Bullying and The Human Stress Response

Bullying and the Human Stress Response go hand in hand as bullying automatically activates this response in targets. Whenever bullies accost their target, the targets body instinctively goes into survival mode.  Therefore, the automatic response is either to fight or flee. But what happens when their bodies stay in that state due to long-term bullying?

the effects of Long-term bullying on the sympathetic nervous system.

According to the Cleveland Clinic website, “Your sympathetic nervous system is a network of nerves that helps your body activate its “fight-or-flight” response. This system’s activity increases when you’re stressed, in danger or physically active. Its effects include increasing your heart rate and breathing ability, improving your eyesight and slowing down processes like digestion.”( https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23262-sympathetic-nervous-system-sns-fight-or-flight#:~:text=Your%20sympathetic%20nervous%20system%20is%20best%20known%20for%20its%20role,your%20get%20out%20of%20danger. )

After so long, bullying can screw up the target’s Sympathetic Nervous System. It can cause confusion and emotional numbness in targets. Moreover, the constant bullying puts the fight-or-flight response into overdrive.. After bullies have bullied a target for so long, adverse changes in the victim’s brain began to occur and the human mind begins to decline.

what long-term bullying does to mental health

Long-term bullying affects decision making and emotional control the most. Loss of cognitive abilities and a severely diminished ability to control emotions and think clearly and rationally will blind the target to any alternatives to their current situation. This is why targets often snap and do irrational things when the pressure builds to the breaking point.

Because children’s brains are still developing, kids stand a higher chance of damage to the mind and SNS. Relentless bullying can cause a child or teen to lose the ability to discern and make choices to get them to safety due to their brains’ negative changes.

If you’re a parent and you know your child is a target of bullying at school, you must help them leave that environment and get them into a new school so that their minds can begin healing and their abilities to make good decisions and reason can be restored!

Remember that a plant cannot grow in a hostile environment of no sunlight nor water. And neither can human beings grow in a hostile environment of bullying and abuse.

With knowledge comes empowerment!

Bullying and the Fight or Flight Response

upshot of attacker with his foot raised to stomp you

Bullying and the fight or flight response go hand in hand.

According to the Psychology Tools website, “The fight or flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee. These responses are evolutionary adaptations to increase chances of survival in threatening situations.” ( https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/fight-or-flight-response/ )

Any time bullies target a person with relentless bullying at work or school over an extended period of time, they force that person into a constant state of high alert. Although useful in short, immediate circumstances, this hyper-vigilance is unhealthy if the person remains in this state for too long, causing stomach issues, headaches, and fatigue, among many other ailments.

Even worse, facing continuous danger can also cause the person to overreact in response to certain occurrences.

The Fight or Flight Response is Innate. Every Creature on earth has it.

Every living creature has an innate and perfectly natural physiological reaction in the event of a threat or attack. Called the Fight or Flight Response, it protects us from harm in dangerous situations through the release of adrenaline. When adrenaline is released into the blood, it’s next to impossible not to do either of two things- fight or flee.

Fight or Flight sign showing a man with fists raised and another running away

When others are consistently bullying and abusing you during school or anywhere, escape is usually not an option. Your bullies will corner, surround, or back you into a wall or some other large object. With flight cut off to you as an option, what do you have left? Fight! Long-term bullying can cause a person to live on this adrenaline every day, all day long. All your aggressors have to do is to come around you and they can put your body and mind on constant alert. It’s a horrible way to live.

Getting on the school bus and walking through the entrance to the school can feel like a death march. Moreover, horrible headaches and violent nausea will plague many targets.

Here is an excerpt on the subject from my book:

“I recall an afternoon in English class when my mouth and eyes began to water. I swallowed hard to control my gag reflexes as I approached the teacher’s desk to ask to be excused to the bathroom.

‘What do you want?’ Mrs. Caraway asked rudely.
‘I don’t feel good.’ I replied.

Without a word, she gave me the hall pass, and I scurried my way to the girls’ room, I barely made it to the first stall before launching a stream of the bitterest, most horrible tasting green liquid into the toilet.

man balled up in a corner with the words, claustrophobia, stress, panic, depression, anxiety, and fear on the wall behind him

A long series of dry heaves followed, which were quite painful. Instead of making me feel better, the vomiting only did the opposite, and my headache became next to unbearable.

