Childhood Bullying’s Lasting Impact on Employment

  • Share
  • Read Later
Echo / Getty Images

Bullying can have harmful effects on childhood development, and the latest research reveals those detrimental influences may even stretch into adulthood, depending on how victims handle the trauma.

Studies have documented higher rates of anxiety and panic attacks among victims of bullying, and such experiences are increasingly linked to mental health and behavior problems later in life. The latest look at the legacy of bullying reveals its more practical consequences on everything from employment to social relationships.

In the new research published in the journal Psychological Science, a team of researchers from the University of Warwick and Duke University Medical Center studied 1,420 children between the ages nine to 16 who reported being victims of bullying, acting as bullies, or both (bully-victims). They also looked at a children not involved in bullying as a control group. The students were questioned four to six times during the study, and when they were between 24 to 26 years old, they were evaluated on certain psychiatric measures, whether they engaged in risky or illegal behaviors, their wealth, and the status of their social relationships.

(MORE: Lasting Legacy of Childhood Bullying: Psychiatric Problems In Adulthood)

The scientists found that people who were bullied were two times less likely to hold down a job and also had difficulty maintaining meaningful social relationships compared to those who did not experience bullying. The bullied participants also reported having a hard time keeping long term friendships and staying in touch with their parents. Interestingly, the group that admitted to having the most problems with employment and relationships were the bully-victims. Previous work suggested that those who were bullied as children may become bullies themselves; part of the psychological legacy of bullying could include lack of emotional control or healthy coping mechanisms that may perpetuate the harmful behavior. The bully-victims had the highest rates of serious illness and unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.

(MORE: The Relationship Between Bullying and Depression: It’s Complicated)

“The intensity of the emotional pain bullying elicits, and the fact that other people underestimate how much hurt they feel makes being bullied an incredibly traumatic experience that can leave significant emotional scars,” says psychologist Guy Winch, and author of “Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries.”

And that emotional damage can have painful consequences; some brain imaging studies have shown that the sense of rejection caused by bullying activate the same pathways in the brain linked to physical pain.

(MORE: What if My Son Is a Bully? — What You Need to Know About Bullying)

Such lasting effects of bullying highlight the importance of not only preventing it but helping victims to develop proper coping mechanisms, say experts. The relationships children have at home, for example, can be critical for minimizing the lasting harm bullying can have, and addressing instances of bullying early can also limit profound psychological damage.

According to Winch, addressing four potential harms of bullying can support victims in overcoming the experience and in holding back the negative effects:

  • Find ways to revive their self-esteem and not descend into shame and self-hatred
  • Heal from the severe emotional pain
  • Manage the surges in anger and aggression they are likely to feel, which can directed not only to others but to themselves as well
  • Restore their sense of belonging to reinforce feelings of being accepted, valued, and loved

“Some people are more resilient and tend to do some of these healing and curative things naturally. They might seek out their close friends and get emotional support from them, and by doing so remind themselves that they’re accepted and appreciated,” says Winch.

For others, however, such strategies may be harder to adopt, and some children may instinctively withdraw and isolate themselves as a way to protect themselves from further rejection. “But by doing so, they leave their psychological wounds untreated and increase their feelings of isolation,” explains Winch. “It is this latter group that is more likely to develop problems that are long lasting.”

When it comes to addressing the effects of bullying, timing is everything, says Winch. As with other psychological trauma, recovery is more effective if healing begins as soon after the damaging experience as possible, before negative and harmful strategies can take hold. While victims of bullying can still heal from this trauma later in life, that path to recovery is far more difficult than finding healthy ways of coping soon after the bullying occurs.

10 comments
BrendaNero
BrendaNero

JIM CROW LAWS/Bullying at its most extreme.

For over 150 years, African Americans found themselves dealing daily with extreme social, political, and economic constraints as well as psychological outcomes such as fear, anxiety, shame, trauma, and insurmountable levels of stress. In addition, “social outcomes such as public humiliation, stigmatization, exclusion, imprisonment, banishment, or expulsion are all highly consequential and sometimes devastating for human welfare”.

willUstand
willUstand

Wanted to share something inspirational.  This music video mashup united youth all across the world.  All it takes is one voice, unafraid, to really make a difference. Will you stand?  http://www.willUstand.com 

KateCaithness
KateCaithness

I was a victim of bullying, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and some physical abuse from elementary school to high school, in the 70's and 80's.  I am now 42.  I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder.  I try to work, but have almost never kept a job for more than 2 years, most only a few months.  I've moved to different places many times.  I've spent the majority of my life trying to figure out why people hate me.  I was homeless for a short period of time.  I am now on disability and in therapy, but sometimes I still have a hard time going outside.  There are times I am still ruled by fear.  I have a biological predisposition to my mental illness, in that my brain is wired differently.  But the trauma of bullying reinforced these differences and eliminated any chance of healthy coping.  It is not a new issue, and it is sad that it is still happening.  But if it continues there will be a lot more people like me, generations of children and adults with mental illness and difficulties unless tolerance, diversity, and emotional skills are taught in schools.


weddinginloves
weddinginloves

Care for children, the healthy growth of young people concerned,

TerrieLynnBittner
TerrieLynnBittner

Perhaps now people will stop telling homeschoolers they must send their children to school in order to be bullied. To those who think bullying is good for you, please note that if you are attacked on the street or at work, you are probably not going to send the attacker a thank you note for helping to make you resilient. Don't encourage abuse of children while refusing it for yourself. Children don't need to experience bullying--they need to be taught not to be bullies. If we accomplished that, no one would need to be "toughened up," which is just an excuse for encouraging cruelty and abuse.

sixtymile
sixtymile

It's noteworthy that "some people are more resilient" and "seek out their close friends", but I'm not sure that it follows that some children are inherently more resilient and adaptive, and it should be something that can be acquired by practice. Helping children to learn to deal constructively with conflict is more important than misguided attempts to suppress or eliminate conflict from the school environment. How can anyone become more resilient and adaptive if they are never challenged?

lostsoul
lostsoul

@KateCaithness very sorry for you. Dont believe that you are wired differently. They love to tell peolpe stuff like that. This way they cripple people into believing that they are bad machines, and there is no hope.

Anna888
Anna888

@sixtymile being challenged is not the same as bullying. Having a disagreement or not getting along with one group of kids at school is different from bullying - it's a matter of degree, how hard or relentless it is. 

KateCaithness
KateCaithness

@lostsoul @KateCaithness  

I am wired differently, but I am not worse than anyone.  I am better than many.  I know I am not a bad person. 

Thank you for your response and keep the hope. <3