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 four 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!
Please leave a comment and let me know if you have any stories or questions.
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