When is it OK to retaliate against bullies?

Is it OK to retaliate against bullies? The short answer is NO. The long answer is a bit more complicated than that, and there is no one-size-fits-all. The devil is in the details. Are you retaliating or are you fighting back? Do your actions feel more like revenge or do they feel like you just want the bullying to stop?

You are encouraged to fight back, but not retaliate. Keep reading and I am sure it will make sense to you shortly.

What is the difference between retaliating and fighting back?

These two terms sound like the same thing, but the difference is huge. The biggest difference being the intention in which it is used:

  • Retaliating means you mean to “return the favour”, to “revenge” at all cost.
  • Fighting back means you want to “stop the bullying” but not at all cost.

Why should you not retaliate?

Retaliation against bullies usually makes things worse. Some of the things that can go wrong:

  • A crafty bully can make it look like you are the aggressor, and he is the victim.
  • You can injure your bully, or incite him to injure you more.
  • You can get yourself expelled from school, even if the teacher knows you’re not the aggressor; schools tend to have a zero-tolerance policy against bullying, no matter if you’re the victim or bully.

Why should you fight back?

It is imperative, however, that you must fight back. Why? So that bullying can be reduced in schools and work places. If more victims of bullying will speak up, more bullies can be stopped (and also helped).

There are many ways you can fight back against bullying. We always advocate for, and approach from a non-violence point of view, but for completeness, the physical way to fight back is mentioned. Please avoid it if you can.

How to fight back

  • Build an alliance with powerful friends – bullies sometimes act alone, but they are usually in groups. Associate yourself with people with influence and power, and get on their good side. Bullies tend to avoid “connected” people.
  • Condition yourself mentally – when you prepare yourself mentally to cope with bullying, you learn a skill that will help you now, but in the future too, in different situations. Read about others who triumphed. Get inspiration and ideas. Learn.
  • Condition yourself physically – we do not advocate physical retaliation, but sometimes there’s no other way. When you are in shape, you may have an edge when someone bullies you physically. Please do not retaliate physically unless there is no way out. When you do, intend no harm but use your skills to evade the attempts.
  • Show no reaction – bullies thrive when they get reaction out of their victims. If you do not react, you are denying them that satisfaction. In most cases, their attempts will fizz out.
  • Ask for help – speak to someone you trust, and ask for help. It may not help, but it should bring attention to what is happening. Speak to a trusted teacher or a parent. They can usually do more than you can on your own.
  • Start over – although not always possible, and if your parents or teachers can’t help, they can investigate moving you to a different school. That might feel as if you are running away, but sometimes, a fresh start is a good thing.
  • Build your skills – when you have skills in something such as academics or sports, bullies find it a lot harder to tarnish your name.
  • Build your confidence – bullies know how to sniff out new victims. Intimidation, stares, trash talking. Your reaction to those actions tell them a lot about how you will react to bullying. If you are confident and appear strong, they might leave you alone.
  • See something, say something – sometimes, you are not the victim, but you know of someone who is. Please speak up on their behalf. When you speak up, you might save a life. Victims are sometimes too scared or embarrassed to speak up.


Bullies are sometimes relentless and never stop, no matter what you do. Should you ever resort to retaliation, especially violent retaliation, you could get into a lot more trouble than your bully does. The best course of action is that if you are the victim of bullying to tell someone you trust.

Speak to us. Ask a question, browse our questions, or send a contact request to one of our Angels.

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