Can You Get PTSD From Bullying?

Reviewed by Melinda (Santa) Gladden, LCSW

Published 12/10/2020

Bullying seems to be a national epidemic nowadays, right alongside Covid-19. No place is safe from the bullies. It is time to do something about it! What can you do? Educate yourself. Whether you are a victim of bullying, know someone who is, or maybe you are afraid, you are a bully yourself. Education is the key to eradicating this life-damaging habit.

Bullying Can Happen To Anyone

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 20% of students report being bullied at some time during their lives. In addition, it does not matter who you are; bullying can happen to anyone of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. You do not even have to be a student because bullying happens to adults as well.

Bullying At Work

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Have you ever been hassled at work by someone who wants you to do something you do not want to do or had someone start a rumor about you, so everyone thinks differently about you? That is also bullying. One study found that 75% of workers have been affected by bullying at work. It is not only those mean kids on the playground. You can find bullies anywhere. It could be your coworkers or even your boss.

Short-Term Effects Of Bullying

However, what about the effects of bullying? Short-term effects vary depending on the situation but students who are bullied are susceptible to poor attendance, skipping classes, lower grades, sleeping issues like insomnia and nightmares, and even dropping out of school. Others may turn to bullying other students to make themselves look and feel stronger.

Did you know that bullying could cause different types of mental health disorders such as depression, social anxiety disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Being tormented at school every day can be extremely stressful and can cause students to skip school, fail classes, and have behavioral disorders too.

What About The Long-Term Effects Of Bullying?

Eventually, all that builds up to cause enough turmoil to create a prime environment for mental health disorders. Other long-term effects can include chronic physical issues such as headaches, muscle pain, and intestinal problems. Chronic fatigue is often an issue as well due to nightmares and insomnia.

One of the worst outcomes of bullying is PTSD. It may not hit for years, so when memories pop up from bullies years later it may be triggering. You may have flashbacks or and anxiety attack from seeing or hearing something that reminds you of the bullying you were subjected to as a child.

Some Of The Signs Of PTSD

However, many people with PTSD do not even realize it until others notice it. You often do not know your actions are different from normal until someone says something about it to you. For instance, a friend may mention that you have avoided going to a certain place or that you do not like to go to parties. Other signs of PTSD include:

  • You may have a lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Not being able to concentrate or focus could be an issue
  • Making decisions may be hard for you to do
  • You may have outbursts of aggression or rage
  • Trusting anyone may be hard to do (paranoia)
  • Alcohol or drugs may become a problem
  • Nightmares or night terrors can plague you
  • You may even feel shame or think it is your fault
  • Forgetfulness could become commonplace

How To Know If You Have PTSD

Even if you have a few of the symptoms, you may still not be sure whether you have PTSD or not. After all, you have been just fine all this time, and now you just had a little nightmare or flashback. If you are not sure, take a PTSD test online to find out whether you should talk to a professional or not.

If your child is being bullied at school, it may not be clear whether they are experiencing PTSD. Children have different signs than adults do. Some of the things you need to watch out for include:

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  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Avoiding friends, they used to enjoy playing with
  • Hypervigilance (being overly attentive to others to watch for signs of bullying)
  • Becoming clingy or regressing
  • They may have nightmares or not want to go to sleep
  • Worry, fear, and anxiety may be evident for no obvious reason
  • They may start acting out or becoming aggressive

Why Do Bullies Bully?

Bullies may not even know they are bullies. In fact, it may just be a sign that they are being bullied themselves. Many children who bully others at school have been a victim or are being victimized by someone else. They may be physically, emotionally, or sexually abused or they may be witnessing abuse going on at home.

Bullies Are Not Born That Way

Is it possible that they were just born that way? Doctors and researchers say no. Except for sociopaths, psychopaths, or those with narcissistic tendencies, people are not born to be mean. Although some studies say there may be up to 10% of children born with “difficult” traits, they are not born to be.

Rarely does someone decide to become a bully as a toddler and continue on that path just because they want to be that way. There is usually an underlying issue that needs to be addressed in the bully’s life now or in the past. In school years, the issue is usually a family dynamic problem but as an adult, it may be something that happened to them as a child at school or even as an adult at home or work.

A Balance Of Power And Control

Typically, bullies turn to bullying to make up for some other inadequacy like trouble at home or even being bullied at school by others. Then they turn to bullying those they see as weaker than them to make themselves feel better. Most often, it is about power. Having power over someone else can make up for them being abused at home or picked on at school.

Bullying Can Cause PTSD

No matter what the reason for bullying, the fact is that it can cause PTSD in many of those who are victims of it and even in those who witness it. Many children who witnessed their parents being physically or emotionally abusive to each other will have many of the symptoms of PTSD either right away or sometime in the future.

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More than 57% of bullying victims admit to having PTSD symptoms at some time in their future. It is when the PTSD shows up later on in life that things can become complicated because often, the cause of the PTSD was so long ago that you might not even remember it. The best way to deal with PTSD, though, is to talk about it.

Talking About It Helps

Talking to your loved ones is a good place to start. If you are being bullied, you need to tell someone in authority. If your child is being bullied at school, talk to the school authorities. If they do nothing, talk to the police department. There are Zero Tolerance for Bullying policies in most schools, that need to be enforced, so speaking up about any issues will help.

However, even after bullying stops, there may be lasting effects. You will need to seek therapy from a professional mental health expert to prevent or treat PTSD. If your child is being bullied, it may not hurt for you to both seek treatment and talk to someone. Even parents who have to deal with their children being bullied can end up with PTSD.

Getting Treatment For PTSD

Treating PTSD depends on the severity of the disorder and the age of the person suffering from it. However, the most common form of treatment is psychotherapy, which is also known as talk therapy. In other words, talking about it with a professional can really help.

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a form of talk therapy that lasts three months with weekly sessions of about an hour. The first step is to discuss the bullying incidents in detail and describe how you feel it affected your life. The therapist is there to help you along.
  • Journaling is another type of therapy. You will keep a journal to write the details of your personal bullying experiences. Whether you are the victim, a witness, or a loved one dealing with the aftereffects, writing down your thoughts will help you see what is going on. For instance, you may not even realize that you were blaming yourself for what happened until you read what you wrote.

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  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) is 15 sessions of treatments with a therapist who will help you learn coping practices to handle your anxiety. They will teach you breathing exercises to relieve anxiety. They can also help you make lists of things you have been avoiding and show you how to face them. Your sessions will be recorded so you can listen to the recordings. This often helps you understand your PTSD so you can control it.

Just talking to a therapist can be a big relief, even if you do not want to try one of these therapies. You can even talk to a therapist online, so you do not need to leave your house for an appointment!

NOTES: My only note is that I would shy away from the quiz, as I do not believe that should be promoted. Some people like to self-diagnosis and PTSD should be treated and diagnosed by a mental health professional. Other than that, excellent article.
 Does not go against what is clinically accepted.
 Does not encourage mindsets or practices that may be harmful to the reader.
 Is factual and up-to-date.