How to handle the adult bully in your life

(CNN)Most of us behave like a jerk at times. The stresses of today's fast-paced society combined with a national epidemic of sleep deprivation can turn anyone temporarily toxic.

That's OK if it's not a habit, experts say. It's frequent boorish behavior that can become contagious.
"Bad behavior is actually more contagious than good behavior," said Robert Sutton, author of "The A--hole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt."
    "So if you walk into a situation where there's a bunch of disrespect, it's hard not to catch that behavior," said Sutton, a professor of management science at the Stanford University School of Engineering.
      But turning from Jekyll to Hyde occasionally does not make a person a bully. What does define a person as a true bully, Sutton says, is if they regularly make you feel "oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or belittled."
      The brutish actions that often lead to those feelings, Sutton said, include personal insults, teasing jokes, threats, public shaming, rude interruptions, invasion of personal space or uninvited personal contact.

      Types of bullies

        Preston Ni, the author of "How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People" and a communications professor at Foothill College outside San Francisco, has identified five types of adult bullies who use different techniques to inflict harm.
        Tangible/material bully
        These bullies use their formal power, such as being a boss or executive at a company, or material power, such as having legal authority or control over finances, to intimidate others.
        Power is a dangerous thing, Sutton said. "If you're an a-hole and a winner, you are still a loser as a human being in my book."
        Verbal bully
        This type of bully shames and insults with words, often expressing constant criticism or using hostile teasing, Ni explained. Sometimes the language can be sexist, racist or homophobic, and can be threatening.
        Passive-aggressive bully
        It might not sound like bullying, said Ni, but in some ways, this method is the most cunning. This type of jerk behaves nicely on the surface, but stings subtly.
        Examples include toxic gossip, jokes and sarcasm at their victim's expense. A passive bully can roll their eyes, make rude facial gestures and ridicule their target by mimicking some small action. They can also socially or professionally isolate their prey, thus causing insecurity and anxiety.
        A huge problem today, cyberbullying can have lethal consequences for the young and vulnerable. Even mature and emotionally stable adults can be victims of harassing texts, emails and social media. Identity theft is another way of cyberbullying, Ni says.
        Physical bully
        This can range from simulating violence by raising a fist as if to strike, to throwing objects, to violent acts of physical, sexual and domestic abuse.