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Effects, and memories, of being bullied stay a long, long time

sad child
Bullying is a serious issue with life-long impacts that has to stop.

Were you bullied as a child? If so, I’m sure that as you read this you have called to mind not only the incident(s) and the bully’s name, but every detail from where it happened to what you were wearing and especially how the bully made you feel.

If you were fortunate enough not to have been harassed in your childhood, you are likely to be surprised by the clarity with which adults can tell their stories of bullying. Listening to the speed and exactness of the recall is akin to hearing the responses one gets to “Where were you when JFK was shot?” or “What were you doing when the towers came down?”

I didn’t realize the strength of these memories until proposed legislation on safer schools in Minnesota was debated and casual conversation led to stories of bullying. I mentioned to one friend that I had read the new legislation. Rather than his usual political response, he started with, “There was a boy who followed me home and called me names every day in 5th grade until the snow got too deep.” His instant recall prompted me to ask friends both in person and online if they too had been bullied. The folks I heard from are confident, capable adults who work as professionals and seem to be unlikely victims.

Years later, details were precise

Still, simple questions led to precise details of books knocked to the ground, teasing for being tall and having big feet, and ethnic slurs 10 to 40 years in the past. Most of this harassment happened at school, but it also happened in supposedly safe places like 4H and catechism classes. Adults were unaware of the incidents. Parents were not informed and teachers turned blind eyes even when taunting lasted for all of high school.

There is no reason to believe that school is any safer now than it was in “the good old days.” On surveys, about one-fourth of all students report that they were recent victims of bullying and over 60 percent of students with disabilities report harassment. Yes, children are regularly harassed for autism, eating a special diabetic diet, or using a wheelchair.

In one sense the bullying has become more pervasive with the advent of cyber-bullying. Rumors and threats spread electronically over social media; going home and closing the door no longer provide respite from bullies.

Effects of bullying are long-term

While many have the resources to recover from isolated incidences of bullying, not all are so fortunate. Harassment regularly leads to illness, dropping out of school, violence from the victim, and even suicide.

Even those who appear unscathed carry the bully’s voice with them. We may see our tormentors in  the community, on TV, or on Facebook and we remember the pain, discomfort, and humiliation they caused us.

We cannot change the past and the source of painful memories, but as adults we can change the future for children. WE can minimize bullying. We can support legislation for safer schools; we can reach out to children and offer to hear stories of harassment; we can fund anti-bullying initiatives; and we can share our stories so that others will realize that bullying is a serious issue with life-long impacts that has to stop.

Beth-Ann Bloom is a mom, genetic counselor and community volunteer from Woodbury. 


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Melanie Ross on 01/31/2014 - 09:36 pm.

    Bullying – Effects and Memories last a long time

    Beth-Ann, This is so well written, and so very true. Thank You for bringing this fact to light – that bullying is causes trauma, and trauma changes the way the brain works. Another term for bullying is “peer abuse” – because “bullying” is abuse : Dr. Olweus, the well-known researcher on bullying, defines bullying as : “bullying is hurtful behavior, that is repeated, done on purpose, and the target has a hard time defending them self.” Because bullying is a form of abuse – the target needs help to stop the harm from happening. They cannot do it alone.

    Minnesota is in the ‘midst of changing the social-norms of how bullying is looked at, and dealt with, in our great state. The “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act” (H.F. 826 / S.F. 783) is a comprehensive bullying prevention bill that will give schools the tools and training to understand bullying, identify bullying, responsibly respond to bullying, and effectively deal with incidents of bulling using restorative justice methods to prevent further bullying. This bullying prevention bill was written based on the recommendations of leading prevention experts in the field bullying. And, the bill came to be because of the voices of all the children, youth, parents, teachers and school staff, and community members, who brought their stories of bullying and their heart-felt concerns about this public health problem of bullying – to the attention of the Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying, who wrote the recommendations for the bill.

    The rates of bullying in our state are high – the 2010 MN Student Survey found that 13 % of students were bullied on a regular basis, other studies cite higher percentages, when this many students are reporting bullying, it’s a public health concern. Bullying is linked to many problems including poor school performance, absenteeism, depression, substance abuse, and violence. Effectively addressing the health risk of bullying is the responsible thing to do – to protect the well-being of our children – our children are our future.

