The subject of childhood bullying is, and remains for many people, an open wound in adulthood. Those who went through the trauma seem to fall into one of two distinct categories.
Some came to terms with it and had the ability to move on and live out their lives and relationships successfully. Others carry the trauma with them and it shapes the way they relate to others in profound ways.
This article is for those who need the support and encouragement to finally face their past and remove its power over their present.
Childhood bullying, in all its forms, inflicts damage to our self-esteem precisely at a time in life when we looking to form our identity.
We are in a vulnerable stage of development. For some, the bully’s words become their inner voice, carrying all the negative distorted views of who they really are well into adulthood. Many survivors of bullying end up bringing their damaged self-image into their social and professional lives.
Adults who play the role of dis-empowered victims can be subconsciously, or even consciously, reliving the feelings of defenselessness when faced with confrontation in a social or workplace setting.
The worst of all outcomes is that a victim of childhood bullying grows up to become an adult bully. In effect they have come to the belief that the only way to protect themselves and experience power is to dominate others thereby perpetuating the problem. From my experience, child bullies practice their predatory tendencies in social settings like schoolyards; then refine their skills later as adults in the workplace. I have yet to meet an adult bully who did not come from a dysfunctional family background!
The long-term effects on victims of Bullying also seem to be closely aligned to the way we responded to the situation at that time.
For example, if a child’s response to bullying was to ‘freeze’ then as adults they may have a tendency to bow to what others want and exhibit no sense of ‘self’. They may also have difficulty making decisions. Some will also exhibit eating disorders as adults.
Other children will respond by running away and hiding then later in life they may respond to conflict by shutting down. They may also exhibit a general distrust of other people, preferring to loners. Emotionally, they may appear to be a ‘closed book’ to those around them.
The bullied child who responds by dominating those weaker than themselves may grow up to exhibit traits such as excessive defensiveness; the need to be always right; and in severe cases they will even be self-destructive (eg: substance abuse and addiction).
Many will display a combination of these traits and may also be completely unaware of the link to earlier episodes of childhood bullying.
Lets now examine 6 fundamental steps we can take to help to heal the emotional scars of childhood bullying.
1. Review Past Events with Adult Eyes
As uncomfortable as this may be, it is the critical first step to dismantling the power of past traumas over your present life. You need to rerun the film and deconstruct the parts! Just as your childhood perspective gave ‘credibility’ to the bully’s opinion of you; your adult perspective must now relabel them for what they were – cruel lies. They need to be discredited, as they have no place in life now.
2. Understand that It’s All About The Bully, not You
Children that bully are often re-enacting their own experiences. For instance, they may be living in a verbally abusive household. Bullies develop a sort of radar that detects vulnerability in other children. When they target that vulnerability, then they are making the victim their scapegoat. Understanding this will help you to see the bully as ‘owning’ the issues rather than yourself.
3. Build a Positive Core Belief System
Building a strong core belief system requires you stop and really think about the sort of person you want to become. Are you going to continue listening to the automatic negative self-talk that you have carried in your head since childhood? Or, are you going to build a ‘reality based’ belief system where your self-esteem is derived from your values and accomplishments?
As an adult you should now be more particular about your circle of friends and acquaintances. Who you have around you says a lot about your personal values and level of self-esteem. Keep the company of those who support your higher ideals.
4. Refuse to Play The Victim in Adulthood
While it is good to acknowledge that you were victimized as a child, it is also not good to use it as a ‘cop-out’ in Adulthood to avoid confronting and changing habits that are not serving you well. If you really want to heal and move on with your life, then you must let go of any secondary gain you may receive from playing the victim as an adult. Do not allow the misfortune you experienced as a child to become an excuse for poor behaviour as an adult.
5. Cultivate an Assertive But Respectful Attitude
Most victims of bullying express feeling of anxiety around conflict. As adults, that fear and anxiety can leave you susceptible to new forms of adult bullying. If your interpersonal style is submissive and passive, then its essential that you start to develop a more assertive relational style that seeks reciprocity and respect from others too. Learning to be assertive is critical to the recovery process and there are plenty of workshops and practice groups that will assist you to develop these skills.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get help during the recovery process. For many people there will be some parts (like assertiveness training) where you will really need the guidance of a professional. Otherwise, for some it can start to become overwhelming!
6. Make Room for Compassion and Banish Resentment
When we have built up our core beliefs (our inner truth) then old resentments can start to melt away. Compassion for self becomes compassion for others as we realize that every person is working on their own emotional evolution and simply are where they are.
Forgiveness does not mean you are saying that what they did to you was okay. Bullying is never okay. You did not deserve to be bullied, and the bullying was wrong. Your feelings are valid, and the hurt you experienced was real. Forgiveness means becoming free from the past by no longer holding the anger, resentments, and hurt. In a real sense, setting the bullies free sets you free.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more, check out my 6 Essential Steps to Build Up your Self Confidence, and subscribe to receive new articles as they are posted.