As I have discussed both on my website and book, there are certainly correlations between adult onset mental health issues and bullying, now known as CPTSD. Angela, an expert in the field, makes this clear in her story below ~ Alan Eisenberg
For so many years I did not make a direct correlation between what happened to me as a child and who I had become as an adult. I buried the trauma of being severely bullied because the pain from remembering was unbearable. What I had endured from the age of 10 to 14 years old had left deep emotional wounds that would not heal. It was easier to numb the pain by suppressing it and seeking other unhealthy ways of coping. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing. It controls our thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviours. As much as we try to hide, ignore, or deny our pain, it is always there stored away in the subconscious part of our mind. We can choose to acknowledge it and begin to heal or we can spend our lives just surviving each day and searching for happiness in all the wrong places.
As a young child I remember desperately wanting to be liked and accepted by my peers. I was at an impressionable age trying to discover who I was and where I fit in. The bullying I experienced was what many refer to as friendship bullying. Every friend I thought I had, at some point turned on me in a very vicious way through verbal, physical, and social bullying. They were the peer reference group for many of the other children. They were the popular girls, and had a lot of social influence and power. As a result, when the bullying started, I had no one. When they turned on me, the entire school either participated in the bullying or stood by and did nothing. During the 80’s bullying was not taken seriously and was not even recognized as an issue among children or adults. It was considered a rite of passage and so, I had no support from the school or teachers. I was alone and it was the single most painful experience of my life. It left me feeling unworthy of love and acceptance
Talking about the specifics of what happened to me would take hours of writing and is no more or less painful than what many others have experienced or are going through at this very moment. The message I want to convey here is the impact that bullying can have on an individual if they do not have the tools, resources, and support needed to avoid the long term emotional damage that can occur from suppressing a traumatic experience of bullying. Many of us read the statistics of what can happen to targets of bullying. We hear about the risk of depression and anxiety if help is not sought early on. But there is so much more to it. The residual effects from depression and anxiety can result in extreme rage, self-hatred, paranoia, eating disorders, cutting, drug and alcohol abuse, isolation, unhealthy relationships, insomnia, physical ailments, and in many cases ultimately suicide. I know this not because I am a psychologist with a PH.D but because for thirty years I suffered from many of these disorders and symptoms. It was only when I reached rock bottom at the age of 42 as I reached for my bottle of anti-anxiety medication with a bottle of water in hand that I realized it was up to me. That I could no longer cope on my own. I needed help and I was ready to face my demons. I knew I would have to go back in time and re-live the experience. It was the only way I was going to be able to live a normal life. It was either that or leave those that loved and cared about me behind to mourn their loss. Going back meant the emotions would all come pouring out. The emotions that I was too terrified to express as a child needed to be acknowledged and released. I will not tell you that it is an easy process. What I can tell you is that if I had reached out for help sooner, I would have not suffered unnecessarily for so long.
Often once the bullying has ended, we believe that it’s over and we just want to move on. We don’t want to remember so we lock it away. We don’t want to talk about it because of the shame or the fear of what others will think. So, we suffer in silence hoping it will get better or the pain will just go away. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Of course every individual and situation is unique and there is no cookie cutter, one size fits all, remedy for everyone. What I want people to understand is that there are people out there that understand. People who have been there that are willing to listen and can empathize with your experience. People that can give you guidance and healthy tools to cope. But ultimately it is up to us to recognize that we deserve to be happy and to reach out for help.
If you or someone you know has or is suffering from the effects of bullying I can offer you this advice from my own recovery process.
- You must acknowledge the deep-rooted emotions you are feeling. It is best to do this with a professional coach or counsellor. Once you begin to acknowledge your anger, shame, fear, etc. the emotions will become very raw and you should be with someone who is qualified to guide you through this process and bring you back to a place of calmness.
- Feeling your emotions means you must be prepared to walk through the painful experiences of being bullied no matter how long ago it occurred. Saying it aloud really helps but can feel awkward at first. For example “You made me so angry when you pinned me to the ground and punched me repeatedly. I was humiliated and did not deserve to be treated that way.”
- Learn to make the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. This is CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). For example if we feel that someone doesn’t like us it may trigger feelings of fear or anger. That fear or anger may lead us to behave in a certain way such as avoiding that person or lashing out at them. Once you can begin to make this connection you will slowly begin to find the ability to change unhealthy behaviours and make better choices.
- Practice gratitude. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of expressing gratitude. Being thankful for what and who we have in our lives gives us the ability to experience joy. It alleviates feelings of resentment, bitterness, and envy of others. It can be as simple as writing one thing down a day that you are grateful for. Or you can say it aloud at the end of each day. You will be amazed at how much you have to be grateful for. It can be as simple as your morning cup of coffee. Gratitude is not something you feel it is something you practice.
- When you are feeling depressed and alone, try to remind yourself that it will pass and look for what may have triggered your bought of depression. Often it is our thoughts or distorted perceptions that lead us into a depression. For example “No one cares about me.” “No one understands what I’m feeling.” These thoughts can send us into a downward spiral.
- Try to gradually face your fears one small step at a time. For example, I used to be terrified to go to the local grocery store. I was afraid that I’d run into someone who I thought didn’t like me. I didn’t want to feel the rejection so I would avoid going. As scared as I was, I started to go. Once I did it, it became easier and I began to realize that my fears were irrational.
- Most importantly, you must work hard to believe that you are a worthy person. This comes from within and you will never find your worth through others. Learn to be your authentic self and appreciate all your good qualities and what you have to offer. I would highly recommend the work of Dr. Brene Brown. You can google her books, quotes, and YouTube videos.
I strongly believe in the words “We can’t control what others do or say to us, but we can control how we react to it.” Our youth today are up against an epidemic of bullying that has existed for decades. They need help. They need leaders, role models, and professionals that can help them if they are unable to help themselves. I have accepted what happened to me and learned to take responsibility for the person I want to be. My experience as painful as it was, was a gift. It has led me to a place in life where I can help others. I hope this article helps many, but even if my words reach just one, I am grateful to have done so.
Certified Professional Coach at Beyond Bullying Recovery Services