Monday, April 24, 2017

Think Before You Speak: Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Bullying

Bullying has long been considered a childhood problem, but recently much-needed attention has been directed at adult bullies and their targets. It turns out that bullying isn’t necessarily something we outgrow. Not only are there adult bullies and victims, but the long-term effects of childhood bullying can present itself in numerous ways. From targets being more inclined towards substance abuse to lasting self-esteem and self-efficacy issues, bullying is a form of abuse and trauma that doesn’t slough away with adolescence.

Although bullying may not end with adulthood, how it’s presented can change—but not always. Bullies might still take things that don’t belong them, make taunts (but as adults, they’re often veiled as jokes), and generally target specific people in an ongoing power and ego-boosting quest. The long-term effects of bullying can be serious, but vary based on whether the person is the bully or the target.

The Effects on the Bully

It’s no surprise that bullies usually aren’t happy people, whether they’re children or adults. Demeaning others is often a way to make themselves feel better, angle themselves as powerful as a defense mechanism, and exhibiting control and power when they might not have any in other environments. Long-term effects of bullying on the bully may include:

·         A lack of healthy relationships. This isn’t shocking, but it can be detrimental. Bullies who don’t learn how to develop positive, healthy relationships might be drawn into abusive relationships (whether they’re the abuser or victim). Social wellness is just as vital as physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Unfortunately, building healthy relationships requires practice that some bullies may not have attained.

·         Substance abuse. Bullies may be more prone to finding other dangerous forms of self-soothing, such as abusing drugs or alcohol, in addition or in lieu of bullying. Worse, substances can exacerbate a bully’s natural aggressive tendencies.

·         Poor parenting. If a bully doesn’t recognize and address childhood issues, they’re more likely to pass on negative conflict resolution techniques to their own children. Encouraging rough housing, making fun of others and even fighting perpetuates the bullying cycle.

·         Low self-esteem. Lacking confidence and self-esteem is linked to a myriad of issues that can affect a person’s overall well-being. Bullying is a Band-Aid approach to “fix” low self-esteem, which typically never works. If a person continues this habit into adulthood, low self-esteem will persist, snowballing into more severe side effects which might include self-harm, seeking out abusive relationships, and exacerbate depression or anxiety.

·         Lingering guilt. Hopefully, bullies do learn empathy and remorse. However, the saying “guilt eats away at you” is common for a reason. If a person doesn’t develop healthy approaches to handle their guilt, perhaps with the help of a mental health therapist, guilt can impact a person’s overall health long-term. In some cases, addressing lingering guilt can require experimenting with numerous approaches.

The Effects on the Victim

Kids are durable, but trauma (whether physical, emotional or mental) can certainly affect a person long-term. Someone who was bullied can experience a plethora of long-term effects, including:

·         Poor leadership skills. Leadership isn’t something you can master, and even perceived great leaders are always changing, growing and evolving. However, the blow to a person’s self-esteem from bullying can prevent them from pursuing managerial and leadership positions they might want or otherwise be well-suited for. Bullying can potentially harm a person’s professional success for years.

·         Lack of advocating for oneself. Somewhat aligned with poor leadership skills, victims might not have the capacity to advocate for themselves professionally or personally due to bullying. Lacking self-love, self-confidence, and the tools necessary for self-advocacy can keep a person from success and leverage in every aspect of their life.

·         Avoiding confrontation to a severe degree. Victims can often confuse healthy confrontation and conflict resolution with bullying. It’s normal to avoid any confrontation when a victim might relate it to getting bullied. A popular tip for victims is to ignore their bullies to decrease interest. This sometimes work in schoolyard settings, but ignoring conflict that needs to be addressed won’t do a victim any favors as an adult. Knowing when to confront and when to walk away is a life skill victims can struggle with.

·         Substance abuse. Like bullies, victims may be more likely to self-soothe with substances. Whether they call it “taking the edge off” or use substances as a tool for false courage, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Oftentimes, victims might start experimenting with substances in their teenage years, veering into abuse. This can set them up for a lifetime of substance abuse challenges.

·         Eating disorders. From restriction via anorexia to binge eating disorder (BED), eating disorders stem from several factors, including genetic. However, control is a common aspect of most types of eating disorders and naturally attractive to victims who felt they lacked control with bullies. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental disorder and the most under-diagnosed and under-insured. Like alcoholism, eating disorders are a lifelong disorder that can be managed, but not cured.

Fortunately, bullying is increasingly becoming a serious issue, and many schools have adopted a zero-tolerance policy. However, bullying isn’t restricted to only children or schools. Children may be bullied at home or in other non-school environments, and it doesn’t necessarily end in adulthood. Understanding the long-term impact of bullying on both sides of the fence is key to dismantling it within society.


1 comment

pailofpearls said...

Very serious but important post. Everyone should probably give something like this a read.

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