Bullying is one of the most difficult situations a child or adolescent can experience . It involves rejection by the group of peers at a time when the basis of identity is being built and the need for affiliation is being met.

Bullying includes a variety of behaviours: from explicit physical aggression to the use of insults or scorn, as well as the exclusion of play and shared activities, or the spreading of false rumours about the victim.

As a result, a person’s emotional health, feelings about themselves and the way they relate to others may suffer and extend into adulthood.

Next we will make a detailed review of the consequences of Bullying , being this a subject of great interest at present due to the irruption of new technologies (internet) and associated forms of harassment whose impact is still largely unknown.

The Aftermath of Bullying

Bullying is a form of persistent harassment, which does not respond to identifiable causes and which generates a high degree of stress in those who experience it. For this reason, is linked to the appearance of affective and behavioural problems whose presence may extend throughout life, although adopting different faces in each period.

In this article we will review some of the most common sequels of Bullying, in order to facilitate their early identification, articulate the necessary measures to address the situation and offer psychological help to minimize the impact on the life of the boy or girl who suffers it .

1. Social skills deficit

The optimal development of our social skills requires safe spaces in which symbolic play can be deployed during childhood , or the first relationships of intimacy and confidence in adolescence . Both life periods are an opportunity for self-knowledge and for the practice of the basic aspects of social reciprocity, inherent to any bond of friendship or companionship.

The onset of bullying limits the options available to the child to put into play the foundations of social cognition, which will later allow him/her to build basic skills to interact with others.

Under these circumstances they may opt for assuming extreme attitudes in the continuum between passivity and aggressiveness, showing themselves to be vulnerable or belligerent in a desperate effort to protect their image or even their physical integrity.

These difficulties can precipitate fear of rejection in adult life, or the perception of the situation of social interaction from a preventive reserve that resembles shyness (even though it is not really shy). It is important to remember that the consequences of Bullying transcend the years, making it difficult to adapt to environments other than school (work, family, etc.) and imposing “social tripping” that may eventually require a therapeutic approach.

2. Rejection of the peer group

The need for affiliation is basic in human beings, surpassed only by physical security and access to basic survival functions (nutrition, for example). In this sense, the rejection that children and/or adolescents may experience generates an indelible imprint and produces feelings of loss of control and helplessness , which condition the foundations of the attachment that was forged during early childhood.

Victims of bullying are more vulnerable to experience new situations of harassment , by peers different from those who originally initiated the whole problem. This unjust phenomenon (widely contrasted by Social Psychology) is due to the fact that looking for “enemies” tends to strengthen the bonds that maintain group cohesion, and those who have suffered these forms of violence are usually perceived as easy targets for this purpose.

The new information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones or social networks, spread these aggressions to scenarios other than those of school or high school (and even university).

Abuse through any of these means can cross the boundaries of educational institutions and deeply intrude into the life of the victim , turning an increasing number of anonymous people into potential witnesses. All this makes its harmful effects multiply in an exponential way.

3. Low self-esteem

The perception we have of ourselves is, throughout our lives, susceptible to the opinion of others about who we are. Self-image is a very complex process, in which individual and social dimensions converge to guide us in the effort to understand what our role is and what differentiates us as human beings.

However, the importance of the other person’s perspective is particularly relevant in the age period in which bullying situations are usually experienced.

Contempt or insult, as well as physical aggression and manifest rejection, are perceived as a sign of inadequacy by the person receiving them. This is a set of messages that build an intimate sense of shame, and that may even promote a feeling of guilt and a permanent questioning of what we are or what we are worth. This doubt becomes stronger as time goes by, conditioning self-perception and ultimately attacking self-esteem.

Self-efficacy is another dimension directly linked to self-esteem, which relates to the belief in the ability to successfully carry out a particular task. One of the consequences of Bullying is that the victims develop the unshakable certainty that they are not “suitable” to relate to others , considering that they will be repudiated before any attempt of rapprochement and forging a special predisposition for the development of social anxiety.

4. Academic failure and refusal to go to school

One of the first suggestive signs that something is happening is the refusal to go to school or high school. Many of the boys and girls who suffer from this type of bullying go so far as to pretend to feel bad in order to avoid attending class, simulating symptoms of a supposed illness. Other times, the expectation of going to school generates real physical sensations, compatible with intense anxiety; and which include headaches, diffuse pain or disorders of the digestive system .

Anxiety levels can cause a decline in the cognitive resources required to meet the most demanding academic challenges. In turn, persistent absenteeism can cause the pace of content taught during class to be lost, all of which is related to obtaining poor grades that prevent access to the curricular itineraries desired for the future.

The loss of motivation for studies does not take long to appear , wishing intensely to leave this vital period in order to join a labour market in which things can develop differently. However, the simple change of scenario in which the day-to-day goes by is insufficient to satiate the emotional pain that accompanies those who had to live such an unhappy situation, generally extending to other areas of life when adequate treatment is not articulated.

5. Depression and Anxiety

One of the most difficult consequences of bullying is the development of mood and anxiety disorders, with major depression being especially common. The clinical expression of this picture acquires a unique character in this period of age, and can manifest itself in the form of irritability. For this reason, the sadness that accompanies it tends to be projected outwards , masking itself as a different problem from the one it really is (often confused by the family as behavioural problems).

Beyond the social anxiety discussed above, bullying can also precipitate a constantly high level of autonomic activation. Thus, the victim is persistently physiologically altered , which is a breeding ground for the first episodes of panic. This circumstance requires immediate attention, otherwise it may develop into a more complex and lasting disorder.

Other problems that have been consistently described in children with bullying are feelings of unwanted loneliness and isolation, as well as changes in eating and sleeping patterns. While all of the above symptoms can occur in the context of adolescent major depression, they can also occur in isolation and require intervention. The inability to enjoy things that were previously rewarding is also a common phenomenon.

6. Self-harm

Very recent studies have revealed that the experience of bullying at school may increase the risk of self-harming behaviour during late adolescence, especially in girls .

Most cases of self-harm are aimed at relieving stress, or communicating it through punitive means, with few cases constituting a suicide attempt in themselves. It is estimated that people who have suffered from bullying are at five times the risk of harming themselves later in life.

7. Suicidal ideation

Meta-analysis studies indicate that suffering from Bullying increases the presence of suicidal ideation and autolytic behaviour. The group that suffers a greater risk of incurring in this type of thoughts and actions is that of young people who suffer and practice Bullying (both situations simultaneously), who also show a greater prevalence of emotional disorders (anxiety, depression, substance use and abuse within the home).

An increased risk of suicidal ideation has been described in adolescent boys and girls who, in addition to suffering from a bullying situation, feel misunderstood at home or at school. In these cases, the concept of double victimization is used to refer to an aggravated impact on the abusive situation, as a result of the passivity of the agencies that should watch over the safety of the child, or the lack of protection of the care figures.

Bibliographic references:

  • Melissa, K. Vivolo-Kantor, A., Polanin, J.R., Holland, K.M., DeGue, S., Matjasko, J.L… Reid G. (2014). Bullying and Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors: A Meta-Analysis. Pediatrics, 135(2), 496 – 509.
  • Smith, P.K. (2016). Intimidación: Definición, tipos, causas, consecuencias e intervención: Intimidación. Brújula de Psicología Social y de la Personalidad, 10(9), 519 – 553.