I’ll never forget the sound of the bathroom door as it flung open and the teacher stormed in, demanding to know why I was taking so long. I began to cry and, in between gags and wretches, pleaded with her to let me go to the office and call my grandmother….”

She accused me of making myself vomit so that I could go home early.

targets live in a constant state of survival mode.

Even teachers can join the other kids against you once they hear enough rumors and falsehoods bullies spread about you. This can place you in a very lonely and heartbreaking position.

As time goes on, the fear of going to school and having to face their megalomaniac classmates grows. It’d like an infected tumor that grows bigger with each passing day. A target’s stomach draws up every morning when they set foot on a school bus.

The next eight hours are like walking through a minefield, never knowing when your next step could mean BOOM! Others begin hitting, shoving, kicking, or bombarding the target with a torrent of taunts, insults, and names. It is a situation they see no end to, and to say that they are afraid is an understatement. Targets are petrified.

Fenced off field with sign on fence warning of mines

Most never think of the magnitude of fear the target must live with. Also, they don’t think of the health consequences of living in that perpetual state of fight or flight. The impact on the target’s physical health may not show up right away. However, it may rear its ugly head later in life.

But this doesn’t only happen in school; it happens in the workplace also. What people once believed to only happen to school-aged people also happens to adults in the workplace. Bullying knows no age group.

authority figures usually blame targets for defending themselves.

Many targets get into serious trouble when the bullying finally escalates and becomes physical. Every day, school staff unjustly suspend or expel innocent targets are unjustly from school for exercising their rights to self-defense.  Moreover, managers in the workplace terminate bullying targets from work because bullies force them into fight mode to defend themselves.

Bullies have a real flair for charming and seducing supervisors, managers, teachers, and staff. They lie very convincingly and making the target look like the aggressor. Targets are often severely punished for nothing more than trying to protect themselves. Whereas, bullies are either given a slap on the wrist or escape with complete impunity. In short, the target has no support whatsoever!

School staff and workplace management should know well that, just like all God’s creatures, bullying targets have this fight or flight instinct. Therefore, they have the right to defend themselves if running is not an option.

Cornered dog feeling threatened and getting ready to bite you

And when bullies are attacking the target left and right and you have no support, it’s left solely up to them to take care of themselves in bullying situations.

It’s only natural that if you corner a dog and kick it enough times, sooner or later, you’ll get bit!

With knowledge comes empowerment!

“My Give-A-Dam is Busted!”

If you are a target of bullying, there are times when you get fed up with people’s crap. Then…BOOM! You snap on some creep who pushed you over your limit. Believe me, I understand and if this has happened with you, I cannot fault you for it. I empathize with you wholeheartedly.

It’s not that you want to fight. In fact, you hate fighting- intensely. However, if you’re a 5’4”, 120 lb. teenage girl with a target on her back, what do you do? Stand there and let them jump you?

Like most targets, I too hated to fight but there were times I didn’t have a choice. It was either fight or be beaten within an inch of my life. Not only the girls would try to jump me, but the guys would too and most of those redneck brutes had no qualms nor reservations about beating up on a female, even one who was little. Some of the bullies at Oakley High threatened with a knife or a box-cutter and it’s amazing I got out of there alive.

But that’s what bullying does to people if they don’t have the proper psychological tools, confidence, or know-how to deal with it. It makes them paranoid, makes them desperate, puts them in survival mode! In other (and more scientific) words, it awakens their primal instincts. It rewires their brains in preparation for a hostile environment.

A target of bullying must live in constant vigil and adrenaline. They must always be on alert- they must grow eyes in the back of their heads and be prepared for danger every time they turn a corner. That gets both frustrating and exhausting after so long.

I cannot count the times in school I showed my booty to people after having taken all I could take. And there were times I didn’t just let off a little stream, I blew a gasket!

The longer you are bullied, the more it builds- the sense of injustice, the sadness, the rage. It all piles up. We are all human and no one can hold that crap inside forever it doesn’t matter how resilient they are. It’s humanly impossible.

You’re like a bottle of soda that’s been shaken up until it finally spews.

