When I first started therapy, it must have been the third or fourth attempt in over twenty years. On each occasion, I would be confronted by a wall of intense emotion, which always seems too difficult to face up to. The cause of some of it was clear, while other parts remained a complete mystery, until now.
It’s quite a coincidence that Anti-Bullying Awareness is all around us. This comes at a time when therapy has been coughing up hidden memories, of a time when early teenage years were subjected to prolonged and traumatic bullying by older boys in the neighbourhood. I posted about this last week. In “Bullying… the Shame and Humiliation”
The internet is currently awash with all sorts of “new” information regarding the effects of bullying. This is largely based on research carried out by two Universities, one here in the UK, the other in the US.
While I was aware of this information, I should have been more aware of the impact bullying has on someone’s life, from the initial humiliating incidents into adulthood and beyond.
As children, the older we become, the more self-conscious we can be. If we are bullied, there’s a real danger of believing the vile trash the bullies are saying and the entire experience invokes enormous shame and guilt.
We’re ashamed because there’s this internalised belief that if we weren’t so fat, so ugly, had a big nose with too many spots, or if our hair wasn’t so curly or greasy, then the bullies would leave us alone.
If we didn’t have a funny voice, act too effeminate, or be too tall or too short, then we might not draw so much attention to ourselves. We somehow automatically assume that all this is our own fault.
We then start to feel guilty for allowing all this to happen in the first place. If we were tougher, bigger or stronger and more able to stand up for ourselves, then none of this would be happening in the first place.
Unwittingly, adults can reinforce that self-blame process by targeting our soft nature as the reason for the bullying, rather than ostracising the unacceptable behaviour of the bully.
Until last week, I had never admitted to anyone that I was bullied because the shame and embarrassment are incredibly difficult to bear. There have been times, during psychological assessment, when I was specifically asked this question, but the answer was always soaked in denial. I wasn’t intentionally telling lies, but more like fooling myself.
I haven’t really paid too much attention to articles relating to this research, but the bits I did quickly scan, leaves me scratching my head wondering why it would take a survey of thousands of people to conclude with the findings.
Of course a child/teenager who is facing persistent bullying over a prolonged period of time will have issues with confidence and paranoia, which are likely to spill over into adulthood. It’s easy to see why they might avoid the bully-boys by missing school or even running away from home.
If a young person is unable to express their torment, the hurt and anger has the potential to manifest as many types of behavioural problems and easily impact on the ability to build and maintain personal and social relationships. That can easily lead onto various problems with mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and self-destructive behaviours.
As we grow up and our bullies become young adults, their personal attacks usually become improper, but our memories and the effects can be eternal. I used to pretend it wasn’t happening and continued to deny the influence it had on everyday life.
All this came as quite a surprise. It feels a little bit similar to denying an addiction; we’re unable to admit the destruction until we can face up to the problem.