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  • April Griffin

The Lasting Effects of Childhood Bullying

a young woman looking out of a car window
childhood bullying affects people into adulthood

When I was a little child there was a saying “sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you”.  I learned quickly in life this was not the case, as the names told to me, even when I tried to ignore them, did indeed affect me. My experiences of bullying growing up, paired with being a sensitive child, left a mark on my sense of self.

Unfortunately this is a common experience for many, but the fact it occurs so frequently does not make the experience less painful or the impact short-lived.

When you are young, you are desperately hoping and searching for belonging from those you spend your days with, and as a little kid or teen it is very painful being called names, being excluded, ignored or finding yourself outside of the social groups you want to belong to.

A sense of belonging by peers can create a resiliency in children, and conversely a sense of aloneness can increase anxiety.  

It is not only the events themselves that hurt, the words, and the experience being alone— but it is lack of support and action by trusted adults and friends that cuts deeply. 

Invalidating though often well-intentioned comments by teachers and parents that can make the wounds deeper.   For example, saying to the child, "you’re too sensitive", or "you need to improve your self-esteem",  or "just ignore what he says" can put the blame on the victim to imply that if they were magically more confident or ignored what the person said that the bullying would stop or would not affect them. This strategy is unlikely to work to improve self-confidence and can be experienced as invalidating.

When I was a teen I remember telling a trusted teacher about the verbal harassment I experienced in class from a long-time bully- desks were re-arranged and class went on, but no reprimand for the bully was evident, nor did I experience being validated or heard by the staff member.

I have had clients who have confided in parents, who then shared with staff at school the horrendous bullying they were experiencing including physical violence, and nothing was done and the child was continually sent to school where this was re-experienced day after day.

Some teens have  bravely told friends who were friends with their bully, but then instead of that friend standing up for them, the friend dismisses or justifies the reasons behind the bully’s behaviour . The behaviour continues despite an attempt to stand up for themselves, which results in an increasing a sense of powerlessness.

The trauma of bullying is not just the words or experiences themselves but a lack of powerlessness, lack of safety and a deep feeling of being alone that hurts a person's sense of self and well-being.  

Children need adults to take action and need safe places to be heard.  Childhood bullying has long-standing psychological impacts and is not as benign as once thought- it is correlated with an increase in anxiety disorders and depression (Copeland et al. 2013).

If you experienced bullying as a child or teen - there is nothing wrong with you, the fact you have been affected makes sense as these experiences have a deep impact on people long-term. The good news is it is never too late to find healing for your past experiences.

If you feel impacted by bullying from your childhood or teenage years therapy can provide healing from these experiences.  EMDR therapy is an evidenced based therapy for anxiety and PTSD and an approach that works to inwardly heal deep emotional wounds, even those that have been with you for a long time.

Feel free to reach out to our counsellors at Emotion Wise Counselling today to connect today. We provide in-person and virtual counselling in Vancouver, BC and virtually in BC, Ontario and Alberta.

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