We typically associate ‘bullying’ with childhood. But, unfortunately, this insidious behaviour can be found in adult life as well. It’s time to call it out, and explore ways to challenge it
There are very few people in the world who haven’t experienced bullying at some point in their lives.
Adult bullying is often subtle, may be difficult to detect, carried out under the radar, and can make you question yourself. This can be discrimination, micro aggressions at work or in a relationship, racism, homophobia, or anything that makes an individual feel unsafe or excluded.
How bullying impacts a person
Targets of bullies often report a significant impact to their mental, emotional, and physical health, and ability to engage socially.
On an emotional level, the impact could include:
- Low mood
- Anxiety attacks
- Panic attacks
- Reduction in self-esteem and confidence
- Long-term impacts include agoraphobia, and more
The physical symptoms of bullying include:
- Becoming hyper vigilant to threats of danger
- Sleep disturbance
- Appetite increase or suppression
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
As a psychotherapist and coach, I’ve frequently seen clients present with trauma and PTSD as a result of prolonged exposure to stress and fear.
Trauma can be caused by any significant or negative repeated event throughout a person’s life, and is often as a result of feeling helplessness and powerlessness in a situation. This could be direct trauma (such as experiencing a life-threatening situation, witnessing death, being attacked or abused), or indirect trauma (witnessing someone else being threatened with harm, or injured, or killed, either in-person or on the news, or in a film). Such situations activate the body’s autonomic nervous system, which prepares us for fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. This is absolutely natural; we are programmed to respond like this. We are incredibly resilient human beings, and a trauma response is proof that our minds and bodies are working as they were made to.
These natural responses become problematic when the biofeedback system is activated by other threats, or by rumination over what happened. The brain doesn’t know fact from a remembered memory, and so behaves as if the incident is happening again.
Where does adult bullying occur?
Everywhere there are people, is the short answer. At work, we experience gossiping, rumour mills, micro aggressions with racism, sexual harassment, being overlooked for promotion, or intentionally excluded – the list is endless.
At home, there could be an overbearing spouse with demands, criticisms, or verbal or physical violence – please note, help is available if you are in this situation. Then there are family members who lie and cause fights, then sit back with the popcorn.
You might find yourself in public being heckled by strang