On april 19th 2018 it’s the Annual Day against bullying: On this day we pay extra attention to the topic with the aim to stop bullying once and for all. In September, there is also a Week against Bullying, and this annual attention against bullying is indispensable! In 2016 10% of primary school students said to have been the victim of bullying. Within high school this entails about 8% of the students. Although there has been a slight descend the past years, it remains necessary to give attention to the topic of bullying (HBSC-research from 2009 and 2013).
Consequences of bullying
Bullying has a lot of consequences, not only for the victims, but also for the bullies, the followers and the spectators. For victims of bullying, the repeated bully-experiences can be traumatic: they can have social and emotional problems. It enlarges feelings of loneliness and the chance for a depression. Besides this, also physical complaints can occur, such as headache, sleeping problems, stomach problems and tiredness. For the bullies there are not a lot of consequences on the short term, but on the long term they are more likely to get into social problems. Bullies have learned as a kid that they can achieve goals without communication in a socially adjusted way. Later in life, bullies are more likely to face prosecution for small offences, they drink more alcohol and are more often involved in fights. The followers and spectators find school less fun and they take home several messages; that spectators do not intervene, that apparently the victims get what they deserve and that power is more important than justice.
Experiences of a bullied young adult
We can conclude that bullying has severe and far reaching consequences, even later in life. That is why we started a conversation with the 23 year old Sophie* (*not her real name), who was severely bullied during primary and secondary school. She tells us what she went through and which influence this still has on her now.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us on the National Day against Bullying. Would you tell us in short something about yourself?
“I am Sophie. I live together with my boyfriend and I have a nice group of family and friends. I concluded my Masters Child and Adolescent Psychology and I am working as a psychologist for a year now. I can fully commit to my job because I am now able to help kids with the thing I have never been helped with as a kid.”
You were formerly bullied, can you tell us what you experienced?
“The bullying started in grade 7. I was ahead in physical development and my clothes looked a bit different. I got a lot of attention from boys, but that was not appreciated by the girls. I consciously went to a different high school than my bullies, but there it started again because I got attention from the wrong guy. Within two months everybody was against me and the rest of that school year was hell. Kids threw stuff at me, pulled the chair underneath me when I tried to sit down, they yelled ‘ugly vixen’ at me, and also worse thing like this guy showing me his knife to let me know he could do worse things.The principle and teacher did little to help me, what may have been to worst thing.”
Where people in your surrounding aware of the bullying?
“I did not say anything to my parents because I had the feeling that nobody understood me. But when I wanted to stay home sick that often, I had to tell it. Luckily my parents understood. One of the bullies came by our house together with her mom to talk about it, but because of this the bullying got worse, only this girl was a bit more in the background. I did not want to go to school anymore and skipped classes, but outside of school I was also bullied. They even came to my house, which made me feel unsafe. I felt really down.”
What got you through this time?
“At a certain moment I met my current boyfriend. He gave me support and courage, which led to me standing up for myself. No matter how tall someone was, I started to defend myself. The bullying became a bit less severe, but still I decided to change schools. I immediately met new friends with whom I got very close. At my new school I was still being chased with classmates from my old school, but because I got stronger and more confident because of my relationship and my friends, I was able to resist it more and more. Until the moment I faced them and they did not do anything anymore.”
Which effects had the bullying on you?
“I was really down, was suffering stomach aches, felt sick and did not want to go to school anymore. My self esteem was very low, I started doubting myself and had thoughts like: “Am I a good person?”, “Am I weird/ugly?”, “Did I do something wrong?” I suffered from severe performance anxiety and it is still there a little. I still value greatly what others think of me. When speaking in front of large groups, I always think: “What will they think of me when I say something wrong”. This gives me stress.”
Are there also positive consequences rising from your bullying experiences?
“Yes definitely! It made me a stronger person. I can defend myself and others. Because of the bullying I found the ambition to study psychology and help others. I can really sympathize in what kids are going through because I experienced it myself. I am really caring and think about the feelings of others. I would not want to do it differently, because I do not know if I would be on this point in my life if it I had not experienced it. Perhaps I would have less ambition, or gained less satisfaction from my work.”
Did you face your bullies after the bullying?
“Yes, I faced them quite often in the street. And even now, after 10 years, when I face them, my heart still skips a beat. But it seems like they do not recognize me. I once worked with a girl who was a follower in the bullying, but then I found out she had a lot of problems herself back then: she suffered from acné and because she bullied, she was not being bullied herself. Because of her I look differently at followers now.”
What do you want to say to them now?
“I would like to say: “Thank you, you made me the person that I am today. Because of you I am a super ambitious psychologist.”
What is your message to children who bully?
“I understand it, there is probably some insecurity why you do this. But there are so many people who are suffering, so think twice before you bully. It could cost someone’s life. Be aware of the changes in yourself when you stop bullying. What does that give you?”
Do you have a message to bullied children?
“At the moment you are being bullied it is really terrible, but I realized it brought me so much in how I developed. It made me stronger. This realization came pretty soon when I met my new friends in the second class of high school. I thought: “Now I can conquer the world, bring it on!”. The best change for me was when I started to stand up for myself and not act like the victim anymore. Besides this it is also good to have a supportive network, so tell people around you you are being bullied. There will be someone who listens and takes you seriously! From unexpected corners there can be help where you can pull a lot of strength from. Bullying is really terrible, but focus on the plus sides so they can grow above the negative sides.”
Thank you for your openness Sophie, we wish you good luck with your work as a psychologist!
Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you.