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What you really need to know about bullying and its lifelong effects

by Amanda Collins

It is a truth acknowledged by experts across the globe that a child who is bullied will carry scars into adulthood. These scars can create anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and panic disorder.

It’s time to stop the cycle; bullying should never be a “normal” part of growing up. It’s time to protect impressionable young people and vulnerable adults from the torment of bullying, and it’s time to help past sufferers heal.

So with that in mind, let’s have a look at the problem, some solutions and a spot of advice for dealing with the aftermath of bullying.

bullying and its lifelong effects research

A deeper look at the problem

If you consider that children spend a great portion of their time in school, like sponges absorbing information about the world and who they are, it makes sense that they are shaped by their schoolyard experiences.

A recent Duke University study into bullying found that its effects are far-reaching, with many adults suffering long-term mental health issues stemming from their childhood and teenage experiences.

Lead author of the study, Professor William Copeland, spoke on the subject in the wake of the study results saying, “Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up”.

“We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning.

“This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied.

“This is something that stays with them and if we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road,” he added.

Addressing the problem

What is bullying?

Bullying happens when a person, or a group of people, use verbal, physical, social or psychologically aggressive behaviour to cause another person harm, upset or fear.

Bullying can be obvious, like physical violence, or it can be more subtle, like ignoring or excluding someone to deliberately hurt them.

Just a sample of the hundreds of different types of bullying behaviours include:

  • Name calling
  • Tripping someone over
  • Spreading rumours
  • Excluding a person socially
  • Harassing someone through text, email or social media
  • Sending insulting or threatening texts, emails, or social media messages
  • Making someone’s embarrassing or personal information public
  • Creating hate websites
  • Exclusion on social network sites

cyber bullying and its lifelong effects

“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.”

Stopping the cycle

Society as a whole has the power to stamp out bullying once and for all, and as part of that society, you have the capacity to make a difference.

So how can you be a force for change?

Don’t tolerate bullying. Make it a set rule in your house that violence, bullying or harassment is not okay. Talk with your family about the reasons these behaviours are unacceptable.

Speak out about bullying issues. Make sure your children, friends and family know your views on bullying. Have open discussions about it.

Point things out. When you see inequality, injustice, bullying, cruelty or discrimination, whether it be on television, the radio, in the news, on billboards, or on the street – wherever you find it, make sure you take the time to point out to your children/friends/family why it is wrong, and let them know that these things are never acceptable.

Model kindness. Be a role model by treating everyone around you with empathy and respect.

Stand up. When you see something, say something. Don’t be a silent bystander. Report bullying when you witness it. Your actions could change someone’s life.

Build and encourage empathy in children. A child is much less likely to be cruel to another child who they see as a friend and a person with feelings. Encourage children to build empathy, sympathy and respect. You could start discussions by saying things like ‘what do you think it would feel like to be bullied?’ or ‘why do you think they did that?’.

If you have a child, listen to them. Ask them if they have been bullied or if they have seen anyone being bullied.

If they have been bullied, you could discuss how they feel about it, counter their negative thoughts about themselves with why they are special and valued.

Your child also needs to understand that bullying is not about them. They are not the problem, they are loved and valued. The problem lies in the bully and the bully’s own personal issues.

Then discuss strategies that they could use for dealing with the bully. You also need to inform their school straight away of what is happening so that the situation can be dealt with.

If your child has witnessed bullying, discuss with them how bullying is wrong and encourage them to report it.

Encourage children in what they love. Enrol them in dance classes or football or whatever activity that they enjoy and that would highlight their strengths. They need a place where they can feel confident and secure.

Volunteer. One of the best ways for a child to learn compassion is by volunteering with a local charity. You could make it a weekly excursion that you do together.

Praise kids for kind things. When you see your child do something kind or selfless for someone, acknowledge it and give them praise.

Let children know how special they are. Make time to build up your child’s confidence, help to shape their view of themselves by instilling in them a sense of worthiness.

bullying and its lifelong effects

If you have been bullied

If you have suffered under the weight of bullying, it’s time to break those long held beliefs. Below you will find a number of ways you can start to do this.

Recognising you were not to blame

Victims of bullying are not to blame for their situation. The bully needed to feel power over someone. That is all.

There was nothing defective, unworthy, abnormal or unlovable about you.

Your bullying was driven by a deep need to lash out at the world and to feel powerful.

Understanding the bully

There are three types of bullies:

  • The lone bully – Generally these bullies have experienced neglect or abuse of some kind in their lives. They have a need to control others, a lack of sympathy for the feelings of those around them, and enjoy the powerful feeling they get when others see them bullying and condone it.
  • The bully-victim – This bully has themselves experienced bullying, and out of anxiety or depression, will lash out at another person with bullying behaviour.
  • The bully under the influence of others – This person will bully someone when their friends and peers are around. They do this because they think it makes them look good and because they need to feel powerful and superior.

Understand that a bully will choose someone to hurt out of deep needs within themselves. It’s not you, It’s them.

Take control and make healthy choices

You have been hurt, and you have some scar tissue. The best thing that you can do is to give yourself the tools you need to heal.

If you suffer from low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, you may need to talk to a counsellor or a psychologist, and give yourself time to work through these issues. Check out our articles on depression and anxiety for more information.

Taking care of your body is also super important, not only for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. According to experts, regular physical exercise can also be a great tool for boosting mood, confidence and resilience.

Change your thoughts

It is likely that as a result of bullying you may have some distorted thinking patterns. Basically, what this means is that your mind is convincing you of things that aren’t true.

Some of the more common thought distortions include:

Emotional reasoning – Because you feel something it must be true.

Personalisation – You assume blame for something that is not your fault. For example, you may think that what people say or do is in reaction to you, that it is a reflection of your self-worth.

Catastrophising – Imagining and expecting the worst-case scenario.

Mind reading – Making assumptions about other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours without asking them.

The best way to deal with distorted thinking is to challenge the thoughts when they come up.

Ask yourself, what is the evidence to support this thought? Am I jumping to conclusions? Are my thoughts based on feelings or facts?

There is a great type of therapy designed to tackle distorted thinking, it is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

If you want to learn more about how to overcome unhealthy patterns of thought, make an appointment with a psychologist who can lead you through the process of CBT and undoing habitual thought patterns.

Build on your strengths

One sure fire way to build yourself up is to focus on your strengths. You have them, whether or not you believe this at the moment.

Finding your strengths is an important life journey, and one that can have a really positive impact on your mental health.

Often we are not the best judges of ourselves and so, sometimes it is best to ask friends and family what strengths they see in you and make a list.

You may also want to take the free VIA Character Strengths Test, to give you more clarity.

overcome bullying and its lifelong effects

Moving forward

Stamping out bullying and its harmful effects will only happen with a concerted effort.

Every day you make choices which can make a difference; even little acts of kindness and awareness can change someone’s life/mind/actions. Essentially, your choices will make change happen.

So be part of the solution, and let’s ensure that bulling is never again considered “normal”.

Do you like helping people?

If you’re good at helping people through tough times, you may have what it takes to be a counsellor. A Diploma of Counselling from Open Colleges can give you the skills and knowledge you need to make your passion your career.

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