4 common long-term effects of being bullied

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I know that I don't need to tell you that bullying can have lasting effects, but let's look at what exactly those effects are.

Whether you were bullied for a short period of time or for a long period of time - it was 2 years in my case - the effects can last a lifetime. Sometimes we may not even realize the effects all at once. Ten years may pass and then something will trigger an emotion and you'll only then realize that you feel that way because of the bullying. It's a rather disturbing thing. Of course there are emotional effects that happen at the time of the bullying, but I want to focus on the long-term effects that persist into our adult lives.

A study came out in 2013 that looked at the the long-term effects of bullying in a way that hasn't been done before. This was the first study on bullying to follow participants from the time they were in school until early adulthood. This study was conducted by William Copeland and colleagues in North Carolina. What they found in regards to victims of bullying were that they had elevated rates of childhood psychiatric problems that continued into adulthood. These problems included agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety and panic disorder.

Actually, here's a good video with Dr. William Copeland discussing the study and its findings.

 Let's look at 4 common long-term effects of being bullied.

1. Depression and anxiety. We all experience sadness and nervousness from time to time but those who were bullied can experience these feelings beyond what an average person may experience. Bullying survivors can experience full blown depression or suffer from a variety of anxiety disorders, which can be a result of the memories of what happened or believing the things that may have been said about you. Think about it, if you're going to believe what a bully said to you, then you are going to feel bad about yourself. It can also cause you to become anxious because you fear that other people see you the way the bully described. Many bullying survivors develop social anxiety or agoraphobia as a result. This can cause you to shut down and not interact with others much, which in turn can lead to depression. Depression and anxiety are a very nasty cycle to get stuck in.

2. Low self-esteem. Self-esteem can be described as "confidence in one's own worth or abilities." So I think it goes without saying that being bullied can certainly affect your self-esteem. The harmful things that a bully can say can shake our confidence in our own worth and make us question our abilities. This is especially likely if the bullying lasted a long period of time. And when you're bullied as a child it's especially harmful to your self-esteem because you haven't figured out who you are yet. The things a bully says can become very influential and it becomes difficult to reverse those thoughts. The worst thing is when you start to dislike yourself because you believe all the negative things being fed to you. It can take many years to finally redevelop your self-esteem to the point where you feel good about yourself again. This long-term effect of course ties in to depression and anxiety as well.

3. Loss of trust. To me this is the worst one because it is the hardest one to overcome. I speak from personal experience here in particular. I've definitely had my fair share of issues with the two effects listed above, but this one has been my most challenging and most costly. At first when you're in school experiencing the bullying you start to question things like who your real friends are and if anyone is saying things behind your back. When you grow up and get out of the bullying situation then you realize you have bigger trust issues. You may have a hard time making friends and an even harder time keeping the ones you have. You may also start to alienate your family members because you just become so insecure that you can't trust anyone with your feelings. For me it was easier to just shut down than to risk being made to feel worse. If you've lost trust in people, I'm sure you can relate to how difficult it is to be able to really trust again.

4. Health problems. These would include sleeping and eating issues. This one is important because if you don't have your health then you don't have much. This of course relates to the other issues because if you're not feeling good emotionally then it becomes difficult to remain motivated to take care of your body. It is known that depression and insomnia are related and it's also not uncommon for bullying survivors to experience post-traumatic stress, which could also lead to problems sleeping. There's not much worse for ruining a good nights sleep than having nightmares of past experiences. Another health problem often faced is eating disorders. If you have low self-esteem then food can be a way to manage your feelings. It just becomes difficult to manage your health when you are also trying to deal with other issues as well.

I hope you can see that being bullied as a child can certainly leave some lasting effects. I called these "common" effects because I want to convey the idea that you are not alone in experiencing any of these issues. Thanks in part to the study mentioned above and in the video, more attention is being brought to the long-term effects childhood bullying can have on adults. It's no longer being seen as a simple "rite of passage," but rather something to be taken seriously.

I will be writing some posts in the future that will explore each of these issues individually and what some of my personal experiences have been with them in an effort to help you better cope with them yourself. If there are any other issues in particular that you would like me to write about, please let me know!

photo credit: Lel4nd via photopin cc

What are your thoughts on these long-term effects? Have you experienced them yourself? Would you add any to this list? I would love to hear what you think so go ahead and leave a comment below. 
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Comments

  1. The most awful part is when all those bad memories keep coming back to you from time to time.I still remember all those humiliations and bullies coming from those mean people back in school and also from a teacher who kept humiliating me infront of others.Already 16 years now.Tears still come rolling down when these bad memories come back.

