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
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
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
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
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.