How Being Bullied Affects Your Adulthood

Apr 18, 2017 | Feature

In American schools, bullying is like the dark cousin to prom, student elections, or football practice: Maybe you weren’t involved, but you knew that someone, somewhere was. Five years ago, President Obama spoke against this inevitability at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. “With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune. I didn’t emerge unscathed,” he said. “But because it’s something that happens a lot, and it’s something that’s always been around, sometimes we’ve turned a blind eye to the problem.”

We know that we shouldn’t turn a blind eye: Research shows that bullying is corrosive to children’s mental health and well-being, with consequences ranging from trouble sleeping and skipping school to psychiatric problems, such as depression or psychosis, self-harm, and suicide.

But the damage doesn’t stop there. You can’t just close the door on these experiences, says Ellen Walser deLara, a family therapist and professor of social work at Syracuse University, who has interviewed more than 800 people age 18 to 65 about the lasting effects of bullying. Over the years, deLara has seen a distinctive pattern emerge in adults who were intensely bullied. In her new book, Bullying Scars, she introduces a name for the set of symptoms she often encounters: adult post-bullying syndrome, or APBS.

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