Severe bullying

Last month I talked about bullying at its worst being a source of trauma. What type of bullying falls into this category? Severe bullying can occur either as an isolated event eg. a gang physically or sexually assaulting someone, or as part of an ongoing attack of a verbal or physical nature that can destroy confidence and self-esteem. It is a subject that we all would prefer to ignore, especially in our own communities. We cannot let ourselves imagine that severe bullying takes place in the area of home or work where we like to feel safe and relaxed. Yet young people in every type of community have been known to suffer from serious trauma as a result of physical, sexual, verbal and online bullying.

Physical and/or sexual bullying of an extreme nature can silence a victim because of fear of retaliation. The victim is humiliated. He or she often bears the physical scars and the mental scars too. Post traumatic stress can include flashbacks, nightmares,
panic attacks, mood swings to name a few. Bullies too feel post traumatic stress, as
the consequences of their actions face them. This is often what leads them to bully more, to escape from the awful reality of what they have done.

Verbal bullying may initially appear to be less serious than physical and/or sexual
bullying but particularly when it is of an ongoing nature it can lead to a sense of
isolation and despair. Recently a main national news story was of a mother of a
disabled young woman taking her own and her daughter’s life as a result of ongoing
verbal bullying together with physical attacks on their property.

Online bullying is common amongst young people. They hold a fear of being publicly humiliated on online sites and of being ‘ganged up on’ online, leading to a sense of isolation. It is so much easier to bully someone online than face-to-face.

What can we do about this sort of severe bullying? It is often difficult to address because of the shame felt by the victim and the fear of disclosing. Severe bullying can become hidden. Adults can keep a watchful eye on all the young people in their communities, at school, at home, in public places. It is the responsibility of us all to
aware of what is happening in our communities.

Professionals such as teachers, youth workers, community police officers have key roles to play, as children and young people would sometimes sooner disclose bullying to someone not in their family. Often they are afraid to upset their family or close friends, or feel too humiliated to disclose. The person in whom the young person has
confided can help him or her to find the confidence to talk to parents.

If fear is already heightened, parents’ reactions to hearing about bullying need to be
genuine but not extreme. When upset and angry, it is human nature to want to blame and attack. To sleep on something before reacting to it is always helpful – it has time to be processed and often we will wake up the next morning with new, more helpful and constructive thoughts about it.

The more we refuse to ignore bullying, the more we can keep it at bay. It needs to be met head on and thoughtful communication is vital.

Dr Angela Evans

Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist

Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists