Bullying and Trauma

Bullying leads to trauma

Bullying and Trauma

by Chinyere Nwosu


Bullying and Trauma


Bullying is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). The effects of bullying can last for a long time. Everyone involved – the bully, the target, and bystanders who witness the bullying – may be affected. As with other ACEs, the effects of bullying are negative and long-lasting. They may affect a person’s development, emotional management, social interactions, and achievements in school and work life. Bullying may result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Dyregrove et al, 2021). 


Connecting Bullying and Trauma


Experiencing bullying may result in feelings of distress in the victim. Feeling distressed may affect different aspects of an individual’s life. People who experience bullying tend to repress the emotions and the negative thoughts that follow the incident. National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) says that children who have been exposed to violence and trauma are more likely to bully others. Research shows that repressing feelings and thoughts that arise due to bullying may lead to numbness and cause the individual to lose interest in activities they usually enjoy. The change in emotions and interest is a result of unresolved issues that arise from bullying.


Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts on past experiences of bullying are not uncommon. Studies claim that post-traumatic stress arises due to bullying. Dyregrove et al report on research findings that between 30% and 40% of bullied teens score above the clinical cutoff for PTSD symptoms. This report is supported by Mynard et al (2000).


People who experience bullying may also appear desensitized. Being exposed to bullying and related experiences results in lower levels of empathic responsiveness (Pabian et al 2016). Experiencing bullying cause individuals to have more negative perceptions about life and the people around them. The effects of negative perceptions on trust and social interactions have been researched.

A study on teens who experienced bullying confirms this claim. The study groups classified as pure bullies and bully-victims were more prone to violent situations and dangerous experiences in their neighbourhood. The people in these groups were also reported as having negative perceptions of their relationships with teachers (Bacchini et al 2008).


Amongst the effects of bullying, impaired capacity to describe emotions or bodily states has also been listed. Psychological research shows that victims of bullying score high on the following symptoms – sadness, reactive aggression, hostility, depressive symptoms, and emotional suppression (Dyregrove et al 2021). 


The points mentioned above are only a few of the adverse effects of bullying. Some other effects that have been identified by research include

  •  Preoccupation with threat or impaired capacity to perceive a threat. This is often manifest in the inability to understand danger cues or misreading danger cues.
  • Impaired capacity for self-protection, extreme risk-taking, or thrill-seeking.
  • Maladaptive attempts at self-soothing. This manifests in self-harm, chronic masturbation, or rocking.
  • Risk of suicide and substance abuse.
  • Exposure to bullying is also linked to distrust of adults, paranoid ideation, and suspiciousness. 


Recovering from bullying-induced trauma


Trauma can be adverse, but a little care makes it easier for individuals to walk through the experience and achieve wellness. Caregivers – parents, teachers, responsive adults, etc can help children, teens, and adults who experience traumatic stress from bullying get better. Positive approaches identified in psychology health journals include –

  1. Ensure the affected person is safe and seek ways to prevent future bullying experiences.
  2. Allow them to talk through what happened and why it happened. Talking can clear up misunderstandings and misconceptions.
  3. Help them prioritize their health and recovery. This is important as they navigate the intense health issues related to anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, and PTSD. 
  4. Help them develop healthy self-esteem and avoid isolating themselves.
  5. Help them focus on personal growth and development.
  6. Get help for trauma stress.
  7. Teach them stress management skills, relaxation, and meditation techniques. These can help them regulate and cope. 

Individuals who experience bullying (as the bully, the bullied, or a bystander) should take the necessary steps to achieve wellness. 



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Effects of Bullying

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