The side effects of bullying

This post is based on my experience counseling children, adolescents, and adults. In addition, my wife is a school counselor, experienced working with primary and elementary school students. She’s provided me with additional insights to include.

We all know what bullying is. Someone is being picked on. A person is trying to overpower someone else. Someone is asserting dominance over someone that is vulnerable. It can occur at any stage of life.

The Bully

This person wants to control another person (the Victim). They use the weapons of words, social media, physical aggression, exclusion, and humiliation to assert their dominance. Maybe this person has an unstable home life, raised themselves due to absent parents, or has helicopter parents who micromanage their every move. No matter the age, this person has adopted poor social skills and communication skills. They don’t just wake up and choose who they’re going to pick on that day. It’s deeper that and they probably don’t realize it. They need help gaining awareness of the triggers for their anger. They need guidance on how to channel emotions in a prosocial manner. It’s safe to say that a basic need is not being met. They are subconsciously crying out for help.

Example: While working as a counselor in a middle school, I once witnessed one of my clients bullying another one of my clients. The Victim and the Bully both came from low-income backgrounds and struggled with self-esteem issues. The Victim had been gifted a hand-me-down iPhone. Pretty awesome, right? The Bully however capitalized on the fact that the Victim, a boy, was using a rose gold (pink) iPhone and began to make degrading statements, which resulted in the Victim feeling ashamed of his new gift. The Victim’s self-esteem was reduced to momentarily gratify the Bully.

The Victim

This is the person who is being controlled, being teased, being exploited or ridiculed on social media, is being pushed or hit, is being left out of group activities, or is being humiliated in front of their peers. Like the bully, they are crying out for help either internally or externally. They need education and guidance on how to express their emotions, to develop assertiveness skills, and how to implement coping skills.

Example: My wife is currently working with a student who is the victim of repetitive bullying. As a result, the student is now exhibiting self-harm behaviors. She’s crying out for help. She’s losing hope and feels that she doesn’t matter. Perhaps this wasn’t the bully’s intention; nevertheless, they succeeded at asserting their dominance, to the victim’s detriment.

How is mental health involved?

The Bully and Victim often suffer from the same mental health issues: depression, low self-esteem, shame, hopelessness, insecurity, poor conflict resolution skills, etc.

When left unaddressed, the consequences can vary: depression, isolation, social anxiety, panic attacks, dissociation, PTSD, anger, fighting, suicide, or even mass shootings. The most severe of these consequences likely won’t occur from an isolated event; rather, it is often the result of years of triggers and red flags that went unnoticed.

What can be done?

Children, adolescents, and adults need to be aware. The Golden Rule we all learn in elementary school is, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Those caught in the Bully/Victim scenario both need help, whether it be from a trusted adult, peer, mentor, therapist, parent, etc. We all have value and should be treated as such.

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