Bullying is abuse – it isn’t always recognised as abuse because it may be disguised as ‘banter or teasing. Bullying is more common than perhaps we realise. Bullying can occur at school, work or home and can be accompanied by threats and warnings to be quiet and not tell anyone because something worse will happen. Bullying in our intimate relationships may progress into physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Bullies can be clever seeking to isolate their victims – waiting until no-one else is around before intimidating or attacking, whether subtly or obviously. Bullying humiliates other people leading them to feel vulnerable, rejected and excluded.
It can affects anyone right across all the socio-economic groups and all age groups. Victims may be left feeling confused and unsure of what is happening, possible believing that they have in fact done something to cause the bullying and therefore it is their fault. Trying to anticipate what the bully might do next is very anxiety provoking.
Bullying could be emotional, physical or sexual. Anything which demeans another person and overpowers them so that their wishes are ignored causes great distress to those who are being bullied. The effects of this distress can also lead to self-harm or substance abuse in an attempt to soothe the pain. People have even been driven to suicide if they feel that no-one is listening and that they are unable to find the help that they need. Shame is another aspect of being bullied – a sense of ‘what’s wrong with me.’ It is important to say that it is never the fault of the person who is being bullied or abused in any way.
Being heard and validated is an important step in re-building self-esteem. By learning to take small steps to gain control it prepares a foundation for learning how to be assertive and establish healthy boundaries.