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The Effects of Bullying on your Mental Health

Bullying can be experienced at any time of your life and the effects of bullying can be devastating and long lasting.

Bullying experienced in childhood can contribute to mental health problems in later life, but often people are unaware of the connection.

In this blog I explore bullying and the effects it can have on your mental health.

Bullying is described as repeated verbal, physical, mental, emotional and/or social behaviour by one or more people towards someone where there is an intention to cause fear, distress or harm.

Usually this involves a person or group of people exerting their power over someone who feels less powerful. Bullying is not just ‘playing around’ or harmless fun – it can be very damaging to a person's mental health.

Bullying can take many forms. It can be physical (e.g., hurting people or their property/possessions) and/or verbal (e.g., name-calling and threatening others), it could be emotional ie loving and giving one day and cruel and hurtful the next, and it can occur in many different environments, such as face-to-face, over the phone or online (cyberbullying). Bullying can also be hidden or ‘covert’, for example, by deliberately excluding others or spreading rumours. This type of bullying can be much harder to pick up on and understand.

There are many reasons why bullying happens. Someone who bullies others may not value or feel good within themselves or they may have experienced bullying or violence themselves. They might use bullying as a way of making themselves feel more powerful or to ‘look cool’ in front of others. Bullying behaviour can also be motivated by jealousy, lack of knowledge, fear or misunderstanding.

Bullying experienced in early childhood can have an increased risk of depressive and anxiety disorders and the need for psychiatric treatment later in life.

Many studies have found a link between bullying and a higher risk of mental health problems during childhood, such as low self-esteem, poor school performance, depression, and an increased risk for suicide,

school pencils
school pencils

In the United Kingdom, it is said about 16,000 children permanently stay home from school because they are routinely bullied, and their academic achievement suffers as a result.

Bullied children may also suffer from serious illness, inability to focus, poor social relationships, and even have trouble holding down a job as adults.

As adults they can have higher rates of agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety.

Up to 35% of people are estimated to have experienced bullying at some point in their life.

By adulthood, we are generally expected to have ‘got over’ it. But the mental health effects of being bullied can be serious and last a lifetime.

Being bullied as a child in school, which is such a huge part of an individual’s world, is clearly a traumatic experience – it should come as no surprise that it may leave lasting scars.

I myself was bullied at school form the age of 11-15 and my self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem were badly damaged because of this.

As I grew up I was convinced I was not good enough to be friends with people, I had always been excluded from groups of friends at school and so I was unable to know how to act around others due to the fear of rejection and name calling.

In social situations and new environments with new people I found it impossible to be able to interact with others because of this fear, believing people would not be interested in me and that I did not belong.

Therapy helped me to identifying my negative thinking patterns, self beliefs and subsequent behaviour that the bullying may have triggered in me and ultimately this helped me to change the beliefs about myself that the bullies had convinced me of.

In my therapy room I have had clients in their 50's and 60's who have struggled with . inexplicable bouts of anger, a lifetime of feeling inferior to other people and a lack of self-worth. Through the counselling we have uncovered children who suffered from bullying of some kind.

This was at an age when they were still in the process of developing their personalities, so no wonder the effects of bullying have been a long lasting decline in self-esteem.

Perhaps the most important thing in order to get over traumatic bullying experiences is to stop blaming yourself.

boy with face in hands
sad boy

But bullying doesn't just happen at school you may have experienced trauma and bullying within your family from parents, siblings or family friends and relatives and the effects of this type of bullying are also long lasting.

For many victims trying to overcome this experience, the loss of trust is perhaps the most challenging consequence.

If nobody stands up for you at the time of being bullied, or the people you trust most in life break that trust you struggle to know how to trust anyone and this can continue into your adult life.

Emotional and mental bullying can be more difficult to identify but can often happen in families

Emotional abuse tends to be the most common form of bullying behavior in the family.

Families that tend to overly control, dominate, and shame their children also tend to produce bullies in later life.

Bullying can also lead to more serious problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, and in many cases physical health conditions as well.

office workers
office workers

It is not just children who experience bullying, bullying within a family can continue well into adulthood, people can start relationships with bullies and bullying at work is more common than we think.

A national survey by the workplace bullying institute, in 2007, showed that of 3,500 respondents, 20% had taken sick leave as a result of bullying. with a range of common symptoms presented in those targeted - 80% of people had anxiety, 52% had panic attacks, 49% had depression and 30% had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Again it can be the psychological bullying that may be most prevalent in the workplace

This may include constant criticism for real or imagined infractions, usually of minor importance, consistently blaming a colleague at any opportunity, and refusing to value and appreciate the individual. This may also include emotional and verbal abuse (to undermine self-esteem and confidence), intimidation, and humiliation.

Employees who are regularly criticized by others tend to be very critical of themselves, as well.

Have compassion for yourself, and treat yourself with kindness. Most of us are actually doing a better job at everything than we think we are—no matter what anyone else believes or says.

Adult bullies were often either bullies as children, or bullied as children. Bullying may have been their only way of being able to get attention as a child or it may have helped them feel like they have some sort of power over others due to the bullying they experienced themselves.

Bullying may be a form of self protection by the bully, the only way they were able to avoid being bullied was to be a bully themselves.

It could be as a child showing vulnerability to a controlling parent led to discipline and aggression.

This means as an adult they are unable to show any vulnerability and have to exert their power over others to feel safe.

Understanding this about them may be able to help you cope with the behavior. However bullying is never justifiable.

All bullying, whatever the motivation or method is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. It can affect anyone and we are all potential targets - whether we are adult, child or the bullying is at school, in the community, at work, on line or at home.

If you have experienced bullying, are currently a victim of bullying or feel you may be a bully yourself but are unable to know how to stop, then counselling can be useful for you.

In many cases with bullies, the bully might have or had a difficult family or home life and might experience domestic violence, emotional abuse, and other forms of abuse on a regular basis. They might even be abused or bullied at home by a family member. These people need help as soon as possible before they perpetuate the violent cycle by becoming a bully themselves.

Those who are isolated or find themselves with few friends are often the primary targets for bullies.

Strengthening and building your self-esteem is another way to help you avoid being bullied.

Those with higher self esteem are not at such a high risk of bullying attacks.

Counseling helps you receive the emotional support to help yourself build self esteem and to learn how to mentally and emotionally handle bullies.

If you experienced bullying as a child and feel difficulties you face today are as a result of that bullying, being able to process that with a counsellor will help you understand yourself better and start to make changes to improve your quality of life.

Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.

She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions

Laura also spent some time working with Dorset Mind delivering education to local employers on how to identify and manage stress at work reducing the impact that work stress can have on peoples every day lives.

Laura found that many of her clients would present with Anxiety and because of this enhanced her training to include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as there is evidence to suggest that CBT is effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

Laura now focuses on working with adults who struggle with Anxiety within her private practice, working with them to reduce the scary physical and emotional symptoms they experience so they can lead a calmer life.

For more information about Laura please visit her website

Or visit her Facebook page

Tel 07975 733029 E-Mail

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