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Should I Fight a Bully?

If a bully picks on me, should I fight back?
- Cole*

Standing up to bullies doesn't mean you have to have a physical fight with them. Most of the time, you don't have to fight. There are almost always more effective ways to deal with bullies — ways that are better for you.

Sometimes, though, people feel they need to (or want to) fight a bully. They may feel that they are being physically threatened right at that moment and need to protect themselves. They may think fighting back will teach the bully a lesson or be the best way to escape. Some people may feel pressured by others to fight back when they don't really want to. That's never a good reason to fight.

There's no easy answer to the question about when someone should fight back physically. Some bullies don't actually want to fight. They just like to intimidate others. Other bullies back down without a fight if the person they're targeting stands up to them. But some bullies like to get into a fight. They might like to cause pain to others — or feel pain themselves.

Fighting can get dangerous. A fight can lead to serious injuries. The bully might have a weapon. Fighting may make the bully feel he or she has to come back later with a weapon or friends to help — and the whole thing can get out of control.

What can people who are being bullied do to feel more in control and able to defend themselves? If you're being bullied, talk with a responsible adult, such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or coach. They can get involved to help.

In some cases, it also might be necessary to get help from the police. After all, if a bully physically attacks someone, it's assault — and that's a crime. If a bully uses a weapon or threatens to use one, it can result in severe penalties for the bully, including expulsion from school, arrest, and even prison.

For people who want to build skills and improve confidence, taking self-defense classes can help. Even for people who never need to use self-defense skills, just learning them can be very helpful.

In a few rare situations, fighting back may be the only way out at that moment. But fighting back physically is only a good idea when there is no other choice to avoid injury. In almost all other cases, there are better, more effective, and safer choices.

Reviewed by: Neil Izenberg, MD
Date reviewed: June 2012

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.