Healing the effects of bullying to prevent ever being bullied again.
Recently, I’ve had to cleanse my YouTube channel of a few trolls. They were repeatedly commenting negatively and destructively on my content. I noticed how anxious and alert I began to feel when I logged into my channel.
Would they be back? What would be the latest criticism? How should I respond?
I have dealt with bullies and bullying behaviour at all stages of my life. Therefore, I know a few things about healing the effects of bullies and dealing with bullies in general.
This blog is my perspective on bullies and bullying behaviour.
Firstly, it is to help highly sensitive people and empaths who are healing the effects of bullying.
Additionally, it will equip you with some approaches to prevent you ever having to deal with bullies again.
Why do people bully others?
There are a number of reasons people bully others. These include:
- Feeling insecure – Needing to put others down (pointing out flaws, or making others look bad or feel bad) to raise their own self-esteem.
- Feeling powerless and needing to control – This powerlessness may include being bullied themselves, or feeling that the world is unfair.
- Feeling ashamed and rageful – If their own vulnerable feelings (sadness, pain, sorrow, hurt, need for affection) have been ridiculed and repressed, bullies can direct their intense rage onto vulnerable others.
- Being rewarded for their behaviour – If they have not learnt other methods to get what they want from parents, peers or co-workers. Or if they have seen bullying behaviours endorsed or encouraged.
- Envy – Projecting their unhappiness onto someone who appears to have everything they want. For example, an attractive girl might get picked on by other girls if she gets too much attention from boys.
Understanding why people bully others can help highly sensitive people and empaths who are healing the effects of bullying.
Definition of Bullying
In 2014, the Department of Education and Centers for Disease Control released a US definition of bullying. The three core elements include
a) unwanted aggressive behaviour,
b) an observed or perceived power imbalance (such as popularity, strength, cognitive ability, wealth, age, position), and
c) repetition or likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviour.
There is no UK legal definition of “bullying”, but bullying behaviour can include criminal acts like harassment or assault.
Here I must add that bullying, such as psychological abuse, can be covert and subtle. Bullying is not always loud or physical. Especially workplace bullying or bullying within families.
Furthermore, bullying can include criticism, contempt (ridicule), stonewalling (being ignored) and social exclusion.
Examples of workplace bullying or harassing behaviour include:
- spreading malicious rumours
- unfair treatment
- picking on or regularly undermining someone
- denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities
Workplace bullying and harassment can happen:
- by letter
- by email
- by phone
- behind your back
In all instances, repetition determines whether an incident is bullying or another type of aggressive behaviour.
Being able to define and identify bullying behaviour can help highly sensitive empaths who are healing the effects of bullying. Defining bullying behaviour can also help you stand up to bullies, protect yourself and avoid bullying in future.
Healing the effects of bullying – Bullying statistics
Bullying in schools
Results from the UK’s 2020 10- to 15-year-olds’ Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), showed that around one in five children (19%) experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour. This is equivalent to 764,000 children per year.
10% of all UK children aged 10 to 15 were called names, sworn at or insulted, or had nasty messages about them sent to them online. Most (52%) of children who were bullied said they would not describe these behaviours as bullying and did not report them.
Bullying statistics in the US are similar. According to the 2017 School Crime Supplement (SCS), part of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) published by the National Center for Educational Statistics and US Department of Education in 2019, one out of every five (20.2%) students between 12 to 18 report being subject to bullying behaviours.
Bullying behaviours included: being made fun of, called names or insulted (13%); being subject of negative rumours (13%); being pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on (5%); or being excluded from activities on purpose (5%).
Bullying statistics rose to 70% of LGBTQ students according to a national US schools survey in 2017.
Bullying at work
In 2019, a UK survey of 2,000 UK based employees on their experiences at work revealed that:
- 23% of UK employees had been bullied at work
- 25% had been made to feel left out in the workplace
- 12% struggled to make any friends in their place of work
In the UK, it is illegal to harrass anyone due to:
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Despite the laws in place, according to a published report, in 2014 the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) received 20,000 calls relating to workplace bullying and harrassment.
