All bully actions are not “bullying”. In order for something to be labelled as bullying, according to the No Such Thing as a Bully System, the situation must contain the following elements:

Click here for Incident Reporting Form




bully actor perspective + action + victim  responder perspective (see below) Bullying may result in physical injury, hindrance of mental or emotional development and/or exploitation.
Bully  Actor® A person who is engaging in a bullying action®
Victim Responder® A person who is engaging in a victim response®


Bullying can be described in equation form:[1]


Bullying = Bully Actor Perspective + Action +
Victim Responder Perspective

Bully actor perspective =

desire to hurt +
superior power/enjoyment +
desire for control/contempt

Action =

hurtful + repeated

Victim Responder Perspective =

vulnerability +
sense of oppression/unjust treatment

Definition adapted from Ken Rigby, and used with permission,

Types of bullying include:

  • Physical: striking another person; damaging or stealing another person’s property
  • Verbal: name-calling, teasing, humiliating or threatening
  • Social: excluding others; spreading rumors; humiliation; interference in relationships
  • Cyber/Electronic: verbal and/or social bullying via Internet or phone[2]
  • Sexual: physical or verbal actions relating to one’s sexual being or sexuality

The bully actor perspective contains the aspects of having a desire to hurt, and using harmful actions to create a sense of superiority and to control situations and people around them.
When the bully actor perspective is combined with hurtful and repeated action against someone who carries or may be prone to a victim response perspective, a bullying situation takes place. Someone who is prone to a victim responder perspective has a sense of vulnerability and helplessness. They feel incapable of protecting themselves from the actions and they portray responses that the person finds entertaining, and which contribute to the illusion of power and control for the person using the bully action.

We all have the capacity to bully others in particular situations and under certain conditions. But few of us will actually identify ourselves as bullies. For this reason, the phrases “bully actor” and “victim responder” are used here, rather than the words bully and victim. We don’t wish to categorize anyone as either a full time bully or a full time victim. Rather, we wish to provide ways to assess which behaviors and attitudes constitute the bully action and the victim response, and eliminate these actions and attitudes. In this way, we work to eliminate bullying behavior, rather than eliminating or denigrating people.
The definition illustrates a fundamental power imbalance.  It is when the power between people is unbalanced that bullying actions can escalate to a bullying situation.
Bystander behavior is a bully action when it supports the bully.  Some bystanders feel the same emotions and intentions as the person using the bully actions. These are active supporters, and they are using bully actions as well. Some bystanders do not feel the contempt, control, desire to hurt and enjoyment that is required to define a bully action, but they may not stand up in defense of others because of fear, lack of self confidence, or lack of knowledge about what to do.
Ultimately, children using all three of the groups of behavior – bully actions, victim responses and bystander behaviors, need skills that help them positively build their self concept, balance their thinking, increase their self confidence, gain empathy and understanding, and learn superior communication skills.


[2]           Assessment Toolkit, Canadian Public Health Association

One thought on “Bullying Definition

Leave a Reply