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The psychological effects of bullying


Falak Zehra Mohsin |

We all have heard the word ‘bully’ or ‘bullying’ and some of us may even be victims or targets of bullying and others might even be the bully. But what exactly is bullying?

Bullying has been defined as one person or a group of people ‘aggressing on a vulnerable peer, primarily to assert control or power.’

Bullying is a phenomenon that transcends gender, culture, ethnicity, and age. It happens in schools, universities and even in the workplace. In a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 19% of high school students have been the victims of bullying and around 15% have experienced cyberbullying or being bullied electronically. In another research by Microsoft looking into online bullying, Pakistan ranked 22nd from the top 25 countries – this was a few years ago, in recent years the prevalence of cyberbullying has most likely increased.

When physical and psychological symptoms increase, it thus affects the behavior of the victims. Behavioral issues that children experience include bedwetting, absence from school, irritability and aggression, etc.

The effects of bullying can last for a long time and can be both psychological as well as physical. Some of the somatic symptoms experienced by bullying victims include colds, headaches, stomach pains, and digestive issues, sleep disturbances, poor appetite, fatigue, dizziness, and so on.

One of the psychological effects that victims might face is social problems. Victims of bullying were found to be socially immature and are said to experience social isolation even when in the company. Social isolation can further reflect in behaviors such as school absenteeism and school avoidance.

In the aftermath of bullying, other psychological symptoms that victims can develop include anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, and eating disorders (i.e., anorexia or bulimia nervosa). Victims of bullying often experience low self-esteem and self-worth. To simply explain it, the victims get stuck in a kind of vicious cycle that is difficult or nearly impossible to break out of.

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The victims start to believe that they deserve the maltreatment and that others are treating them badly because of themselves. They internalize these feelings and suffer through the bullying privately, without voicing the injustice to anyone else. They often feel powerless, as though there is no escape from the bully.

Such negativity becomes pervasive in their life and they then may develop psychological and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety issues (such as generalized anxiety, different phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and others) and may even resort to substance use and abuse.

When physical and psychological symptoms increase, it thus affects the behavior of the victims. Behavioral issues that children experience include bedwetting, absence from school, irritability and aggression, etc.

If the child develops and suffers from depression, anxiety and other psychological issues mentioned above, it is advisable to consult a counselor or psychologist.

Many children and adolescents in Pakistan face bullying in school. In schools, when children report being bullied, teachers try and interfere and often attempt that the victim and the bully become friends and bury the hatchet. However, this strategy is not usually very effective, as a consequence, when parents become involved, the resolution of such matters becomes even more difficult.

Parents of course side with their child and demand some sort of punishment for the other party – for victims, this support can at times be good as they feel a sense of security. This sense of security can often be the first step towards healing for the victim.

If a child has suffered to chronic and long-time bullying, it is important to counteract these effects. Research posits that self-esteem and self-worth are two major aspects that suffer due to childhood bullying. Hence, parents and teachers should work towards improving these two facets of a child.

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Victims of bullying require support and positivity from others to boost their confidence. However, healing is often not so easy. If the child develops and suffers from depression, anxiety and other psychological issues mentioned above, it is advisable to consult a counselor or psychologist.

Counseling itself is designed to provide a safe space to individuals. Counselors are trained in putting aside all forms of judgment and preconceived notions and show unconditional positive regard to their clients. Specifically to bullying victims, counseling interventions focus on improving the victims’ psychological well-being and encouraging them to heal and deal effectively with the bullying incident(s).

It is important to recognize signs of bullying and then helping the victims deal with it effectively. The aim to learn to deal with and cope with being bullied and breaking the vicious cycle a victim finds themselves in.

Counselors’ help victims deal with and manage the complex emotions of anxiety, anger, sadness, hopelessness, shame and so on. They help to enhance the victims’ self-esteem and teach them healthy coping mechanisms. Additionally, counselors work toward improving the communication capabilities of victims and encourage them to verbalize their feelings.

Apart from helping the victims, counselors and psychologists can also become involved with schools to train teachers in how to deal with students who complain of being bullied – they can provide training to teachers to show compassion, understanding, and support towards victims. Parental training is also an area that counselors work with, by helping parents help their children who are victims of bullying.

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To conclude, bullying is a pervasive problem that immensely affects the youth today. It has associated short-term and long-term negative consequences. It is important to recognize signs of bullying and then helping the victims deal with it effectively. The aim to learn to deal with and cope with being bullied and breaking the vicious cycle a victim finds themselves in.

Falak Zehra Mohsin is Founder & Counselor at Holistic Minds (facebook page:@H0listicMinds), Visiting Faculty at IBA (Karachi). Twitter: @Falak_Z_M. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.