Verbal bullying

It is not uncommon for people to experience some form of verbal bullying (being called names or insulted) at some point in their lives. Many young people we speak to hear insults on a daily basis when they are in school or socially. Whatever age you are being called names or insulted can have an effect on your wellbeing.


Is it bullying or banter?  

It can be confusing for someone to try and work out whether the name calling is banter or bullying. A young person going through something like this might feel intimidated or feel under pressure not to make a fuss because others are saying it is just a joke. If it is a one off incident then it may be that it is banter. However, if the name calling becomes persistent and regular, then this is bullying. It is equally about how you feel too, if it makes you uncomfortable and you have told them to stop but they are still name calling, then this is what we call verbal bullying. The verbal bullying can be anything about weight, appearance, racist, sexual or homophobic bullying.  Name calling has been around for what may seem forever but for someone who is on the receiving end of this, it can often have devastating consequences.

Why do it?

It is very difficult to understand why someone would want to use insults towards others on a regular basis, especially if they have been told or asked to stop. There may be various reasons why someone acts in this way towards others:

  • They might be doing this to impress their friends or build up some type of reputation
  • They may have been bullied themselves and to deflect the attention or because they are angry, they go onto bully someone else. 
  • They might be enjoying the attention or reaction 
  • They might be having problems at home or at school so they are taking this out on someone else
  • Lack of self-esteem of confidence so they act in a negative way
  • They might be angry and frustrated and looking to take things out on someone else.

Clearly, there are many more reasons why someone might be bullying others. Each individual who bullies others in this way will have their own reasons or excuses. They might be copying the behaviour from his or her friends and might feel more accepted if they join in with the name calling and bullying. Young people we have worked with often say when they speak to the bully when they are alone, they act differently. Whatever motivates someone to bully another person, their justifications offer little comfort to those affected.

How does it make you feel?

Someone who is being bullied in this way may feel lots of different emotions. Often a young person might act like they are ok on the outside but inside they may be feeling very low. They might not want to show how they are really feeling in case others think they are making a big deal out of nothing, or cannot take a joke and perhaps they are even worried it might get worse.  They may also start to believe the verbal bullying and this will knock self-esteem. To understand how a person feels on the inside, it is important to try and see how they might be feeling if they are being called these names day in and day out. Many young people say to us that they often the feel some of the following emotions: 

  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Isolated
  • Withdrawn
  • Suicidal
  • Humiliated
  • Low
  • Upset
  • Angry
  • Frustrated
  • Start to believe it or blame themselves 

A person might bottle up their emotions and try not to let it show to their friends or family. It can be hard for someone to feel all those things and try to keep it to themselves and often as a result their behaviour may change. They may show their feelings in other ways and know the signs to look out is really important. We often ask young people how they think the behaviour would show itself if someone bottled up how they really felt. They felt that a person may:

  • Self-harm
  • Feel depressed
  • Withdraw socially and stop going out
  • Avoid social media or messenger
  • Feel anxious about going to school 
  • Be very angry and be aggressive
  • Bully others
  • Develop an eating disorder
  • Turn to drinking or taking drugs

In extreme cases, a person may feel so low they may attempt to or actually take their life. This is sadly a reality for some families who have lost a loved one through bullying.

How can you get the verbal bullying to stop?

It is never easy to try and get the bullying stop. It can take a lot of courage to try and take a stand against bullying. You may have reached a point where you feel unable to take any more or you may be trying to get it stopped before it goes too far.  You may be worried if you do report the bullying, it might get worse, but you have to also ask yourself, can you really take much more or how will you cope if it escalates.  To try and get the bullying to stop you can try to do the following:

Report the bullying to a teacher or someone at school you feel safe with. They may be able to take action and get the bullying to stop. If you are worried that it might make it worse, perhaps you can ask the teacher to just keep an eye on it as they then might see it themselves and take action.

Tell a parent or a family member. This can give you lots of strength and a parent or family member can help you to get the bullying to stop. They can also give you lots of emotional support. It is important to try and tell someone in your family what is going on so you are not bottling things up. Talking about what you are going through can give you courage to get it stopped.

Be assertive with the bully and say their name calling is boring or making them look stupid. However, it is important to ensure that this course of action doesn’t cause them to become aggressive or make the bullying worse. You may think a quiet chat with them when they are on their own might work, but if you do so, please take a friend with you for support.

Ignore it and walk away. Quite often the bully stops when they are no longer receiving attention or a reaction from the bullying. It is always difficult to try and ignore it especially when it is so upsetting or if it is constant but if they don’t get a reaction, it can stop.

It is really important to try and keep your cool in these situations even though the name calling bullying might be making you feel very angry. It is natural to feel this way but if you get aggressive and things turn nastier or physical then someone could get seriously injured or into trouble with the police. This is why it is important to get some help to get the bullying to stop. 

Verbal bullying can and does affect people’s feelings. If you see someone being called an insult then you may think they are just taking it as a joke, but inside how a person feels may not show on the outside. If it becomes regular, they may change their behaviour as a result of the bullying. It can also affect other areas of their life, including friendships, school work and family life. 

Watch our interactive video on bullying within a school and you choose the outcomes. The video shows different ways of getting bullying to stop.


How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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