A topic that comes back again and again with my clients is the abuse they suffered at least during one part of their school years. Like many of us, these clients encountered and suffered through the abusive behaviour of bullies.
Getting bullied in school is much more common than we think and it is not limited to being bullied by peers. Some of the most impactful abuse happens at the hands of our teachers who might use intimidation and punishment as an attempt at discipline.
Public shaming is a favourite tool of the bully. Imagine yourself being shamed and yelled at by a teacher in front of the classroom for your so-called failures or shortcomings. Now imagine other kids laughing at you on top of that. These moments stick with us even when we might no longer remember them in great detail.
The internalized shame response these moments produce can stay with us for a lifetime. Along with the performance anxiety, we might feel every time we are trying something new in front of other people.
Childhood Trauma and Abuse
We are very impressionable as children, and any emotional wound that begins early in our lives has a big impact on our future. A child or teenager who is being bullied by peers or abused by teachers at school is very likely to seek refuge in whatever comforts them. He or she might seek comfort in a group (think gangs) or in substances.
Perhaps the best remedy for this child would be a peaceful home environment with emotionally connected parents who are aware of what the child needs. But unfortunately, such homes are very rare.
From Impressionable Children to At-Risk Youth
Gangs give teenagers and young adults a sense of belonging and safety they cannot find at school or at home. Substances provide the stability and comfort that schools and families can fail to offer. Yet these come at a great cost!
Gangs soon become dangerous and substances very quickly become addictive.
Healing as Adults
Once these strategies fail to work, the difficult inner work begins. We each have wounds we must attend to if we are to live healthy and truly fulfilling lives. Quality psychotherapy and trauma work can be very effective tools to deal with the impacts of bullying and abuse.
We must recover and reclaim the sense of worth and dignity we have lost. We must discover and reclaim our voice and our power as well as our courage and love of life.
This is Not Easy Work.
Sometimes the client has been a bully themselves. In these cases, the bully needs to make peace with what they have done. They must find a way to make peace with how they’ve hurt others in the past. Theirs is a journey of self-forgiveness, healthy shame and regret, and accountability.
Whether we’ve been the bully or the bullied, the abused or the abuser, we all deserve support. We can reach for support and embark on a deeper, more beautiful life where our conscience is clear and our sense of dignity is intact.
It is never too late.