Sadly, most people have experienced bullying in some form, generally as kids or teenagers.
Bullying hurts. Its effects can be everlasting, even though we tell ourselves “It’s a kid thing” “all kids are bullied” “they did not mean it” or “it’s not a big deal” the imprint remains and to be there, silently haunting us. These cruel comments oddly morph themselves into what we believe to be our own thoughts as adults.
Bullying is deeply intertwined in social media.
“You are fat and ugly” “You are stupid” “You are a baby” “Shorty” “Gay” and the list goes on and on.
Effects of bullying and the trauma surrounding it, is commonly ignored, unrecognized, or discounted. Bullying can cause traumatic experiences, leading to PTSD and have a far-reaching effect on our lives. Bullying can contribute to how we view ourselves.
Bullying is Abuse, Period.
Bullying is a form of abuse. Yes, we all grow up and become adults, but the words and actions from a bully still remain with us…even if we don’t realize it. Many times, the voice or actions of the punk bully actually become our own voices in our head.
I have witnessed this far too many times in my office. I worked with one of my adult patients recently who experienced traumatic bullying as a child. I encouraged her to write about it. The result was a beautiful mix of her therapy artwork and heartfelt story. Click on the cover below to read “Freddie the Bully” by Chelsea Kaili.
True bullies prove to be selfish and/or sadistic, destructive, and often violent acts perpetrated upon victims who do not in any way, shape or form deserve to be treated in that manner.
Victims may try to tell an adult, keep it buried out of fear the bullying will get worse, or believe they deserve the abuse due to their behaviors, appearance, family dynamics, financial issues, or not “being good enough”.
Bullying Causes Long-Term Emotional Damage
The experience of being bullied can end up causing lasting damage to victims, often times diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
It is not necessary to be physically harmed in order to suffer lasting damage. Words and gestures are quite enough. In fact, the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me” is BS.
Physical damage sustained in a fist fight heals readily and recognized. This is generally addressed by adults and the damage is sustained during the resilient childhood years. What is far more difficult to mend is the primary wound that bullying victim suffer which is damage to their self-concepts; to their identities. Bullying is an attempt to instill fear and self-loathing. Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual.
Bullying can create horrific outcomes that stem from learning to view yourself as a less than desirable, incapable individual. The first, it is more likely that you will become increasingly susceptible to becoming depressed and/or angry and/or bitter. Being bullied teaches you that you are undesirable, that you are not safe in the world, and (when it is dished out by forces that are physically superior to yourself) that you are relatively powerless to defend yourself. When you are forced, again and again, to contemplate your relative lack of control over the bullying process, you are being set up for Learned Helplessness (e.g., where you come to believe that you can’t do anything to change your ugly situation even if that isn’t true), which in turn sets you up for hopelessness and depression.
At the same time, you may be learning that you are helpless and hopeless, you are also learning how you are seen by bullies, which is to say, you are learning that you are seen by others as weak, pathetic, and a loser. And, by virtue of the way that identity tends to work, you are being set up to believe that these things the bullies are saying about you are true.
Self-Identity is a social process.
Other people and children contribute to it. Kids do not know who they are. Just like the rest of us, they are learning through experiences and trials and this is a process. Much of what passes for identity in the young (and in the older too) is actually a kind of other-confidence, which is to say that many people’s self-confidence is continually shored up by those around them telling them in both overt and subtle ways that they are good, worthy people. People want to belong. We want acceptance and approval and this desire is extremely elevated in childhood.
Bullying forces kids to believe not part of groups; that they are outcasts and outsiders. It is hard to doubt the reality of being an outcast and an outsider when you have been beaten or otherwise publicly humiliated. It takes an exceptionally confident (or otherwise well-supported) person to not internalize bullies’ negative messages and begin bullying yourself by holding yourself to the same standards that bullies are applying to you and finding yourself a failure. Sadly, most kids don’t have this kind of support system because they don’t tell anyone what is going on.
Kids who have been victims to bullying and been verbally beaten begin seeing themselves as weak, no-good, worthless, pathetic, and incompetent. These are the sort of thoughts that lead to depression, or, if they are combined with revenge fantasies, to anger and rage feelings.
Where the first ugly outcome of bullying unfolds rather immediately in the form of a wounded self-concept, the second ugly outcome unfolds more slowly over time. Having a wounded self-concept makes it harder for you to believe in yourself, and when you have difficulty believing in yourself, you will tend to have a harder time persevering through difficult situations and challenging circumstances. Deficits in academic performance can easily occur when bullying victims succumb to depression or otherwise become demoralized. They certainly also occur when victims ditch school to avoid bullies. The deficits themselves are not the real issue. The real issue is that if deficits occur for too long or become too pronounced, the affected children can lose out on opportunities for advancement and further study, and ultimately, employment.
Inevitably, it is the sensitive kids who get singled out for teasing; the kids who cry easily; the easy targets. Targeted as they are, many sensitive kids learn to think of their sensitivity as a bad thing and to avoid it, and/or channel it into revenge fantasy and anger. This doesn’t much work when you are a kid (it is difficult to reinvent yourself without actually moving to a new place), and it can have negative consequences in adulthood when the same children, now emotionally avoidant or angry or cynical adults, find themselves having difficulty entering into or maintaining loving and warm intimate relationships.
A similar form of damage comes when bullied kids internalize negative attitudes concerning aspects of themselves that set them apart from others, such as their sexual orientation, minority group membership, or religious affiliation. In such cases, bullying sets up a peer pressure to reject aspects of one’s self which are fundamentally not rejectable, and thus a potentially lifelong tension gets set up inside that person.
In the short term:
- Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur.
- Greater incidence of illness
- Lower grades than non-bullied peers
- Suicidal thoughts and
In the long term:
- Reduced occupational opportunities
- Lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, desire for revenge.
- Difficulty trusting people
- Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations
- Increased tendency to be a loner
- Perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, and thin-skinned
- Self-esteem problems (don’t think well of self)
- Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach