Victims of bullying are not seeking help and support, resulting in low self-esteem, depression and social anxiety, according to a recent survey by Counselling Directory. More than half of 1,300 adults surveyed said they had been bullied at some point in their lives. Of those bullied, 70% admitted they did not seek help or support after being bullied – not from family, friends or professionals.
Long-distance runner Ben Smith, who ran 401 marathons in 401 days to raise money and awareness for anti-bullying charities Kidscape and Stonewall was one of those people who kept quiet. “For me, it was the shame, the fear of making it worse as a child. No matter how many times people say you should tell someone – the advice people give is to talk about it – but most of the time kids are terrified to talk about it, they don’t want to make it worse”, he said.
The stigma around telling others is often far worse than actually doing so, Counselling Director member Karen Jones said. “That being said, the amount of children/young people and even adults that come to therapy as a result of being bullied feels to be on the increase. Either the stigma is lifting or counselling is more accepted so therefore people have an opportunity to discuss bullying”, Karen said.
There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is often defined as repeated behaviour with intent to hurt another person, physically or emotionally. It can take many forms, including verbal threats, physical assault, calling names, gossiping and online bullying (cyberbullying).
These are just a few examples of the different ways a person can be bullied. Any repeated behaviour that makes someone feel unhappy, isolated and bad about themselves can be considered bullying. Bullying can make a person feel very alone. It can make the victim miserable, breaking down their confidence and self-esteem. A person being bullied may feel like everyone is against them, or that nobody cares enough to stand up for them. The effects on victims of bullying are many, and sometimes lead to severe outcomes such as self-harm and suicide.
Karen has worked with children who were being bullied at the time they were in counselling, and found that the children typically struggled with school work, wanting to be alone and other negative outcomes. “I have been working with a client for a while who was bullied as a child. The bullying was so severe, she has tried to take her own life on more than one occasion and she struggles to make or keep friends as it takes her a long time to trust people as her bully was once a friend from school”, Karen said.
Bullying at school
According to the survey, 90% of those were bullied at school, compared to at work, university, or at home. Counselling Directory spoke with bullying prevention charity Kidscape about this issue.
“Generally, between the times of 9:00 and 4:00, schools provide an environment where children learn, play and, more crucially, develop their role amongst their peers. The school environment is an important landscape in which to grow up. Part of discovering the role which they play is through the relationships students form, the confidence they display and the power struggles they have to understand and find their place”, Kidscape Director of Services Peter Bradley, who is a Psychodynamic Counsellor and Psychotherapist said.
“It is important that teachers are able to recognise the signs and symptoms of bullying and have effective policies and procedures in place to ensure all bullying incidents are taken seriously and acted upon in a timely manner. It is important that information is shared between the teacher and the parent and both parties have a responsibility to agree a strategy for reducing and stopping the bullying and ensuring the bully and their target are provided with the appropriate sanctions and support. Parents should become acquainted with the school’s anti-bullying policy and know which member of staff to speak to for bullying incidents”, Peter said.
Whether you are currently being bullied, have been bullied in the past or are affected by bullying another way, many people find counselling for bullying helpful. Contacting a counsellor can help you talk about what you are going through, in private and without judgement. If you are going through a hard time, you can discuss what is happening, how it makes you feel and what options you have. Whoever you are, bullying can change your life. It doesn’t matter what age, race, gender or religion you are, most of us will be affected by bullying at some point in our lives. It is important we know what options are available and who to turn to.