Like a dormant volcano that finally awakens, you erupt when that last (and unfortunate) creep sticks as much as a toe over your boundaries. Some people, you scare half to death, others, you piss off even more and make twice as determined to get you, and few see your tirade as personal entertainment.

I did that a few times back when I was being bullied and abused at school.

There were times I’d yell, curse the bullies out, throw stuff, and slam doors. I would tell people to get the eff away from me and not to come back around. I admit it. I showed the worst sides of myself on a few occasions.

I remember grabbing one girl by the hair and beating the living snot out of her in the library after she’d spent the last month getting in my face and taunting during the last class of the day.

Another bully received the business end of a fist after attempting to shove me down a flight of stairs. I remember running back up the stairs, whacking her upside the head with a fist, a second time with my purse, then a textbook. The next thing I remember is dragging her down the stairs. She seemed to hit and bounce off every step going down.

Once I got her to the bottom, I beat and kicked her until a teacher and three other students pried me off her. These were only two of the many incidents that occurred during those years.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I’m proud of. Each time, I remember feeling terrible about it after it was over, and everything had cooled off. No decent person wants to lose their cool and act a fool, but when you been pushed and pushed, there is an eventual breaking point.

Yes, I got into fist fights. I won some fights but lost a few too.

Sadly, it all seemed to be a cycle. After getting bullied and bullied for several months, I’d snap. Some of the tiredness bled over into my home life. Sadly, when bullies have worn you down, you’re too exhausted to even be there for the people you love when they have problems too. You’re fresh out of patience and energy, and yes, even love.

You can’t pour from an empty cup and as a result, you just don’t give a crap- about anything or anybody. All you want is to be left alone.

I look back now and realize that I didn’t handle the bullying the right way. Understand that if you don’t set healthy boundaries, this is what can happen.

Today, I’m a much calmer and happier person than I used to be. Why? Because I’m more assertive and I set boundaries. If I say no or ask someone to please stop doing something when they violate my boundaries, and they insist on continuing the behavior, I either tell them to leave right then, or I walk away after telling the person exactly what I think of them. I then cut them out of my life.

I have learned that, although you cannot control another person’s behavior, you do have control over your own and whether to continue having them in your life. And if you refuse to associate with a person, they no longer have easy access to you. Therefore, it’s not nearly as easy for them to get to you and harm you.

So, never allow people to bully you and get out of control with their abuse. Speak out when people violate your boundaries. It’s the only way to keep the pressure from building and reaching a boiling point.

If this has been your experience, feel free to comment.

When People Tell You, “You Can’t Do Anything Right!”

It’s true! When you’re a target of bullying and mobbing, you really can’t do anything right. But understand that bullying does that to targets. It causes them to be extremely nervous and always on edge.

You drop things, trip over stuff, the intense nervousness and fear make you awkward and uncoordinated. It makes you clumsy. The human stress response is, indeed, a tricky little devil!

You become even more afraid, which makes the clumsiness worse- fearful of screwing up, afraid to fail, afraid to be yourself because you know your bullies are watching you closely, and you’re mistakes and failures are precisely what they’re waiting for.

verbal abuse bullying

A bullied girl bakes a cake in Home Economics, only for it to collapse like a souffle. A bullied boy accidentally drops the ball on the basketball court in Physical Education. A company supervisor oversees a project, only for it to fall flat and be ridiculed.

And it seems the harder you try not to screw up, the more you do. You’re confused and don’t know which way to turn, nor which end is up. Making choices is hard and you aren’t sure which decisions are the right ones. No one can think clearly when they don’t feel safe.

bullying victim nervous, walking tight rope

Because when your mind and body are in panic mode- when your brain rewires itself for a hostile environment after people have, for so long, subjugated you to inhumane treatment, the part of your mind that deals with decision-making and emotional regulation automatically shuts down. And you’re at the mercy of your primal instincts!

Again, all this is what bullying does to victims! It’s why most victims of bullying have low grades and performance in school and why their work projects suffer in the workplace. And it’s why they’re looked at by teachers and supervisors as failures and nuisances.

bullying girl physical

But know that you’re not a failure, a loser, or a freak. You must realize that any time you’re bullied, there’s no way to relax and just be. It’s impossible. So, understand that your bullies, in their sadistic abuse, have turned you from a once calm and happy person into one hot mess! Then they’ve taken that and exploited it by calling you things like, “train wreck,” “crazy,” and other such cheap shots.