  2. I’m not sure what to say anymore because I now realize from this and other articles how severe the effects of bullying can be. I have suffered from severe anxiety and depression on and off all of my life. I always sought treatment with therapy and meds. I am now 65 and besides anxiety and depression I now have insomnia severe agoraphobia which I was able to overcome in the past but not now and self abuse issues. I am only now realizing the potential effects bulling in various forms had on my life. I was bullied in HS and also lived across the street from a set of brothers who beat me up many times when I went outside. I could not talk to my father since he was physically and psychologically abusive to me. On the surface I excelled in school but was extremely shy. Later in life I worked for an intrusive unethical psychiatrist who bullied me and who I allowed to put me in double bind situations and instead of fighting back I quit a very good job. I continued to deal with agoraphobia and continued therapy but issues of bullying were never really discussed. Just more and more meds and biofeedback for anxiety. I got another highly responsible job but again my boss was a severe bully. I always dealt with him initially by being scared which led to bullying by other employees but eventually stood up to him. However after 13 yrs of exemplary work I was let go due to financial issues within the company and that combined with the breakup of my first really long term significant relationship (I was 55) at the time led me to be involuntarily hospitalized for severe anxiety where I was bullied by staff because I was a psychologist and refused refused ECT. It was only after that hospitalization and polydrugs that I became suicidal and was again hospitalized and this time was threatened by other patients. I am now on SS disability at age 65 and ashamed of it because from the age of 12 always worked. I trust no one and fear my own shadow. Bullying in any form is dangerous stuff.

  3. Thank you Melissa for posting such an issue , I bet most of all nations suffers or have suffered from. It is sad though when it comes from someone relates you like a member of a family. I can see most of the comments were done couple years ago , but what made me want to share my comment is I really got effected from bullying as an adult , and when I read the effects and studies I noticed i went through most of them (eating disorders, depression, lack of sleep, low self-esteem) the feeling of guilt haunts me that i carry this resentment to this person (sister) cannot trust her, wish her good things , but at the same time i find myself telling her my secrets ,show her i wish her the best, help her but always if she needed something. am 34yrs old now and she is 8 years older than me .I just want to have a healthy relationship full of pure love .

  4. I have been bullied hardly in my high school(16). and it hurted more because my father is maneger of that school. Everytime I told him about this, he avoid this with a laugh because he cares more about socity than family. I cried whole night in those days… Now after five years (21) , I feel depression, anxity, low self steem, lonely, almost every symptoms of long term bulling. I got a big chance to take admission in a university after high school for graduation but I don’t know why I did not took admission and joined a college near my home. Now I think if I would went university that would be right.

  5. Thanks so much for the post.. its one of those things that even though you realize is common among bullying victims.. is not a very reassuring thought because despite talking things out among each other, nothing really changes. Trusting others is also a huge problem I have which makes me find reasons to push people away because I just don’t believe they would want me as friends. I’ve been bullied from grade 3 all through high school graduation so I learned to keep my distance.. what I think is truly sad is that there is really no empathy of people around you when you’re an adult. I’m 30 now and my husband thinks I should just move on. That I’m always negative (even though I got a lot better). It’s hard to be around people who don’t understand that it makes me wonder maybe I should just be alone.. thanks for the note

    • Thanks for your comment. The long-term effects are definitely difficult. Trusting others can be hard to do after being bullied, especially because we are afraid of getting hurt again. And thinking others wouldn’t want to be our friend is just a result of having low self-esteem. Probably one of the hardest things to deal with after years of bullying is others thinking you should just get over it once you’re an adult. If only it were that easy, but they just don’t know because they haven’t experienced it themselves. Even though it makes you want to be alone because you think no one understands, the best thing you can do is surround yourself with others who were bullied or abused because they will support you and understand you. And there are lots of survivors out there.

  6. Well written. I think I am a bit of an oddball when it comes to these effects. I do suffer from Chronic Major Depression and I trust almost no one. But when it comes to the self esteem part I think I went the opposite way of many…My friends say I have a huge ego and I always tell them, “I do not, people with egos think they’re great…I THINK no such thing…I KNOW I’m great!” 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Eric. That’s interesting about your self-esteem. It can be good to have high self-esteem if it’s allowing you to be confident and achieve things you wouldn’t otherwise, but it can also be a bad thing if it’s interfering in your relationships with others. When it comes to self-esteem it’s about finding the right balance. There’s some interesting research on the topic these days and I’ll be writing more about this in future posts. Feel free to check back for those.

  7. Hey Melissa, good post! While I think our pasts help define and shape us, I also believe bullying does have long term affects.

    I still remember the names people called me in middle and high school. I remember who said hurtful things and can even picture where some of it happened.

    To this day, I still question my value.

    Keep writing and keep encouraging others. You’ve got a great thing here and I can’t wait to see where it takes you.

    • Thank you so much Ellory! My first commenter, woo hoo 🙂 I should have a prize for you or something. Would you settle for my gratitude?

      Anyways, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think we’re going to see more studies come out showing how childhood bullying can still affect us as adults. It won’t be seen as a harmless rite of passage anymore.

      I’m sorry to hear that you still question your value. I wish I could say just always believe in yourself and that would be it, but I know that’s easier said than done.

      Thanks again and I’ll do my best to keep encouraging!

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