Understanding that bullying occurs across all walks of life and all stages of life can help highly sensitive empaths who are healing the effects of bullying.
It is important to understand that being a victim of bullying does not mean that you have attracted it, that you deserve it, or that there is something wrong with you for feeling the way you do.
Nevertheless, it is also important to take control of the aspects of life that you can. This might include finding a new employer, asking for a transfer, complaining to a manager, seeking advice and support, or talking with co-workers. See my blog post Escape the Toxic Office for more information.
Types of people most likely to be bullied
Risk factors amongst children include if you are perceived as being one or any of the following:
- different from peers (e.g. being overweight or underweight, new to a group, wearing glasses or different clothing, or being unable to afford “cool” clothes / things that other children have)
- weak or unable to defend yourself
- depressed, anxious, or having low self esteem
- less popular than others and having few visible friends
- not getting along with others, i.e. seen as annoying or provoking, or attention grabbing
These characteristics can transfer into adulthood.
At the same time, it is important to remember that bullying can simply be due to bad luck and being in a bad environment. Being bullied is not always due your personal characteristics, or something you are doing or not doing.
The reasons behind bullying behaviours can simply be due to being in proximity to a bully, more than due something you can control or change.
For highly sensitive people and empaths who are healing the effects of bullying, please re-read the number of reasons people bully others (above).
What if I am being bullied?
Healing the effects of bullying with action
The effects of bullying include: anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), sleeplessness, stress, physical health conditions (tension, sore shoulders and neck, grinding teeth at night), low self worth and hypervigilance.
Long term actions to remove yourself from the bully’s orbit may involve change your environment: moving house, leaving a friendship circle or relationship, or changing department or job.
However, there are some things you can do to help yourself first. While you are in the process of exploring options and making plans to get yourself out of harm’s way, you could work on:
Self esteem – including looking at your sense deserving. What is your inner critic saying on a daily basis? Is your own internal monologue ‘bullying’ you? Do you regularly feel things like “I’m not good enough“? Do you anticipate negative reactions or bad things happening (catastrophising)? If so, you could be the perfect match for a bully, who will simply take over this treatment from your inner critic.
Guilt – Do you feel you have to be a ‘nice person’ at all costs? Were you brought up to stay silent even when you were unhappy or in pain? Do you feel it’s unlady-like or un-spiritual to complain, be assertive or get angry? Do you find it hard to put blame on other people’s behaviour, instead making excuses for them? Do you refuse to see red flags about other people’s behaviour because you ‘don’t like to think negative thoughts about people’? Do you feel guilty saying no or protesting when you are treated unfairly? Do you avoid pointing out other people’s bad behaviour because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or cause them embarrassment?
Assertiveness – Being assertive is not about fighting. It is simply about calmly stating a truth. For example, “What you are saying is incorrect” or “I’m ending this conversation. You can talk to me when you are calmer.“
Speaking up and out – Immediately and accurately naming what is happening: “You appear angry.” Stating your feelings and needs: “I don’t like it when you leave me out“. Asking for what you do want: “I prefer you to give me constructive criticism in private, not in front of the whole team“. And not being afraid to do this in front of others, if necessary.
Standing up for yourself – I have found that a forceful, even aggressive, response to the early stages of bullying behaviour is often enough to stop a bully in their tracks. This is something I’ve had to learn how to do, as it didn’t come naturally at all (see self esteem, above). Remember, you can usually make amends if you overshoot the mark. Trying to avoid conflict by appealing to a bully’s ‘better nature’ often backfires. They see this as a sign of weakness and permission to continue their treatment of you. However, this approach may not be appropriate in the workplace.
Changing your body – Stand in the Power Position when in the company of the bully: legs forward and apart, shoulders back, hands on hips or at side, head up. Breathe slowly and deeply. Even if you feel terrified inside.
