Living under the influence of a bully is no walk in the park. Unfortunately, the battle doesn’t end with the realization of what’s happening or the desire to put an end to the abusive influence. There are consequences to deal with in the aftermath of the abuse. There are four steps to the aftermath of bullying. Once again, these steps are taken from Marie-France Hirigoyen’s book: “Le harcèlement moral: la violence perverse au quotidien”.
Shock: There is a crucial turning point in abusive relationships when the victim realizes what the bully was doing all this time. While being the first step towards liberation, that moment of enlightenment hits the victim like a tidal wave. From this point on, the victim relives every bullying moment in his/her mind, seeing for the first time the extent of the abusive nature of the relationship. This experience can be quite traumatizing. With it comes turbulence of emotions: hurt, helplessness, humiliation, and eventually anger when the shock wears off.
Decompensation: At this stage, the victim’s resilience to stress has been weakened and eroded by the ongoing assaults. When stress crosses the boundary of manageability, there is decompensation. Stress then forces its way out through outbursts of anger or acts of self-harm (including suicide), which the bully often perceives as justification for his own acts of violence. The overload of stress also manifests itself in fatigue, lack of motivation, depression, anxiety, anger, even to the point of dissociation.
Separation: After seeing the situation for what it is and that the ongoing assault won’t relent, the victim is faced with a choice: keep low and submit to the other’s domination or fight to free himself/herself. Breaking out will be a fight since the bully will likely take advantage of his victim’s weakened state to try to overpower him/her.
Evolution: Out of those who find it in them to break out of the toxic relationship, many will find themselves struggling long after because of the pain and frustration they went through. There are three different levels of repercussions from having endured a bullying relationship:
- A bitter memory that stirs up negative emotions, but is otherwise accepted and managed. This is especially the case when the abuse was happening outside the home and for a short duration.
- An uncontrollable aggressive instinct that stems from that old feeling of being powerless, which is now causing the former victim to feel a consuming anger towards anything that triggers that old feeling.
- Post-traumatic symptoms. Due to the fact that the bully-victim relationship put the victim “under siege”, the victim had to be constantly on the defensive. The old survival/defensive instincts are easily triggered and the former victim develops behaviors in response to the stress stemming from the traumatic experience, underlined by avoidance, acute fear, panic, anxiety, etc.
The post-traumatic symptoms are the least likely to happen, but they are still far too common. Sometimes they hide under masks of anger, avoidance, or any other means that allow the former victim to cope without actually tending to the wound suffered, thus allowing the traumatic symptoms to recur. From my personal experience, the aggressive instinct was my biggest struggle. Although a generally peaceful guy, any sign of cruelty and injustice could trigger such an anger that would frighten even me after I calmed down a bit. Anger is a normal reaction to these, but the past bullying suffered can amplify that anger at times when the old feelings associated with the bullying are triggered. I found it very helpful to be mindful of these triggers and so to filter what I expose myself to. When I do get wound up, it is then up to me to face those feelings head on and to learn what they tell me about myself and about those things that triggered them. Keep in mind that anger is often a mask for a fundamental underlying problem.
On my next post, we will take a look under the bully’s mask.