What to say to bullies over text?

This is such an interesting question. I normally recommend NOT responding to bullying texts and pretending like you didn’t even see it. And then feigning ignorance if it is brought up. But there are other ways to think about how and if to respond using behavioral psychology.

If you want unwanted behavior, like bullying to stop – then according to behavioral science, you need to stop rewarding it. Bullies are often looking to get your attention so if you give them attention – they think – well – that worked.

The advice to ignore a bully is based on this principle. The problem is – in person – you can’t ignore a bully – because – they are right there and silence is experienced as submission by them.

Online – is a different matter altogether. You can literally ignore them and pretend you didn’t see the message. This will drive them batty. They want to know they got to you and upset you. Not having been seen or heard – denies them that.

I normally tell people – just block the person. It’s better for your mental health to not focus on something that isn’t about you anyway. When people bully – it’s because of them – not you.

But is this – just pretend you didn’t see it – always good advice? No. There are some instances where you MIGHT want to respond. But I have trouble to even think of situations.

If it is a group text, and other people can see it – you may want to respond – not to the bully, but so that others can see your response. Basically – the rules then are the same as if you were doing this in person – which is – issue what a behavioralist calls a DELTA – it’s a signal that what just happened – as wrong. Not bad – but just – not ok.

The best way to issue a delta is to be polite but firm and unemotional. Basically – call them out – politely for their rude behavior. You only have to do this once. And even then – you don’t have to do it.

I’ve been bullied online. Or rather – people have tried to bully me online. I didn’t retreat from the system – I simply pretended like I hadn’t seen it and continued to engage as if that person didn’t exist. And if asked go – oh – I didn’t see that – sorry. And if told – just say something like – well – some people just aren’t all that mature. And leave it at that.

Eventually what happens is that other people get tired of the bully being a jerk and they shut them down for you. What you need to do is

  1. Don’t take their behavior against you seriously. Whatever they are saying – isn’t true and it reflects badly on them that they are behaving badly – not on you – unless you respond badly back.
  2. Behave with dignity, politeness and niceness and don’t engage. Don’t answer allegations except to say – that the allegations are stupid. If you argue – you give credence to whatever it is. Don’t – just – that’s not worth talking about – as it’s coming from someone who is behaving badly.
  3. Give your attention to positive things. The nice thing about social media is that the algorithms feed you what YOU pay attention to. So – if you start seeing negative things in your feed – search out positive things until your feed reflects your positive interests. Trust me – there is no better revenge on someone who is being mean – than to actually not notice them.
  4. If you are receiving direct communications that are negative – block them. Electronic communications give you ALL sorts of tools to block negative things. Use them. Don’t give a bully your time or attention – UNLESS – they are nice to you.
  5. Finally – always be nice when you interact with them. My mother always said – it takes 2 to fight. Don’t fight. If they want to pick a fight – let them fight themselves. You don’t have to be part of it. And yes – this does work.

If you want to learn more – get my book, watch one of the free video lessons or take the toolkit – which – if you can’t afford it – is free. Just – don’t suffer unnecessarily because of a bully.