Research-Backed Advice

7 Peaceful Tips for Dealing with Neighborhood Bullying

Key points

  • Being bullied can have a lasting effect on those directly affected — and people who witness the aggressive behaviors.
  • People who bully often feel insecure or out of control. They use aggressive behavior to try to control others or assert dominance.
  • Bullying doesn’t stop when someone becomes an adult, and sometimes adult bullying behaviors are actually crimes.

When you think of a bully, you probably think of a child who is dealing with some anger management issues. But bullying that involves adults is more common than most people realize. It can happen online, in workplaces, and even in your own neighborhood.

“Both adult and child bullies are acting out of fear and trying to control the bullied person,” says Victoria Latifses, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Austin, Texas.

What does adult bullying look like?

“Bullies might engage in such behavior by explaining they are trying to help the other person conform or teach them a lesson when most often the discomfort lies within themselves,” Latifses says. “Bullies can be insecure and want to draw attention elsewhere rather than focusing on themselves.”

The person on the receiving end of aggressive behaviors might feel inferior or unable to defend themselves. Being the target of adult bullying can leave a person feeling distressed. It can also affect mental and physical health. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying behaviors include:

  • insulting
  • teasing
  • shouting
  • threatening
  • damaging your property
  • spreading rumors
  • inflicting physical harm like punching or kicking

When you live in the same neighbourhood as the bully, it can interfere with your enjoyment of your home and affect your quality of life on a daily basis.

So what do you do when the bully lives nearby?

How to deal with neighborhood bullies

Bullying happens around the world in people of all ages, according to The Lancet

Adult bullying is less studied than bullying among children, but the effects are probably similar and the behaviors are common, researchers say. For instance, 19% of adults report receiving abusive treatment at work.

But there’s no management structure or human resources department for your neighborhood, so you usually have to handle a bully next door yourself.

Remember, your safety comes first. If you’ve been threatened or don’t feel safe, call law enforcement for help. Otherwise, you can try these strategies for dealing with a neighbourhood bully.

1. Stay out of it

“Bullying is only effective in situations where someone is triggered or captivated by the bully’s energy,” says Janice Holland, licensed professional counselor supervisor based in Shanghai, China.

“Bullies can feel this energetic pull and it reinforces their behaviors. Your neighbor will have all kinds of opinions about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, how you decorate your lawn, or what hours your teens are coming home at night. Allow their opinions and thoughts to be just that: theirs,” Holland advises.

It might be tempting to get even with the bully, but retaliation or reacting to bullying behavior might lead the person who’s bullying to double down — making the situation worse.

It might also earn you a visit from law enforcement. 

2. Show kindness

It sounds counterintuitive, but you could try modeling kindness to someone who hurt you.

Kindness has the power to create a more respectful community, according to StopBullying.gov.

That doesn’t mean cruel behavior should be excused.

Still, if it feels okay to you, wave and say hello or compliment your neighbor on their holiday decorations. Even little acts of kindness can have ripple effects.

3. Try to talk it out

If you feel safe, try to talk to your neighbor about the behaviors you find problematic. In some cases, they might not be aware their behavior is bothering you. Try to have the conversation in a public place, like the front yard, when you’re not feeling heated from seeing them fling dog poop in your backyard, or any other recent bullying behavior. 

When you approach them, first ask if they have time and are willing to talk to you.

If so, then try to stay calm and use “I” statements. This means to focus on how you feel rather than accusing them of behaviors. You could say something like:

“Do you have a minute to chat? I’d like to have a good relationship with you, so I wanted to talk to you about something. I’ve been finding dog poop in my backyard, and I don’t have a dog. If you’re responsible for this, I’d like it to stop.”

State what you want clearly and remember that your goal is to get the behavior to stop. You might not get an admission or an apology from your neighbor. But if the behavior stops, you’ve gotten the outcome you wanted.

4. If talking doesn’t work, accept that and move on

Feel out your specific situation. If the neighbor seems like they would be impossible to reason with, they might be.

“I have never met a bully who wants to have a dialogue or conversation,” Holland says. “I haven’t met an adult bully who is interested in a mindset change or wants to work things out.” 

“They are fixed in the mindset that it is their job to control the environment and ensure their world operates in a way they see fit. Engaging in dialogue, trying to please or compromise, only makes the situation drag on longer,” Holland points out.

“Make the decision you aren’t going to play their games, and live your own life.”

5. Set boundaries

It might help to put physical boundaries between you and the person using bullying behaviors, Latifses says.

Can you limit interactions or install a large fence between your homes?

You can also set boundaries verbally, saying something like, “I don’t like what you said to me” or “I’d prefer you don’t say things like that around me.”

6. Keep notes

If the behavior continues, you can report it through the proper channels. Check the regulations in your area.

For example, the homeowners association might have quiet hours or rules about parking and pet waste disposal. 

Your city probably also has laws about property damage and harassment. Keep a record of what your neighbor is doing. Take pictures of their car parked in your spot or other evidence of harassment.

You can also get low-cost security cameras that save footage. Just check your local laws for rules about recording audio and video and where you are allowed to point your cameras.

7. Take care of you

Experiencing bullying behaviors can lead to depression, loss of interest in doing your usual activities, and physical health issues.

You do not deserve to be bullied. But if it’s happening to you, consider seeking out support from loved ones or a mental health professional.

“Bullying happens to adults more often than we might think,” Latifses says. “Researchers have found that there is a certain stigma in admitting you have been bullied as an adult, and this may be why adults don’t talk about it often.”

But we should talk about it, Latifses says. “Bullying results in feelings of shame, loneliness and feeling disconnected.”

What to do if the bullying doesn’t stop

The truth is you don’t have control over your neighbor’s behavior.

If you can no longer ignore it, you might be able to report their behavior to the police. Often bullying that involves adults is a crime, according to StopBullying.gov.

Criminal behaviors include:

  • hazing
  • harassment
  • stalking
  • vandalism
  • hate crimes, if the crime is motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, or disability
  • cyber crimes like fraud, identity theft, or untrue information about you being posted online

Characteristics of an adult bully

People who use aggressive behaviors to hurt others are often looking to feel more powerful. That means, they’ve often lacked opportunities to feel in control in other areas of their lives. 

According to StopBullying.Gov, it’s common for people who bully to:

  • have been bullied themselves
  • have feelings of low self-esteem
  • have difficulty controlling their own emotions or handling social situations
  • lack emotional support or involvement from their parents
  • come from homes where others use aggressive or violent behaviors around them

The final word

Living near someone who repeatedly uses bullying tactics is frustrating and can cause lasting mental health effects.

You don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of unkind behavior — period.

Try to resist the urge to fight back. You might get the outcome you want by ignoring their behavior, setting firm verbal boundaries, or separating yourself from them physically.

Candace Nelson
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Candace Nelson is a journalist, licensed nutritionist, and advocate for mental health. She believes that scientific research should be easier to read. Since it’s not, Candace makes it her mission to translate. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and cat.

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