The Lasting Effects of Bullying


Anyone who has been bullied knows how devastating it can be. However, by the time people are adults, they often excuse or minimise the horrendous reality of being victims of bullying. It could be said that this is part of a broader problem of putting on a “brave face” around our mental well-being.

People often expect teens and young adults to grow up and out of their problems, shake off past experiences, and be functional, healthy, and well-regulated adults. However, this is not the reality for many people, and bullying can cast a long shadow that persists throughout the victim’s entire adult life.

One study showed that almost a quarter of school children in the UK were bullied at least a few times a month.[1] Research into the short-term effects of bullying found that:

  • 44% felt anxious
  • 33% had suicidal thoughts
  • 27% had self-harmed
  • 12% had developed an eating disorder[2]


Social and Emotional Impact

Bullying victims tend to experience a wide range of emotions – they might feel angry, betrayed, abandoned, vulnerable, frustrated, or lonely. This can lead to school truancy, drug use, and feeling rejected by society. This feeling of disenfranchisement, academic underachievement, and substance use are all key indicators and predictors of mental health conditions either currently or later in life.[3]

Children and young people who are regularly targeted by bullies often suffer socially. Not only do they find it hard to make social connections, but they also struggle to maintain healthy friendships. Bullying is incredibly detrimental to self-esteem – if we are denigrated and called derogatory names, it is hard not to note what’s being said. Bullying also has been shown to reduce our ability to regulate our emotions in adulthood, which makes us more prone to overreacting or underreacting to certain situations.[4]

A study of bullies, bullying victims, and children who move between both bully and victim roles found that the children who moved between both had the lowest self-esteem, followed by the bullying victims. Interestingly, there was a direct correlation between being the bully and low self-esteem.[5]

However it is formed, either through being bullied or becoming a bully, low self-esteem during adulthood is linked to a variety of mental health conditions,[6] stunted careers and financial security, and troubled interpersonal relationships.


The Physical Legacy

Our bodies and our minds are not two separate entities. They are interwoven and dependent on one another for healthy functioning. So, it follows that anything that negatively affects us mentally will also impact our physical health and vice versa.

When we are under threat, our nervous system reacts to keep us alive. In past times this could be a response to a predator hunting us or another human trying to kill us. In modern Western society, it’s very rare for us to encounter life-or-death threats; however, our body responds in the same way – fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. It goes without saying that bullying is more than enough to trigger this reaction.

In the mammal threat response cycle, we release huge amounts of adrenaline, and energy builds up in our bodies as we might need to run quickly or fight to the death. Animals shake following danger, expending the energy and completing the cycle – they do this instinctually without thinking about it. However, humans are socially aware creatures and can override this natural cycle, often through not wanting to seem out of place. We might not want to run away from a bully to save face, and we might suppress our response following the event to avoid appearing weak.

Failing to complete the threat cycle leads to nervous system dysregulation, where we find that small triggers can set off this ‘unfinished business’, and we feel like we are in danger again.[7] Ultimately, this manifests as mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.

Humans are not designed to be under extreme stress for long periods – it’s incredibly taxing on our bodies. Our mental health is directly related to our physical health, and there is a reason that anxiety and depression correlate with GI issues, poor sleep, lack of appetite,[8] and cardiovascular disease.[9]


Can You Recover?

Leaving trauma from bullying untreated is not only detrimental to our interpersonal relationships, finances, and career – it can put us in danger of illness or premature death.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. It is possible to recover from historical trauma, however severe the symptoms. In many cases, early professional trauma intervention is the most effective way of dealing with these problems.

You might be reading this as a young adult victim of childhood bullying, or you might be concerned about a loved one. You might have been a past victim of bullying and attempted to brush it under the rug, not knowing that the legacy lives on inside your body. Whatever your backstory, you deserve to live a happy and fulfilling life.

At Khiron Clinics C+A, attuned therapists can help you work through and process any unresolved trauma using specialist techniques and methods. Please contact us today.


[1] “Bullying | PISA 2018 Results (Volume III) : What School Life Means For Students’ Lives | OECD Ilibrary”. Oecd-Ilibrary.Org, 2021,

[2] “Results Of Bullying UK 2020 | Statista”. Statista.Com, 2021,

[3] Crews, Fulton et al. “Adolescent Cortical Development: A Critical Period Of Vulnerability For Addiction”. Pharmacology Biochemistry And Behavior, vol 86, no. 2, 2007, pp. 189-199. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2006.12.001. Accessed 10 Aug 2020.

[4] Camodeca, Marina, and Elena Nava. “The Long-Term Effects Of Bullying, Victimization, And Bystander Behavior On Emotion Regulation And Its Physiological Correlates”. Journal Of Interpersonal Violence, 2020, p. 088626052093443. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/0886260520934438. Accessed 18 June 2021.

[5] OMoore, M., and C. Kirkham. “Self-Esteem And Its Relationship To Bullying Behaviour”. Aggressive Behavior, vol 27, no. 4, 2001, pp. 269-283. Wiley, doi:10.1002/ab.1010. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[6] Henriksen, Ingvild Oxås et al. “The role of self-esteem in the development of psychiatric problems: a three-year prospective study in a clinical sample of adolescents.” Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health vol. 11 68. 29 Dec. 2017, doi:10.1186/s13034-017-0207-y

[7] van der Kolk, B A. “The body keeps the score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress.” Harvard review of psychiatry vol. 1,5 (1994): 253-65. doi:10.3109/10673229409017088

[8] Trivedi, Madhukar H. “The link between depression and physical symptoms.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 6,Suppl 1 (2004): 12-6.

[9] Celano, Christopher M et al. “Anxiety Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease.” Current psychiatry reports vol. 18,11 (2016): 101. doi:10.1007/s11920-016-0739-5