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Bullying can leave long-lasting wounds.
In fact, some people’s lives have been forever changed due to the torment they received from bullies in their childhood and/or adolescence. Some might have speech impediments or crippling social anxiety, while others struggle with eating disorders or anger issues.
Bullying can lead to a lot of shame and there is a certain stigma attached to being bullied. These make it difficult for someone to seek help both at the time and after the bullying has stopped.
But since you’re here, reading this, you have taken a big first step to overcoming your bullying trauma. Because that’s what bullying is: a trauma. No more, no less than other types of trauma.
So how do you get over being bullied in the past? How can those old wounds finally be sealed up for good so you can move forward in a healthier, happier manner?
10 Steps To Healing From Bullying
1. Get yourself a great therapist.
The importance of finding yourself a great therapist to work with cannot be stressed enough.
This is because childhood bullying can cause some serious long-lasting issues that you may not be able to break free from on your own.
Depending on the type of abuse and cruelty that you were subjected to, you may be dealing with some of the issues mentioned earlier, or a wide variety of others that may surface at different points in your life.
Some of the long-term issues that bullying victims may deal with can include:
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
- Digestive issues
- Cardiovascular problems
- Difficulty trusting others
- Unstable personal relationships
- Autoimmune conditions
- Chronic inflammation
- Psychotic episodes
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Suicidal ideation/self-harm
A 2015 study published in the pediatric journal Archives of Disease in Children asserts:
Being bullied may alter physiological responses to stress, interact with a genetic vulnerability such as variation in the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene, or affect telomere length (ageing) or the epigenome. Altered HPA-axis activity and altered cortisol responses may increase the risk for developing mental health problems and also increase susceptibility to illness by interfering with immune responses. Bullying may also differentially affect normal chronic inflammation and associated health problems that can persist into adulthood. Chronically raised C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, a marker of low-grade systemic inflammation in the body, increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders and mental health problems such as depression.
This shows that healing from having been bullied isn’t merely a case of “letting it go.” Furthermore, if anyone is giving you grief for being dramatic about stuff you went through years ago, then show them this study.
Childhood bullying and its subsequent trauma can affect people on several different levels. If your self-esteem was shattered in your youth, you may have difficulty in your romantic and other interpersonal relationships. Similarly, you may not advocate for things like raises or promotions at work because you somehow feel like you don’t deserve it.
Yes, kids will be kids, and teens can be complete a**holes to one another. That doesn’t mean that what you went through didn’t affect you profoundly.
However, now you have an opportunity to grow and heal from everything you’ve been through. You’re not a kid anymore, and you’re able to step up and take action to work through the damage that has been done.
A therapist, like any medical professional, is trained to identify the wounds, triage them initially, and then work to heal them in time. You wouldn’t try to heal a broken bone by yourself, and you shouldn’t try to recover from past bullying by yourself either.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
2. Try to recognize where the bullying behavior came from.
An important part of overcoming bullying trauma is to understand the bullying itself.
When people are unkind to one another, it’s rarely ever about the person who’s being bullied and all about those who are bullying others.
Have you ever heard the Buddhist saying: “When you can understand everything, you can forgive everything?” Let’s go further than that and recognize that when you understand the motivations behind other people’s actions, you can stop being affected by them.
I’ll offer a personal example here…
When I was in grade school, a classmate used to torment me constantly. Everything I said, did, or wore was fuel for her mockery and cruelty. I had no idea what I had done to earn this, other than being the new kid who had moved to that neighborhood recently.
When I finally talked to my parents about what was going on, I was brought in on the local gossip. That girl had only recently found out that her dad wasn’t her biological father—her mom had had an affair and she was the result. She wasn’t able to lash out at her family about it or go to therapy, because what on earth would people say?
So, she unleashed her anguish and anger at the only person she was able to, the new girl in town whose family didn’t have long-term connections with her own. We shared no personal history at all, and thus I was a perfect blank slate to vent all her frustrations on.
I’d be lying if I said that knowing that made everything all better, but understanding why she was behaving that way took about 95% of the sting out of everything she said after that. Any time she made fun of me or said something awful, I saw that she was coming from a place of pain and despair, and thus it didn’t bother me anymore.
When you think about the bullying you went through as a kid, try to see the entire scenario rather than how you felt about it all. Chances are you will see a lot of pain and hurt.
3. Know that it’s not you, it’s them.
This expands upon the previous section about people’s motivations, but it is more geared toward people who were bullied for being different.
Some people were bullied because they had skin or hair color that was different from the majority of their peers—especially the so-called “cool” or “popular” crowd. Others were tormented because they had physical or learning disabilities.