    Comprehensive policy is effective in reducing the incidents of health-risk behaviors, including bullying. The “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act” is a comprehensive bullying prevention policy that will provide the direction for protecting All students in Minnesota from the health risks of bullying. And in doing so, it will protect our future.

    To support this bullying prevention bill – please sign, and share, the on-line petition at :

    Here’s to protecting our state’s most important resource : Our Children.


  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/01/2014 - 06:37 pm.

    How Bullying Damages; How to Heal That Damage

    This approach is controversial in some circles, but seems accurate and useful to me.

    There seems to be a defense mechanism buried deep within us humans, a primitive leftover from our pre-verbal, instinctive days (a mechanism which we share with many animals) that works in this way,…

    an experience which causes what our deepest psyche judges to be life-threatening pain

    1) causes us to form a very sharp, clear, long-lasting memory of the event such as described in this article.

    2) causes us to lock away into internal exile whoever we were being and whatever we were doing that seemed to cause that pain,…

    3) causes us to avoid the type of situation in which the trauma occurred,

    4) but also programs us to bring forward, sometimes as a marked personality shift, that constellation of personality aspects, that were locked away in response to that trauma should we find ourselves in a similar situation despite our efforts at avoidance.

    In our primitive days, this was a useful survival mechanism, but now, since the deep psyche does not differentiate between physical and emotional pain, it causes many problems and often misfires in its attempts to protect us because of the ways it warps our personalities and strips us of our original abilities and sensitivities.

    Without healing, we are forced to live the rest of our lives without the aspect(s) of our personality we lost in response to the traumas which formed those clear memories (unless we take ourselves through, or find a practitioner who can guide us through appropriate healing experiences),…

    except that, when we can’t avoid similar circumstances, we may find ourselves feeling as if we become that younger self and deal with the situation in which we find ourselves as a much less mature, much weaker, much less knowledgeable person than we have generally become.

    In the case of children who are bullied, substantial parts of their personalities can be stripped away from them by those who bully them,…

    (overly severe parenting can have the same effect),

    but those bullies (and parents) may very well be under stress and temporarily expressing aspects of their own personalities that were earlier stripped away from them (i.e. the bullies may not understand what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, either, but may be acting as younger, more aggressive, more immature, more out of control versions of themselves that their own psyches have trotted out in response to their own stress).

    Sadly, what we do to children who are being bullied in compulsory situations (such as school, athletic practices, scouting, religious instruction – anywhere we send them without giving them much choice about it), is make it impossible for them to avoid the very circumstances their psyches have programmed them to avoid in response to earlier bullying in those circumstances. In these circumstances, they are constantly under tremendous stress, even when bullying is absent.

    In response, they keep trying to function with what they have left of their personalities, but in cases where a particular child becomes a “target,” any change in their behavior becomes irrelevant, they get bullied anyway, and thus they’re likely to lose even more of their personality as whatever they’re being and doing NOW brings very painful responses from those who are targeting them causing the loss of even more of their original personality.

    Having a piece or multiple pieces of your personality ripped out causes a painful sensation we commonly call “heartache.” It feels just the way it’s always described in popular culture. Such heartache provides the basis for co-dependent relationships of the “I can’t live without you,” variety as two people find relief for their heartache by developing a close relationship with someone who still has intact the personality aspects that their partner no longer has access to.

    For those who have been bullied to the point where they have more and more of their personalities locked in internal exile, are experiencing the heartache of having so much of their personalities missing, are only able to respond to the stress of being bullied using the younger, weaker, less mature aspects of their personalities brought forward by their ancient defense mechanisms, and forced to return to the sites where they were and are bullied, it’s all too possible that the pain of their heartache may overwhelm them and they may seek to escape from their own lives by ending them. In such cases, the individual incidents of bullying may not seem all that severe (as is often pointed out by those who claim bullying doesn’t cause suicide), but the cumulative effects can be, and too often are deadly.

