Bullying can occur at any point throughout our life. However, it is very impactful when we are children, adolescents, and teens. During these timeframes, our brains are changing on both a neural level and well as structurally. Rates of bullying in the U.S are around 1 in 5 children. Click here to reference more data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. This article will focus on the effects of bullying before adulthood.
Effects of Bullying in Childhood on Our Nervous System
Our nervous systems’ constantly scan for threats and danger in our society. The nervous system does this for protection and to ensure survival. When a child goes to school where they have experienced bullying before and likely to again, their nervously systems respond accordingly.
In terms of Polyvagal Theory, we have states in our nervous system. One state is when we feel safe in our environment and connected to those around us. This is called ventral vagal. The next state is sympathetic where we feel the need to flee or fight. The last state is dorsal vagal where we experience a collapse/freeze response to stressors.
Going back to the child example, merely being on a bus to school can shift their nervous system out of a state of calm and into dysregulated states. Further, when we perceive stress, our bodies dump large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline to ensure we have the energy to survive the upcoming stressors. These hormones can negatively impact school performance, forming connections, and overall learning. Lastly, while under perceived threat our brains can structurally change in response. Thus, certain areas such as the amygdala (emotion part of brain) can become larger whereas the prefrontal cortex can shrink.
These changes in the brain don’t stop after school ends. They can linger or last a lifetime.
Can Being Bullied Create Trauma?
Although being bullied as youth does not meet Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) criteria, it may cause compounding little ‘t’ trauma. This can affect a youth’s ability to maintain behavioral control, regulate emotions, experience emotions in general, and lead to reactivity.
Start Working with a Therapist in Denver Now!
Working with a mental health therapist can help alleviate the effects of bullying. Utilizing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, we can heal old wounds and the nervous system. Click here to start your healing journey!