How bullying affects you in later life and how to heal

4 min read

How bullying affects you in later life and how to heal
Bullying affects victims long into adulthood, causing low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. But with therapy and self-care, you can break the cycle and heal
While common perception places bullying within the confines of school, the repercussions of such torment extend far beyond those formative years.
Dr Ryu Takizawa from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London says: “The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”
With Anti-Bullying Week commencing on 13 November, it’s time to delve into how the spectre of bullying casts a long shadow over our adult lives.
It is imperative that we unveil the enduring impact of bullying and chart the paths to recovery with empathy.

Common forms of bullying 

Bullying, at its core, involves repetitive aggressive behaviour aimed at causing harm or distress to another person. It is a pervasive issue that affects people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life.
While bullying can take on various forms, it typically falls into three common categories: verbal, social, and physical bullying.
  • Verbal bullying often involves name-calling, teasing, taunting and using hurtful language to belittle or intimidate the target. The scars left by such verbal assaults are not easily forgotten, echoing through the years with self-doubt and diminished self-esteem.
  • Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational aggression, is about manipulating relationships to harm the victim. This can manifest in spreading rumours, exclusion or deliberate efforts to isolate and humiliate. The emotional wounds inflicted by social bullying can run deep, impacting one's ability to trust and form connections in the future.
  • Physical bullying is the most recognisable form and includes physical harm or intimidation. It may encompass hitting, pushing, tripping or any other act of physical aggression. The lasting impact can manifest as physical and emotional trauma that continues to affect individuals into adulthood.
With the rise of social media, instances of cyberbullying have also increased, often presenting as a combination of verbal and social bullying on the digital space.
Each of these forms can have a profound and lasting effect, but the psychological consequences are where the true depth of the issue becomes apparent.
Girl and boy engaging in cyberbullying on phone

Psychological effects of bullying

The aftermath of bullying leaves a significant psychological imprint. Here are five of the most prominent effects that can persist into adulthood:

Low self-esteem and self-worth

Bullying often chips away at an individual's self-esteem. Repeated criticism, ridicule and isolation can lead to enduring feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
As adults, those who were bullied may struggle with self-worth and find it challenging to assert themselves, both personally and professionally.

Anxiety and depression

The emotional toll of bullying can extend well into adulthood, leading to anxiety and depression. The constant fear, humiliation and trauma experienced during bullying can resurface in moments of stress or adversity. Coping with these conditions can be an ongoing battle for survivors of bullying.

Difficulty forming relationships

For many who have been bullied, trust and intimacy can be difficult to establish in adulthood. The scars of social and relational bullying can result in a reluctance to open up and connect with others. Forming and maintaining healthy relationships may require additional effort and therapy for those affected by bullying.

Post-traumatic stress

Individuals who have experienced severe and prolonged bullying may find themselves plagued by distressing memories, flashbacks and nightmares related to their traumatic experiences. These intrusive thoughts can be triggered by seemingly innocuous events that evoke memories of the bullying, causing intense emotional and physical reactions.

Social isolation

Those who have been bullied may carry with them a profound fear of rejection and judgment, making it challenging to trust others and engage in social interactions. Over time, social isolation can reinforce feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, which can exacerbate other psychological effects such as anxiety and depression.

Strategies for coping and healing in adulthood

Cognitive behavioural therapy counsellor helps man to heal from bullying
Recovering from bullying is a journey that demands patience, self-compassion, and often, professional guidance.
Here are a few strategies to cope, each a vital step toward reclaiming their sense of self-worth and well-being.
Keep in mind that it might be beneficial to heal through a combination of strategies and that the doors to other methods are open if one does not work for you.

Therapy and counselling

Therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioural therapy create a safe and empathetic environment for survivors to unpack the emotional wounds inflicted by bullying.
In therapy, individuals can address the complex interplay of past trauma and its impact on their present mental state.
Therapists help survivors develop healthier coping mechanisms and offer guidance on how to reframe their self-image, fostering a sense of resilience and self-assurance.

Self-care and self-compassion

A cornerstone of recovery is the practice of self-compassion. Survivors must actively engage in self-care routines, which involves acknowledging the pain and emotional burden they carry, all while reminding themselves that they are deserving of love, respect and care.
Self-compassion is not a luxury; it is a fundamental necessity for healing.

Establishing boundaries

Learning to set and enforce healthy boundaries in relationships is paramount for survivors. By establishing limits and clearly communicating their needs, survivors can prevent others from crossing lines that may trigger painful memories or emotional turmoil.
Healthy boundaries are an integral part of rebuilding trust and self-assurance.

Support networks

Surrounding oneself with a support network of caring friends and family members can be a powerful source of healing. The act of sharing one's experiences and feelings with loved ones can alleviate the emotional burden carried by survivors.
This network becomes a safe harbour for emotional expression and reassurance, playing a crucial role in the healing journey.

Advocacy and awareness

Some survivors of bullying find solace and healing in advocacy and raising awareness about the issue. By sharing their own stories and supporting anti-bullying initiatives, they empower themselves and others to make a difference.
This act of advocacy provides a sense of purpose and control over their experiences, allowing them to transform their pain into a force for change in their own lives and those of others.
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