    Far too often the victims of bullying are left to fend for themselves and held responsible for and criticized for being unable to express personality aspects to which they no longer have access, especially under the stress of being bullied (often criticized by those who have had the ability to experience or express empathy literally or figuratively knocked out of their own personalities by significant persons in their own lives).

    It’s quite common that bullies can’t explain why they treat others so badly. They have no clue why they shift into an alternate personality which is capable of such cruel behavior when they’re feeling stressed themselves. Rather than admit that their own behavior is incomprehensible to them, their most common response being to blame their victims: “If they wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be mean to them.” It’s equally common that their victims have no idea why they can’t stand up for themselves, but react to bullying with fear, weakness, and paralysis.

    Healing is possible, however. It’s comparatively easy to locate and heal the traumatizing experiences that cause all these issues. One need only imagine oneself, as deeply as possible, into waking up at the beginning of the day when the experience occurred, then imagine that the day happened differently (but in a way that could actually have happened in the context of your life at that time), so that the traumatic experience simply could not have occurred. (You generally can’t change your own behavior unless it resulted from a completely random choice, but you can change the circumstances or add people who might normally have been present or subtract people who might not have been there on any given day).

    Trust your psyche to help re-imagine the circumstances of the day. Take notes, because, if the healing experience works, you will forget that you even did it within a few hours or days.

    If you try to force changes that could not have happened, nothing will result. If you successfully re-imagine a day, the after-effects are most commonly these:

    1) you will feel strong fatigue, even the need to sleep as much of your psyche’s energy is sucked into reprogramming your subconscious mind.

    2) once the reprogramming is accomplished, it will almost be as if a switch is flipped and you will experience a burst of energy which will last for several minutes, sometimes several hours (people who have done healing exercises at bedtime have often awakened and cheerfully cleaned the house at 4:00 a.m. when that energy burst arrives).

    3) you will settle back into doing and being what feels completely “normal” to you, but the people around you will notice that you are different, more functional, more capable, and better able to handle situations that really knocked you for a loop in the past. Some very persistent behavior patterns and hard-to-break habits will have evaporated into thin air.

    4) the memory of the traumatic experience will fade until it has no more importance to you than any other memory of that time in your life.

    I have used this technique, myself, and taught others how to use it, with very positive results. Many of us have multiple traumatic experiences that could be healed. Although you can heal traumas associated with the events surrounding the death of key people in your life you can’t heal your way out of grieving the deaths of such people.

    Finally, it’s important to remember that bullies likely need healing just as much as their victims. They wouldn’t be bullies if they hadn’t been traumatized by friends and/or family members, themselves.

    You don’t have to live with the after-effects of being bullied. You can re-imagine those days, sidestep the traumatic experiences, and thereby take away your bully’s power to affect your current life.

  3. Submitted by Linda Guest on 06/14/2018 - 05:26 pm.

    Bullies never give up

    Most bullies seem to have hatred toward others. Hatred seems to be the root of the problem. Hatred of people who are different – race, religion, socioeconomic background, disability, etcetera.

    Victims of bullies don’t owe their bully compassion, forgiveness, understanding or anything else. I am a victim of bullying and don’t feel I owe the bullies anything at all. Truly, I don’t! Most victims simply want to get away from the bully and that’s all they want. That is not asking much. If you are a bully or a parent of one, work on letting go of hatred. Hatred is tearing our society apart. I was stalked by a bully from school years after I graduated. True story. It’s creepy and bizarre and in some ways I’m fascinated by why he goes after me even into adulthood. Every few years I’ll get a weird contact from him on social media or through email. Sometimes it will just be the phone ring and a person breathes and hangs up. I’ve even said “Sam, what do you want?” I just don’t get it. I do know he’ll never let go of his hatred even though he’s an adult now. Although I don’t really want to find out what he’s doing now. I’m sure he’ll die someday and at that point, all the hatred he had for me will die with him. And I hope he’s at peace by then. But no, I still don’t owe him anything.

    I get to live my life and enjoy my life, regardless of whatever hatred anyone has towards me. I’m also truly grateful that some bullies I knew back in school, never wound up having any children of their own. Whether it was by choice or unfortunate circumstance, I am glad they are childless.

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