Bullying is a negative behaviour regardless of how it is identified. Bullying in an adult relationship tends to be identified as being ‘toxic’ or ‘narcissistic’. But I wish to discuss how we come to accept this behaviour as adults.
When I look back to my school days I can honestly say I was never really bullied. I had the odd skirmish after I started at a new school but that was soon ‘nipped in the bud’. But why am I considering writing about ‘bullying’ on a blog page dedicated to depression and domestic abuse? Well, I think there is an overlap that is worth considering.
I visited my local library this morning to do some research on a future blog I have in mind and came across a book that talked about anxiety and depression. Within those pages came a chapter about how the behaviour of other people can resonate for years afterwards. I thought, therefore, that this of course, is highly appropriate to what we are discussing.
So why is bullying different now we are adults?
What I don’t understand is that if my children came home from school (for example) showing any signs that they were being bullied, I would have been down the school demanding a meeting with the head teacher. So why didn’t I do it for myself? Well a part of my reasoning is down to the fact that I eventually accepted that my ex partner’s behaviour as normal and I felt unworthy of her attention. Therefore, grateful of any form of affection that was occasionally shown.
Definition of Bullying
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2009) Bullying is;
use[ing] superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.
So was being in an abusive relationship bullying?
Through my own stupidity I had a settled view of what bullying was based on what I saw in my school days. During my relationship I was not punched, kicked or slapped. But I was forced to do things against my better judgement and will. I was manipulated to do things that left me empty or worthless and I was often called names.
People who are bullied are more likely to experience:
- Depression and anxiety,
- increased feelings of sadness and loneliness,
- changes in sleep and eating patterns,
- loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.
Do you see this as a familiar tick list? If you are in an abusive relationship then you will answer ‘yes’ to most, if not all of the above. I can certainly relate to these outcomes even after the relationship ended.
What are the long term effects of bullying?
The experience of being bullied can end up causing long term damage. I found that it is not necessary to be physically harmed in order to suffer lasting harm. Words and gestures are quite enough. I consider that bullying is an attempt to instil fear and self-loathing into the victim. Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual. I considered that during my relationship, if my faults were constantly highlighted, then they must be real. I found that I became thankful to the arse who was happy to identify them (yet couldn’t see her own).
There are two potential outcomes that stem from being bullied.
- It becomes more likely that you will become increasingly susceptible to becoming depressed and/or angry and/or bitter. You start to believe that you are undesirable, unsafe in every avenue of your life and that you are relatively powerless to defend yourself. When you are forced, again and again, to contemplate your complete lack of control over the bullying process, you are being set up for a learned process which in turn sets you up for hopelessness and depression.
- You will start to accept that you are helpless and hopeless. By virtue of the way that identity tends to work, you are being set up to believe that these things the bullies are saying about you are true.
Conversation with ex school colleague
Many years ago I attended a school reunion (I always said I wouldn’t go to one, but I did). Whilst there I started a conversation with a girl who was (I would consider to have been) a victim of bullying. Yet this girl was attractive, came from a good home and was intelligent. During the conversation about life following school she identified some key points that have stuck with me ever since.
- Firstly, she discussed her inability to have ever maintained any long term loving relationships. It became clear that this was due to her own self-worth and insecurities. Her inability to trust anyone was shaped by the way she had been treated. Not only by the classmates she fell victim too, but the types of men she eventually attracted. She had clearly come to accept everything that was told to her with regards to her position within the school society (and by subsequent ex partners). It appeared, therefore, that this self perception was never shaken. She still carried this burden of worthlessness after nearly 25 years of leaving school.
- Secondly, because she hated school so much she never reached her academic potential. I always considered her to be a bright girl whilst at school, but she informed me that due to the fear of attending classes she either skipped them or messed about to try and obtain some form of acceptance from the more popular kids. As a result of this her economic well-being was not great. Due to her lack of qualifications she had to accept jobs based on the minimum wage.
- Thirdly, her mental health was very fragile. She openly admitted to suffering with depression and anxiety. Medication was now a daily long term reality to support her in her failed accomplishments. She was a tragic figure of which did not fit with how she could have been had things been different for her.
A bullies reasoning?
Perhaps she was everything the bullies desired. I consider now that they had set out to destroy her to address their own insecurities and failures. But this got me thinking that perhaps narcissist start from an early age and never really grow up or change.
I’m thankful that I was not at school during the cyber age. At least we could go home after school and feel reasonably safe. Technology clearly has a negative side.
Boys verses girls
I think boys have always had it easier. Boys (based on my own experiences) just have a fight and carry on as if nothing has happened afterwards. Whereas, girls linger the bitterness for months (if not years) and involve just about everyone else in (what starts off as) petty little arguments. I often saw this first hand during my career as a secondary school teacher.
Perception of Control
A 2004 Spanish college student sample study (https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/the-long-term-effects-of-bullying) suggested that there is a direct relationship between victim’s perception of control over their bullying experience and the extent of long term difficulties they experience as a result of bullying. To put it simply the bullied students who believed they were able to influence and/or escape their bullies reported fewer negative long term effects from having been bullied than did students who felt helpless to influence their situation while it was happening.
The past verses the present (“living well is the best revenge” [George Herbert])
Rather than try to control the past (either being a victim of school bullies, getting over a toxic relationship or a victim of domestic abuse/violence), it might make more sense to focus on what you can control in the present.
Undoing the Damage
I believe that the road to recovery is to repair the damaged identity and self-esteem that has been broken by my ex. It’s important to feel safe again and to learn that I have something positive to offer other people. Presently, I am still trying to have more control over my moods and accept that medication and outside support is what is required. I don’t think that these are modest aims, but easily accomplished goals that I can achieve in my own time.