or physically isolated from a group; purposefully excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events

4. Rationalisation. Constantly justifying or defending unreasonable behaviour or making excuses for acting in a particular manner

5. Minimisation. Minimising, discounting, or failing to address someone’s legitimate concerns or feelings

6. Diversion. Acting oblivious, changing the subject to distract away from the issue, cancelling meetings, and avoiding people

7. Shame and guilt. Making an employee constantly feel that they are the problem, shaming them, and making them feel inadequate

8. Undermining work. Deliberately delaying and blocking an employee’s work, progress on a project or assignment, or success;

9. Creating conflict between employees. Creating fear and conflict between employees, creating a non-collaborative working culture

10. Removal of responsibility. Removing someone’s responsibilities, changing their role, or replacing aspects of their job without cause

11. Impossible or changing expectations. Setting nearly impossible expectations; changing those expectations to set up employees to fail

12. Mood swings. Frequently changing moods and emotions; sharp and sudden shifts in emotions

13. Criticism. Constantly criticising someone’s work or behaviour, usually for unwarranted reasons and omitting any positive feedback

14. Withholding information. Intentionally withholding information from someone or giving them the wrong information

15. Projection of blame. Shifting blame to others and using them as a scapegoat; not taking responsibility for problems or issues

16. Taking credit. Taking or stealing credit for other people’s ideas and contributions without acknowledging them

17. Seduction. Using excessive flattery and compliments in order to manipulative for secondary gain

18. Creating a feeling of uselessness. Making an employee feel underused; intentionally rarely delegating or communicating with the employee about their work or progress; persistently giving employees unfavourable duties and responsibilities

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Family Bullying, Family Abuse and Toxic Family Systems

What is Bullying?

It’s more than just a fight or disliking someone, it’s purposefully being nasty to someone over and over again, and repeatedly using words or actions to hurt you. Bullies generally know that their behaviour causes distress and pain.

Sibling Bullying – Sibling bullying is different to the usual family rows and bickering. Bullying is a repeated, intentional, targeted aggression towards someone who finds it hard to defend themselves, where there is a real, or perceived, difference in power. Bullies are skilled at manipulating the fears and insecurities of their victim and calculating who should or should not witness.

Parental Bullying – Parental differential treatment and real or perceived favouritism as potentially the most influential factor. Children from very young are capable of perceiving differential treatment and may respond by attempting to raise their own status, by dominating and essentially demoting their rival sibling.

Why do people bully others?

Bullying is never okay. Someone who bullies another person might:

  • Feel jealous
  • Want to feel better about themselves
  • Feel angry inside
  • Have been bullied themselves
  • Want others to like them
  • Want to fit in with their friends
  • Like to be in control or have power over others
  • Not know what they are doing is wrong

What affect can bullying have?

Bullying can be very hurtful and cause lots of pain, you may;

  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Feel humiliated and shameful
  • Have thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Have trouble with school work
  • Feel hopeless or powerless
  • Feel unsafe or afraid
  • Lose your appetite
  • Feel down about yourself
  • Find it hard to cope
  • Feel suicidal
  • Feel physically sick
  • Feel along, sad, angry or confused

What are Toxic Families?

Toxic families are those where there is mental, emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Sometimes your family can have qualities that you don’t like, and it can be hard to deal with them. Other times, you’re unsure if you live in a toxic family situation or not.

Toxic Family Behaviour

So here are some signs of a toxic family:

  • Do they criticize or compare you?
  • Do they manipulate, use guilt, or play the victim?
  • Do they take responsibility and apologize?
  • Do they disregard your feelings and needs?
  • They try to bring you down and intimidate you
  • You are not treated with respect as an individual
  • You are treated with contempt, either verbally or non-verbally
  • You stay upset and confused without resolving differences
  • They are always critical towards you
  • Comparing siblings and not giving equal treatment
  • Do they use emotional blackmail?
  • You never feel good enough or that you are enough
  • You are constantly walking on eggshells
  • You are unable to talk honestly
  • You lack self-esteem and self-confidence
  • You are not safe to express your emotions or discuss your feelings
  • Preferences over certain siblings, demonstrated verbally or non-verbally
  • Control, Perfectionism, Blame, Denial of Freedoms, No Talk Rule, Dismissiveness, Negation
  • They will dismiss your feelings and you are not able to talk honestly
  • Your confidences aren’t kept and gossip is often used throughout the family system to conquer and divide
  • Do they listen to you with interest?
  • Do they blame or attack you?
  • Do they respect your physical and emotional boundaries?
  • Do they envy or compete with you?
  • They use sarcasm, shaming belittling behaviour towards you
  • You are not validated, acknowledged or supported emotionally
  • You are constantly anxious and on high alert
  • They will hand wave you away or ignore
  • They are always the victim
  • Do they tend to overreact or create a scene?
  • Do they make frequent or unreasonable demands?
  • You constantly second guess and doubt yourself
  • You don’t trust your own opinions
  • Do they try to control you? Only their way
  • You always need to explain and justify yourself
  • Feeling too intimidated to talk about your feelings for fear of what reaction you may get
  • Denial of the five freedoms; deny feelings, thoughts, perceptions, wants & imaginings
  • Minimise the good things you do, maximise the mistakes/things you have done wrong
  • They don’t apologise or don’t take any responsibility, they never want to be accountable

The Impact of Toxic Parenting

Toxic relationships include relationships with toxic parents. Typically, they do not treat their children with respect as individuals. They won’t compromise, take responsibility for their behaviour, or apologise. We all live with the consequences of poor parenting. However, if our childhood was traumatic, we carry wounds from abusive or dysfunctional parenting. When they haven’t healed, toxic parents can re-injure us in ways that make growth and recovery difficult. We may be in denial and not realise that we’ve been abused emotionally, particularly if our material needs were met. Remember that although you may feel like a child with your parents, you are now a powerful adult. You can leave, unlike when you were a child.With difficult family situations, it’s helpful to talk with a therapist or other people in recovery from co-dependency.

Are you ready to make a change?

You are very welcome to get in touch, for any enquiries or questions you may have, or to schedule an appointment.