The Impact of Bullying and Trauma


Before you look at this page, if you haven’t already, please have a look at our page on:

Trauma Basics


Alternatively, if you prefer to watch a video…

We also have a short video:

What is Trauma?


Our focus is to understand the concept of bullying and how it links to trauma.

Our focus is to support those who have been bullied, parents, schools, and the workplace so to better understand how someone who has been bullied can become traumatised and how to they can then seek support so that they can develop towards post-traumatic growth and to heal.


It is also essential to recognise that people who bully do so for a reason. It can be difficult to empathise, but we aim to support those individuals who bully which may resolve their bullying behaviours.


A Definition of Bullying

There is no legal definition of bullying, however, bullying is usually associated with repeated interpersonal behaviours with an intention to hurt someone which can be emotional or physical and is defined as an imbalance of power.


A Definition of Abuse

Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person.

Bullying is a form of abuse!

People become traumatised from their experience of being bullied.


A Definition of Trauma

“Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. Unlike commonplace misfortunes, traumatic events generally involve threats to life or bodily integrity, or a close personal encounter with violence and death. They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror and evoke the responses of catastrophe. According to the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the common feeling of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation.”

Judith Herman (1992)



The Law

Some forms of bullying are illegal and should be reported to the police. These include:

Violence or assault


Repeated harassment or intimidation, for example name calling, threats and abusive phone calls, emails, or text messages

Hate crimes



Hate Crime

A hate crime is defined as 'Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person's race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.'


Who Gets Bullied?

Anyone can experience bullying – children, young people, and adults.


Who is at Risk?

Children, young people, and adults with disabilities.

Disabled children and those with additional learning needs

Children, young people, and adults with disabilities.

LGBTQ; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.

Underweight or overweight

Children living in poverty

Young carers

Children in the care system

Those who have less friends and are seen as vulnerable

Are weak and unable to defend themselves

Those who are anxious, depressed or have low self-esteem

Young people who do not have labelled clothing/trainers

Those who do not have the up-to-date smart phone

Children from minority race and faith groups

Gifted and talented children

Do not get along well with others and seen as annoying

Children who are perceived to be attention seeking

If perceived as intellectual

Do not get along well with others and seen as annoying

Those who look neglected



Where are People Bullied?





What Constitutes as Bullying?


 Physical BullyingHitting/pinching/punching/kickingTripping someone upThrowing objectsSpittingPushing and shovingVandalising or stealing their possessionsBitingAbusive phone callsRude hand gestures   Verbal BullyingName callingTeasing and tauntingThreatening behavioursInappropriate sexual commentsIntimidation   Social BullyingTaking your friends away from youSpreading rumoursMaking things up to get you into troubleLeaving someone out on purposeExcluding youHarming your reputationEmbarrassing someone   Cyber BullyingSending you offensive texts or messagesPosting insults messages onlineSharing inappropriate photosExcluding you from group chatsBlackmail and groomingThreateningCyber stalkingHacking to use your personal online identity to share inappropriate information


Other forms of bullying:

Intimate partner violence which occurs between two people who are, or once were in a relationship

Hazing which is a situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule to members of a group or team. It can be used to initiate new members to a group.

Gang violence.

Harassment, when behaviours are persistent and creates a hostile environment.

Stalking is repeated harassment or behaviours which are threatening such as following a person, contacting a person, or damaging a person’s property.



The Effects of Bullying – a Traumatic Event


“Although exposure to bullying constitutes a systematic exposure to a series of negative events over a prolonged time-period, rather than one single traumatic event, it has been claimed that the distress many of the victim’s experience equalizes the stress associated with traumatic events”.

Matthiesen and Einarsen (2004)


“An event or series of events of an extremely threatening or horrific nature, where the possibility of escape is difficult or impossible. In our clinical encounters, targets of bullying have described that they thought they were going to die”

Idsoe et. al., (2021)


To understand more about trauma, trauma symptoms and how to recover, follow this link


Given that bullying is sustained repeatedly, and that it is classed as abusive and therefore traumatic, the effects can be experienced in the long term.


Traumatic experiences often involve a person’s felt sense of fear, a lack of safety and security in what you perceive as your dangerous world.

This can leave you feeling helpless.

When you feel a threat to life, you can feel overwhelmed and isolated which can result in trauma.

The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised.

Even when the bullying stops, people may live in anticipation and fear of the next incident happening.



Long Term Effects of Bullying and how Bullying can Impact on your Mental Health:


Depression  Frustration  Anxiety  Isolation  Withdrawal  Suicidal  Upset  Angry  Humiliation  Self-harm    Avoiding social situations  Absence from school or work  Eating disorders  Alcohol  Drugs  Anti-social behaviours  Running away from home  Poverty  Debt  Unemployment  Unstable relationships  Lack of confidence  Low self-esteem  Addictions  Gambling  Smoking  Prescription medications


Bullying has a strong relationship with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The videos below explains Adverse Childhood Experiences and the long-term effect of bullying from childhood and throughout your life if not addressed:






tell them about how you are being bullied and by whom


report it


and for you to be free from the fear


seek help


Why People Bully

The foundations of bullying are from a need for power. People who bully are most likely to have experienced their own life difficulties:

 Parental interpersonal violence   Parental mental health and have not been emotionally available   Neglect athome   Parental drug/alcohol misuse   Do not feel secure in any relationships   Have less parental involvement or having issues at home   Death of a loved one   Have been bullied themselves   View violence in a positive way, a form of protection for themselves   Have friends who bully others   Have been physically or sexually abused   Are envious of other people’s lives   To mask how they feel about themselves   They are or have been ‘looked after/care leaver’ and have been in foster care   Have low self-esteem   Parental divorce


Is your behaviour a way of you controlling something because you have no control in other areas of your life?

Is this your way of coping with the difficulties you are experiencing in your life?

Are you projecting your frustration and anger as a release for your life difficulties?

Are you unable to punish the people who have hurt you, so you are hurting other people instead?

To understand more about trauma, trauma symptoms and how to recover, visit our Understanding Trauma page

For young people who have been bullied, use the young people’s webpage for support in understanding how to recover from trauma.

For adults who have been bullied, use the adult’s webpage for support in understanding how to recover from trauma.


Use this link to Kidscape who can support you and your family.


Use our help directory for contact details of national support agencies.


Use local counselling agencies to enable you to explore your difficulties and thus develop a more positive and productive way of being.





Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books.


Idsoe, T., Vaillancourt, T., Dyregrov, A., Hagen, K. A., Ogden, T., and Nærde, A. (2021). Bullying victimization and trauma. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 1602.


Matthiesen, S. B., and Einarsen, S. (2004). Psychiatric distress and symptoms of PTSD among victims of bullying at work. British journal of guidance and counselling, 32(3), 335-356.


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