Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. , a Ohio Psychologist, wrote an excellent article for the website “MentalHelp.Net” entitled “The Long Term Effects of Bullying“. In the article, Dr. Dombeck discusses frankly his own experience with bullying as a child and how this has long term effects not only for him, but in his studies of others who have also suffered with constant bullying.
Dr. Dombeck writes:
I’m 40 years old now; it’s been something like 30 years since that sort of thing last happened. Still, the experience has not left me, it sucked so much. I don’t think about it much these days, but I know that having lived through those experiences has shaped me as an adult, and not for the better.
This is the same feeling many victims of long term bullying share, that the years of bullying effect who we are as adults today and at times the decisions we make. Dr. Dombeck goes on to point out particular points about bullying that he feels must be reinforced. Those are:
Bullying is Abuse
Bullying is a form of abuse and that bullying is a narcissistic sort of act. It is a selfish and/or sadistic, destructive, and often violent act on victims who do not in any way deserve to be treated in that manner.
Bullying Causes Long-Term Emotional Damage
The experience of being bullied can end up causing lasting damage to victims. This is both self-evident, and also supported by an increasing body of research. It is not necessary to be physically harmed in order to suffer lasting harm. Words and gestures are quite enough. Bullying is an attempt to instill fear and self-loathing. Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual.
There are two ugly outcomes that stem from learning to view yourself as a less than desirable, incapable individual. The first ugly outcome is that it becomes more likely that you will become increasingly susceptible to becoming depressed and/or angry and/or bitter. Being bullied teaches you that you are undesirable, that you are not safe in the world, and (when it is dished out by forces that are physically superior to yourself) that you are relatively powerless to defend yourself. When you are forced, again and again, to contemplate your relative lack of control over the bullying process, you are being set up for Learned Helplessness (e.g., where you come to believe that you can’t do anything to change your ugly situation even if that isn’t true), which in turn sets you up for hopelessness and depression.
At the same time, you may be learning that you are helpless and hopeless, you are also learning how you are seen by bullies, which is to say, you are learning that you are seen by others as weak, pathetic, and a loser. And, by virtue of the way that identity tends to work, you are being set up to believe that these things the bullies are saying about you are true.
It would be great if the average person was possessed of unshakable self-confidence, but this just isn’t how identity works. Identity is a social process. Other people contribute to it. Particularly when people are young and have not yet survived a few of life’s trials, it is difficult for people to know who they are and what they are made of.
Some of the effects bullying victims may experience:
In the short term:
- Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur.
- Greater incidence of illness
- Lower grades than non-bullied peers
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings (In one British retrospective bullying experiences survey I came across (of unknown scientific value), 20% of the sample attempted suicide secondary to having been bullied, whereas only 3% of participants who were not bullied attempted suicide).
In the long term:
- Reduced occupational opportunities
- Lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, desire for revenge.
- Difficulty trusting people
- Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations
- Increased tendency to be a loner
- Perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, and thin-skinned
- Self-esteem problems (don’t think well of self)
- Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization
There are other factors that Dr. Dombeck also points to as factors of the long term issues from bullying. Only a portion is printed here and you can click the above link to read the entire article. Most important next is that Dr. Dombeck goes on to discuss how to undo the damage done due to the long term bullying. This is the most important factor as Dr. Dombeck and I both agree that there is no cure to stop the human nature of bullying. We must try to prevent it and then help undo the damage done to the victims. He goes on to discuss this:
Undoing the Damage
If the primary damage that bullying causes is damage to identity and self-esteem, then taking steps to repair identity and self-esteem are in order for people looking to heal from past bullying experiences. What needs to heal, in most cases, is not the physical body, but rather, identity and self-concept. Bullied people need to learn how to feel safe again in the world (or safe enough). They need to learn that they are acceptable people who have something to offer other people. They need to feel in more control over their moods and urges…
People who have been bullied have been fundamentally dis-empowered. Their feelings of personal safety have been violated and their belief in their own competency and adequacy has been brought into question. Such people may exist in a state of perpetual avoidance and paralysis. In order to feel good about themselves, they will need to break through that paralysis and engage in something that helps them feel like they are gaining in power. Not power over others, but power over themselves. No other people can do this for them. Each paralyzed person has to decide to empower themselves.
There are a million avenues one can go in to fulfill an empowerment goal, the one that is right for any given person being a function of that person’s talents and opportunities. Anger can be productively funneled into a competitive endeavor (such as education, business, sports, gaming or some other means of becoming excellent) or a creative expression. Fears can be faced down and courage can be found. I, as author of this essay, cannot offer specifics on how this can be accomplished as the right path for each person will be individual, but I can say that it is more or less as simple as picking out a goal you desire to accomplish (which will assert yourself) and then deciding to make it happen. As with any self-improvement goal, it is good to start small, and to dissect larger goals into their smallest possible elements, so that each step you take on the way to a big goal is manageable.
Again, read the entire article found by clicking here to read all of the solutions Dr. Dombeck proposes. We both agree though that professional help needs to be sought to help the victims regain their ability to get past the abuse. Much like any abuse, the long term effects need to be addressed and the victim empowered to regain their life back. It should not be ignored and preventing the bullying abuse is only one part of the overall solution.