The Relationship between Bullying and Trauma

Research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs have addressed bullying in a systemic and comprehensive way. We now have access to proven methods of preventing bullying and to intervene in bullying situations. While we have made great strides in designing and implementing systems that prevent bullying, there remains a need for intervening at the individual level in order to help children/young people heal from bullying situations. Using the lens of trauma in a bullying situation will fill this need.

We know that a bullying situation affects all involved in many ways, from social and emotional impact to physical and mental effects. Those who are targeted often fall into a learned helplessness that can continue throughout life. The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) defines trauma as any real or perceived experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless, helpless, and fearing for their life/survival, their safety. Furthermore, the effects of bullying have been linked to signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Bullying is a traumatic experience.

When our brains perceive threat, whether that threat is real or imagined, the most instinctual and primitive part of our brains, called the reptilian brain, goes into survival mode. This powerful response is often flight, fight or freeze. In dangerous situations we do not have the time to weigh options or rationalize the threat. The reptilian brain's takeover reduces cognitive and emotional capacity and our senses become the driving forces of our actions.

A child/young person targeted in a bullying situation will be in this survival mode, a state of hyper-arousal. By using a lens of trauma to approach bullying, we deal with its effects on a sensory level and help the targeted child to de-escalate and begin to regulate emotions. No amount of behavioral intervention will be affective until the reptilian brain is assured the threat is no more.

The effects of bullying are felt in every aspect of our being, including emotionally, physically, and psychologically.  Those who are targeted, especially over a period of time, will manifest the same symptoms of those diagnosed with PTSD.  When we look at the impact of a bullying situation on this level, we can begin to heal those who have been harmed by the situation. 

"We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." ~Nelson Mandela


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