But there’s hope. When you finally get out of the dangerous environment you’re stuck in, and away from those poisonous people, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the nervousness, clumsiness, and awkwardness will go away!

You will be calm again, finally. You’ll be able just to relax, breathe, and be. And that’s a freedom I can’t describe when I remember how it happened for me.

The relief is such that it’s a feeling of being able to come up for air after having your head held underwater, or of coming home after a long time away. When you’re in a new place and around better people, you can put your best foot forward and start over.

It may be frightening at first because, after all, you just came out of an abusive situation, and you may need time to get used to the new people in your life. You may be afraid of being bullied again. But I promise you that you can make new friends and you can finally enjoy equal treatment.

Because you’ll be a fresh face, and in most cases, everyone loves the new kid because there’s an air of mystery that surrounds them. So, take advantage of that.

And once you’re able to relax and be yourself, you’ll be able to speak and do things more confidently and assuredly. Your actions and movements will be fluid and the clumsiness and confusion will fade away. It happened for me, and it will work for you too!

“You Can’t Do Anything Right!”

bullying girl

It’s true! When you’re a target of bullying and mobbing, you really can’t do anything right. But understand that bullying does that to targets. It causes them to be extremely nervous and always on edge.

You drop things, trip over stuff, the intense nervousness and fear make you awkward and uncoordinated. It makes you clumsy. The human stress response is, indeed, a tricky little devil!

You become even more afraid, which makes the clumsiness worse- fearful of screwing up, afraid to fail, afraid to be yourself because you know your bullies are watching you closely, and you’re mistakes and failure are precisely what they’re waiting for.

A bullied girl bakes a cake in Home Economics, only for it to collapse like a souffle. A bullied boy accidentally drops the ball on the basketball court in Physical Education. A company supervisor oversees a project, only for it to fall flat and be ridiculed.

bullying victim

And it seems the harder you try not to screw up, the more you do. You’re confused and don’t know which way to turn, nor which end is up. Making choices is hard before you aren’t sure which decisions are the right ones. No one can think clearly when they don’t feel safe.

Because when your mind and body are in panic mode- when your brain rewires itself for a hostile environment after people have, for so long, subjugated you to inhumane treatment, the part of your mind that deals with decision-making and emotional regulation automatically shuts down. And you’re at the mercy of your primal instincts!

Again, all this is what bullying does to victims! It’s why most victims of bullying have low grades and performance in school and why their work projects suffer in the workplace. And it’s why they’re looked at by teachers and supervisors as failures and nuisances.

workplace bullying

But know that you’re not a failure, a loser, or a freak. You must realize that any time you’re bullied, there’s no way to relax and just be. It’s impossible. So, understand that your bullies, in their sadistic abuse, have turned you from a once calm and happy person into one hot mess! Then they’ve taken that and exploited it by calling you things like, “train wreck,” “crazy,” and other such cheap shots.

But there’s hope. When you finally get out of the dangerous environment you’re stuck in, and away from those poisonous people, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the nervousness, clumsiness, and awkwardness will go away!

You will be calm again, finally. You’ll be able just to relax, breathe, and be. And that’s a freedom I can’t describe when I remember how it happened for me.

The relief is such that it’s a feeling of being able to come up for air after having your head held underwater, or of coming home after a long time away. When you’re in a new place and around better people, you can put your best foot forward and start over.

Cyber bullying

It may be frightening at first because, after all, you just came out of an abusive situation, and you may need time to get used to the new people in your life. You may be afraid of being bullied again. But I promise you that you can make new friends and you can finally enjoy equal treatment.

Because you’ll be a fresh face, and in most cases, everyone loves the new kid because there’s an air of mystery that surrounds them. So, take advantage of that.

And once you’re able to relax and be yourself, you’ll be able to speak and do things more confidently and assuredly. Your actions and movements will be fluid and the clumsiness and confusion will fade away. It happened for me, and it will work for you too!