Dealing with the long-term effects of childhood bullying.

The effects of childhood bullying can be devastating and without interventions can extend into adulthood.  Let’s first understand bullying as aggressive behaviour or intentional harm-doing by peers that is carried out repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power, either actual or perceived, between the victim and the bully (Olweus 1993).  Bullying can take the form of direct bullying, which includes physical and verbal acts of aggression such as hitting, stealing or name calling, or indirect bullying, which is characterised by social exclusion (eg, you cannot play with us, you are not invited, etc) and rumour spreading (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, Kaukiainen, 1992).

Effects of bullying.

Children who experience bullying can experience a range of emotions and may have feelings of sadness, anger, bitterness, frustration, loneliness, vulnerable or isolated.  Experiencing these feelings on an ongoing basis can have some concerning long term effects for the person and potentially develop into depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, sleep disorders, suicidal tendencies, low self-esteem, difficulty developing and maintaining relationships and avoid social interactions.  

Managing the long-term effects of childhood bullying.

If you do find the effects of your childhood experience of bullying have not been resolved and are still affecting you as an adult, then consider these steps to help you heal some of your pain.

Don’t blame yourself: It is common for people who have been bullied as a child to blame themselves for being bullied, however having self-blame can be destructive and lead to depression and believing you were at fault will create a barrier for your healing.  Try challenging unhelpful thoughts by acknowledging the bullying was due to the bully’s choice and because of their own insecurities and it wasn’t because something you did to deserve it. 

Stop being critical of yourself: Don’t dwell on mistakes you may have made eg, you should have stood up to the bully, you should have not let the bully get to you, you should have been stronger etc.  Focusing on the past and what you should or should have down will prevent you from moving on, try shifting you focus to the now and what you can do now to help heal the pain. 

Focus on what you control: Being bullied as a child can leave you with feelings of helplessness that you may still feel in adulthood.  Acknowledge you can’t control what happened to you, but what you can control is how you now respond to what happened and choose to live your life the way you want to live it. 

Recognising your self-worth: Bullying can really eat away at your feelings of self-worth and confidence and sometimes you believe the lies told by the bully.  Work towards rebuilding your self-worth by acknowledging your positive characteristics by noting your strengths, what you are good at, what do people like about you and what do people like about yourself. 

Build on your assertiveness: It can be hard to think of ways to be assertive if this is something you have never done or are good at doing.  Practice assertive communication by letting go of the need to please everyone and do things according to their expectations.  Practice giving assertive responses and when you build up the confidence try being assertive in real life situations. 

Closure: This is something that can play a big role in a person being able to move on from childhood experiences of bullying. It can be easier said than done and can take some time to do, but a good start in getting closure is writing the bully a letter (that you don’t mail), telling them how the bullying made you feel as this will allow you to express all the pain and anger you weren’t able to do at the time.  But be sure to include in your letter how you are not going to be defeated by their bullying and what you are going to do now to help you do this. 

Get counselling and support: The effects of childhood bullying can be traumatic and you may require some outside help to assist you with your healing.  Counselling can help you make sense of what happened to you and suggest strategies to help you deal with and move on from your pain. 

 Written by: Kimberley Aguet Virtual Psychologist – Counsellor

 References:

Olweus D. Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Wiley-Blackwell, 1993.

Bjorkqvist K, Lagerspetz KM, Kaukiainen A. Do girls manipulate and boys fight? Developmental trends in regard to direct and indirect aggression. Aggress Behav 1992;18:117–27. 10.1002/1098-2337(1992)18:2<117::AID-AB2480180205>3.0.CO;2-3