All the reasons that bullies used to justify their awful behavior are reflections on them, not you.
An Australian herbalist and spiritual alchemist named Magister Daire Russell offered some excellent insight as to where these kinds of behaviors spring from. He said:
No-one’s thoughts about you are ever about what you are: they’re only about how they feel about how they are. Allow others to say what they will about you, without offence—it’s what you say about yourself that creates your life.
Think about the people who said awful things to and about you in the past. Are these people whom you would turn to for advice in difficult situations? If you wouldn’t accept their advice, then choose not to accept their insults either.
4. Understand that none of this was your fault.
Now that we’ve covered the fact that how they treated you was because of their own issues and shortcomings, it’s important to reiterate that you did nothing wrong to somehow bring this upon yourself.
When you’re in the process of trying to understand why you were picked on so much, you may be inclined to assign blame to yourself. For instance, if you had worked out more so you weren’t small and weak, you may not have been pushed around as much.
Or, if you’d made more of an effort to dress fashionably and be more popular, you may not have been mocked and insulted so often.
If you’re on the autism spectrum, you might berate yourself for not having been able to act more “normal” (e.g., neurotypical) and thus escape their torment.
Here’s something you need to understand: bullies will find a way.
Have you ever seen situations in which someone was popular one week but picked on the next? That happens more often than you can possibly imagine.
Bullies aim for social domination by putting others around them down. People who don’t want to be on the receiving end of their attacks end up siding with them against their victims. But that doesn’t mean they’re in a safe zone forever. They’re merely temporarily in the bully’s blind spot until they get bored with whomever they’re terrorizing at the moment.
All they need to do is make one false move, or disagree with something the bully has said or done, and they’ll be pushed into the line of fire. Then it’ll be their turn to be mocked, beaten up, or publicly shamed (either in person, or on social media).
You didn’t say or do anything to earn the mistreatment you received. Furthermore, you were absolutely fine the way you were, and you’re absolutely fine the way you are now.
Everyone has been bullied in one way or another at some point in their life, and you happened to have been chosen by an a**hole (or more than one) to be the punching bag for their personal turmoil, despair, and anger.
That’s on them. Not you.
You’re goddamned perfect exactly as you are, and always have been.
5. Determine why you’re holding on to these experiences.
When you’re trying to get over being bullied as a kid, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re holding onto the difficulty you experienced.
Unless you’re still mired in a situation in which you’re being tormented by your peers, chances are that the bullying you experienced ended a long time ago.
A lot of people define themselves by the difficulties they went through and transform their experiences into their personality traits. So, someone who was taunted as a child becomes a “bullying survivor.” This is a label they slap on themselves, and some even wear it proudly.
We all experience difficulties, but it’s up to you whether you choose to hold onto those difficult experiences or not.
Ask yourself why you’re holding on to the pain of these experiences. How do they serve you? What influence do they have on your life?
Does it feel safe and comfortable for you to remain in a position of vulnerability and victimhood? Is it easier to blame past experiences for current shortcomings or irresponsibility?
These might be challenging questions to answer, but being honest with yourself is part of the healing process.
6. Consider confronting your bullies (either in reality or from a safe distance).
In terms of recovering from childhood bullying, think carefully about whether this tip is right for you. It’s not for everyone.
When you think about the people who bullied you in the past, how do you feel? Do you feel scared and small? Or angry?
If these people were in front of you now, as adults, how would you respond to them? Would you feel validation or healing if they apologized to you for their past actions? Or would you simply want to express to them how much they hurt you and how their actions have affected you?
Depending on what it was you experienced and how much time has passed, you may want to reach out to the person who tormented you and communicate with them as adults.
Now, be aware that this may have mixed results. Some people have had immensely healing experiences after talking to the person (or people) who made their lives hellish when they were kids.
Others, however, have opened themselves up to a new wave of scorn and torment. The latter has happened more with people who have confronted their bullies not long after they left school (e.g., while they were still in their late teens or early to mid-twenties).
In contrast, those who reached out to childhood bullies in their thirties and beyond usually got a much healthier response. This has often happened because said bullies have either gone through some intense personal growth or had kids of their own and were able to witness (and thus understand) bullying firsthand.
By watching their own kids affected by other people’s bullying, they gleaned some small insight as to how their awful past behaviors affected their victims.
Remember that people who bully others do so in order to feel a sense of power. They often feel powerless or hurt in their own lives, and thus need the endorphin rush of seeing someone else affected by their words or actions to empower their own sense of self.
