GAYLORD — Psychologists are warning verbal bullying may be one of the most dangerous types of abuse and the results could affect the person for a lifetime.
Counselor Kristin Lubs Eagle of Point of Peace Counseling and Consulting in Gaylord, Mich. says she was bullied as a child.
“It was in fourth grade,” Eagle said. “I was tall for my age and a boy in my class began calling me ‘Mama Moose.’ If it had been a one-time event, I probably would have forgotten it,” Eagle said. “But he kept doing it.”
According to experts, one of the hallmarks of bullying is the target is repeatedly harassed by the bully. The constant attacks wear down the victim.
“Self-esteem can be elevated or even crushed, depending on those who interact with the victim. I was embarrassed by what he was saying, so I couldn’t tell my parents.”
She already felt awkward about being taller than other kids. His words amplified those feelings.
“Our culture also tends to place a lot of blame on the victim in situations like these,” Eagle said.
She did eventually tell the playground supervisor, who happened to be the boy’s mother. The mother, however, passed off her son’s behavior as simple teasing. While the boy didn’t stop, the bullying then became more covert.
Young people are fearful of reporting incidents of bullying because they fear the bully will retaliate or they may be too embarrassed to tell an adult what they are being bullied about, notes Kristin.
“Teachers and school officials often take bullying too lightly or don’t know what to do,” says Christian counselor Larry Porta of Larry Porta Counseling Services in Gaylord, Mich. School personnel may not know that the effects of verbal and social bullying are worse than those of physical bullying.
School administrators tend to view physical bullying as the worst form because the results are easy to see, making the situation evident. Physical wounds go away however. Victims of verbal bullying start to believe the bully’s accusations as they are repeated. Emotional wounds the accusations cause tend to be replayed in the victims’ minds over and over, where others cannot see their effects.
If the problem is not dealt with in childhood or adolescence, survivors often have difficulty being able to trust in others and hence difficulty with relationships, even in adulthood. Like any victim of abuse, adult survivors of bullying may have a difficulty confronting serious issues with other people and tend to be used or manipulated by others. Adult survivors may experience long periods of depression and anxiety. And unless, these issues are dealt with, they can continue throughout their lives.
Eagle went to counseling years later and her positive experience with that in dealing with results of having been bullied, led her to becoming a counselor herself.
“Counseling is a great tool,” she said. “We can develop these false thoughts and we need to see outside of this. A counselor can help.”
Bullying victims might not talk about the situation they are facing, but they often show signs something is bothering them.
There are some ways parents, guardians and school personnel can identify a potential problem. These include:
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Suddenly loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits – too little or too much
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, etc.
While verbal bullying can cause more significant problems later in life, it doesn’t have to. Both Eagle and Porta acknowledge counseling can help people get on the right track again. There is hope for both the survivors and the bullies themselves.