Getting support – Finding a space to talk and offload your feelings, as well as discussing coping methods and strategising solutions can be helpful. Explore therapy options (many more therapist now offer session via Zoom so distance is not an issue) and many have low cost options. See Low Cost Therapy UK.
Getting advice – If you are bullied at work in the UK you can contact ACAS (UK). If you are in the US you can contact the Workplace Bullying Institute. For anti-social behaviour or harrassment in your neighbourhood, you can look at the information on the Metropolitan Police website (UK). For resolving neighbour issues without escalation, try reading Non-Violent Communication by Marshal B Rosenberg.
Connect with you anger in safe ways – If you have not learnt not to feel your anger, you may find it difficult to recognise and defend yourself from abuse. Effective methods to connect with your feelings include dance, drama, writing an emotional journal, art play (scribbling or doodling in paint, chalk or crayon) or a ‘Letter of Complaint’ which you don’t send.
Physical activity to release stress – This can flood your body with endorphins and increase confidence. Consider kick boxing, martial arts or boxer-cise classes to release frustration and aggression.
Healing the effects of bullying: self-healing
Long terms work you can do to heal the effects of bullying and prevent bullying from happening again include:
Shadow work – Developing a relationship with your anger so you feel less shame about defending yourself.
Reparent yourself – Particularly re-fathering which is all about protection and boundaries, as well as giving yourself encouragement (which boosts self-esteem).
Work on feeling all your feelings – Repressed feelings lead to a deadening of your intuition. This could mean that you are unable to spot red flags or even to be aware of when you are being bullied.
Reflect on your history – Have there been any other times when you were bullied? What was happening at the time? What was the outcome? Who did you turn to for support? What did you do to protect yourself?
Recognise safe people – Safe people will listen, support, encourage and accept constructive criticism. Unsafe people reject, ridicule, use sarcasm, exclude or invalidate your feelings. Learn to recognise safe people and do not invest your time or energy in unsafe people.
Healing the effects of bullying: empowerment
The aim of self-empowerment is to increase the number of options available to you in life, and the number of tools and resources at your disposal should you encounter a bully.
The aim of becoming more empowered is to be more easily able to extract yourself from situations of bullying, aggression or abuse. It’s about taking control of any areas of life that you have control over.
Setting limitations with family or neighbours who are bullies. Eg. refuse to answer the front door or phone. Ban / block them from your social media. If that is difficult because the bully is at work, you could try the going grey rock around the bully.
Block / Delete / Report – You do not have to tolerate cyber-bullying or online negativity just to be polite. Have a zero tolerance policy for strangers. Your page or profile is YOUR house and YOU get to set the rules of engagement. With family or acquaintances, you could adopt a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy if you prefer to give a warning.
Creating independence in as many areas of your life as possible. Financial independence is the most important, yet other areas of empowerment potentially include lifestyle, style of employment or self-employment, the place you live, the environment you live in, and taking control of your health.
Self-leadership – Understanding that you have the answers within you. When you have been bullied you tend to have low self esteem and low self confidence, sometimes with depression. This can lead you to stay in a negative situation. This is one of the reasons many victims of domestic abuse go back to their abusers. You must learn to connect with a part of yourself within that is powerful and strong. Slowly you can start to believe that it would be possible for you to create a happier life. Get long term support if necessary.
Education – Learning about effective communication and psychology can be useful in healing the effects of bullying.
Healing the effects of bullying in others – offering help
If you witness bullying of a friend, family member or co-worker there are a few things you could do to help the person being bullied:
- Spent time with them
- Talk with and listen to them
- Help them get away from the bully
- Check up on them / call them
- Signpost them to sources of professional advice or suggest options
- Support them to tell a superior or to stand up to the bully (if appropriate)
- Distract them from the presence of a bully
- Tell someone else who can help
- Confront the bully (if it does not endanger yourself or the victim)
- Or ask the bully to stop
Article copyright Amy Garner 2021. See my Copyright Notice and Disclaimer here.
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