If you confront them now, years after the fact, you might not get the apology you’re looking for. Instead, you may experience a new wave of cruelty as that person realizes that you’re still being affected by what they’ve done.
Sometimes, the best way to confront these old wounds and let them go is to write a letter that you never send. Pour out everything you feel about the experience onto paper, and then either burn it or bury it. This way, you’re exorcizing the pain you’ve been experiencing for so long without opening any doors to further potential mistreatment.
7. Ensure that you haven’t become a bully in turn.
We’ve touched upon the fact that most people bully others when they feel small or helpless themselves. In fact, most bullies are people who are tormented by parents, older siblings, and so on, and can’t defend themselves at home, so they turn their wrath against easy prey: those they consider weaker than themselves.
It’s the same behavior that pushes some people to hurt animals. Those who feel powerless try to claim power over others in whatever means they can, simply so they don’t feel small and helpless all the time.
That doesn’t make their behavior okay. Far, far from it. Explaining it merely allows us to understand where it stemmed from. Furthermore, it hopefully helps to ensure that we don’t repeat the same thing. After all, if someone else is making you feel like easy prey, and you’re not strong enough to stand up to them, there’s a good chance you’ll want to vent your anger and frustrations on someone else, right?
Like… someone you know won’t be able to stand up to you because they’re younger, smaller, or subordinate to you.
Let’s say a kid gets picked on by older kids, and he’s sick of them beating him up all the time. Maybe he takes some martial arts classes or gets his Marine Corps uncle to teach him some self-defense. When the older kids try to push him around again, they end up limping away with broken bones and bloody noses.
Now the kid who was picked on suddenly knows what it feels like to be in a position of superiority and power. What does he choose to do with that? Does he become the bully in turn? Will he continue to harass and hurt these kids even after the lesson has been learned as a demonstration of his physical superiority? Or does he try to show kindness and extend his hand in friendship?
In most cases when something (or someone) pushes us hard, our natural response is to push back as hard as we can. Some people push back even harder so the instigator won’t try to repeat the process again.
There’s a better option.
Rather than blindly pushing against the thing that hurts us and makes us uncomfortable, try to understand the aggressor’s motivations, as we touched upon earlier. From there, you may be able to find common ground and work toward harmony, rather than ever-escalating one-upmanship.
Use the energy the negative stimuli brings as a catalyst to push in a direction of your choosing.
8. Choose how you learn and grow from this experience.
This builds upon the previous tip.
Every single thing we experience can shape us in different ways, depending on how we choose to learn from it.
Some people cling to the hurt that they felt and draw inward, constantly scared, holding onto their trauma and becoming perpetual victims. Others use their past awful experiences to determine their career paths, vocations, and who they want to be.
A person who gets kicked by a horse can either get back in the saddle or curl up in a ball and avoid horses for the rest of their life. In terms of how to heal from bullying, a person who was bullied as a child can either use that experience to propel themselves forward or allow it to sink them downward.
What lessons did you learn from having been bullied? Remember that every negative experience grants us an ability to learn and grow. In Arabic, the word “shaitan,” meaning “devil,” can also mean “adversary.” As such, those who are evil and awful toward us as we move through life can grant us great opportunities for personal growth.
So how did you grow from these negative experiences?
Did you learn to stand up for yourself? Perhaps everything you experienced shaped and honed you like a blade, and now you know you can handle absolutely anything life chooses to throw at you.
Maybe being bullied for being small or out of shape propelled you toward fitness and strength training so you’d never feel that way again. Some of the most accomplished athletes and trainers out there initially pursued these avenues as a means of self-empowerment.
Are you familiar with the singer Rihanna? She was bullied relentlessly as an adolescent in Barbados because she had lighter skin and eyes than most of her peers. This made her school life excruciating, but she has said in interviews that the bullying was a blessing.
It prepared her for the demands and criticisms she’s had to deal with in the music industry, and granted her the fortitude she needed to be able to rise above drama and succeed in her chosen career.
On a similar note, some of the best psychologists and therapists are those who experienced personal hardships and wanted to dedicate themselves to helping others. Did your bullying experiences make you want to alleviate other people’s suffering? Well, if you haven’t pursued a career as a therapist (yet!), there’s no time like the present to step onto that path.
Truly, everything we go through grants us the opportunity to choose how to respond. How do you want to grow from your old wounds? Transmute the difficulty into something strong and beautiful? Or allow it to damage you years or decades after it occurred?
9. Reclaim your power and determine who you truly want to be.
One of the best ways to get over being bullied in the past is to let go of any and all expectations of what other people think you should be.
Think about the reasons why you were bullied as a kid. This means going back and remembering exactly what your bully said to you. Make a list if you need to, and analyze the common threads throughout the nasty things that were said or done to you.
Were you mocked because your physical form wasn’t ideal to your peers? Okay, were any of those peers absolutely perfect examples of what you supposedly weren’t? Unlikely. In fact, each and every person has something about them that someone else might home in on and mock. There is no one standard of beauty or able-bodiedness worldwide, and every individual is a perfect embodiment of who they are.
Never mind what society expects as far as standards go. We can’t have mean standards for physical, emotional, or mental ability because no two people can ever be compared. Even identical twins aren’t exactly alike!
When you look back at the people who tormented you, ask yourself whether you would have wanted to be so much like them that they’d accept you. Then do some soul searching in the present moment and ask yourself whether you need (and/or truly want) other people’s approval.
Are you in your current career because it’s a path you truly love? Or are you doing what you do because it gives you a sense of empowerment that you lacked when you were younger?
Perhaps you’re collecting academic degrees like another person collects socks because you feel that they’ll earn you the respect and admiration of your peers, which you always felt that you lacked.
Or maybe you’re dating someone you don’t truly care about because they’re arm candy that make you look good and inspire envy in others.
Be honest with yourself about your priorities and passions, and determine who it is you want to be.
If you’re tired of being anxious and suffering from low self-esteem, be sure to work through that with your therapist. Similarly, if you discover that the life you’re living isn’t the one you want, then work on determining what exactly would make you happy.
In simplest terms, take your power back and stop letting past experiences shape your life.
When you make life choices that are influenced by past bullying, then you’re allowing those people to still have power over you. However, only you can make that happen.
So, it’s time to choose. Do you let the bullies win and influence your life choices forever? Or do you kick them to the curb and live life on your own terms?
10. Acknowledge the difference between bullying and abuse, and take whatever steps are needed for you to heal.
It’s important to acknowledge that it’s one thing to have been bullied by your peers when you were a kid, and it’s another thing entirely if the bullying and mistreatment came from an adult (or several adults) in your life.
As an example, many people who grew up with narcissistic parents (and their enablers) may have been bullied at home as well as at school. They may have grown up with constant criticism and mockery, both of which can wreak havoc on a person’s self-esteem and emotional wellbeing on a fundamental level.
Quite simply, during the formative years in which that young person was supposed to be developing a strong sense of self—and self-worth—they were beaten down instead. As a result, instead of building a strong foundation for the rest of their life, that foundation is an unstable collection of trauma and emotional damage.
Imagine trying to build a house on a pile of sand and rubble instead of concrete or stone. That’s basically what it’s like for a person who was bullied by their own family members, teachers, and others who were supposed to be nurturing and taking care of them.
These kinds of experiences can cause all types of psychological and emotional distress. Some people end up with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) from enduring years of anxiety and torment. Others may develop eating or panic disorders, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar personality disorder. They may also suffer from depression and anxiety or develop narcissistic issues themselves.
In cases like this, the word “survivor” is a valid one. This isn’t a situation in which some snot-nosed jerk kid called you names at school, but rather that someone in your own home—which was supposed to be your fortress of safety—made you feel small, scared, and powerless. That can cause some serious long-reaching effects that may take years to heal from.
If this is the sort of thing you experienced, then the first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you are one hell of a strong person to have persevered the way you have. So many people self-destruct from that kind of onslaught, but you haven’t. You’re still here, reading this article, trying to figure out how to finally heal those old wounds for good.
We mentioned getting a good therapist as a top priority, so let us reiterate that. There are a lot of things we can get over on our own, either through self-direction or by reading a stack of self-help books, but few things compare to the guidance and help that a great counsellor can provide.
Being bullied as a child or adolescent can indeed have long-term effects on our bodies, minds, and spirits. But many of those old wounds can be overcome with positive action and personal choice.
Treat these experiences like you would treat broken bones. You can get over them with time, patience, and caring help from professionals you can trust.
We really do recommend that you seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to overcome the effects of the bullying you suffered as a child.
You may also like:
- 6 Personal Signs You Are The Victim Of Bullying
- 17 Big Signs You Are Healing From Trauma
- How To Let Go Of The Past: 16 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- Healing Is Not Linear, So Don’t Give Up (15 Pieces Of Advice)
- 8 Reasons Why Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds
- Wolke D, Lereya ST. Long-term effects of bullying. Arch Dis Child. 2015 Sep;100(9):879–85. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2014-306667. Epic 2015 Feb 10. PMID: 25670406; PMCID: PMC4552909.