Bullying and the Innate Fight or Flight Response

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Any time a person has been the object of relentless bullying at work or school, over an extended period of time, that person comes to be in a constant state of high alert. Although useful in short, immediate circumstances, this hyper-vigilance can be unhealthy if the person remains in this state for too long, causing stomach issues, headaches, and fatigue among other many other ailments. Still worse, such a continuous feeling of being under threat can also cause the person to overreact in response to certain occurrences.

Here’s an except from “From Victim to Victor (A Survivor’s True Story of Her Experiences with School Bullying).”

From Victim to Victor

“…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 in part through the release of adrenaline. When adrenaline is released into the blood, it becomes next to impossible not to do either of two things- fight or flee.

When I was being bullied and abused during school, escape was not an option for me. Usually, I was cornered or surrounded, either backed into a wall or some large object. With flight cut off to me as an option, what did I have left? Fight! I lived on this adrenaline every day, all day long. Just being around my classmates put my body and mind on constant alert. It was a horrible way to live.

Getting on the school bus and walking through the entrance to the school felt like a death march. In the afternoons, I had horrible headaches that triggered violent nausea. For so long, I had managed to keep from vomiting, but eventually my luck ran out. 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, barely making it to the first stall before launching a stream of the bitterest, most horrible tasting green liquid into the toilet.

This was followed by a long series of dry heaves which were quite painful. Instead of making me feel better, the vomiting made me feel worse 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 I could go home early.

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When you’re a bullied kid, even a few teachers, having heard the rumors and falsehoods being spread about you, begin to bully you too. It’s a very lonely and heartbreaking position to be in.

As time went on, the fear of going to school and having to face my classmates grew in me. It was like an infected tumor getting bigger and bigger with each passing day. My stomach would draw up every morning when I set foot on that school bus. The next eight hours was like walking through a minefield, never knowing when my next step could mean BOOM! and I would be hit, shoved, kicked, or bombarded with a torrent of taunts, insults and names. It was a situation I saw no end to, and to say that I was afraid would be an understatement. I was petrified.

Most never think of the magnitude of fear the victim must live with or the health consequences of living in that perpetual state of fight or flight. And sadly, although the impact to the physical health of the victim may not show up right away, it may rear its ugly head later in life.

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

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Many bullied victims get into serious trouble when the bullying finally escalates and becomes physical. Everyday, innocent targets are unjustly suspended and expelled from school or fired from work because they were forced into fight mode to defend themselves. Bullies have a real flair for charming and seducing supervisors, managers, teachers and staff, lying very convincingly and making the target look like the aggressor and victims are often severely punished for nothing more than trying to protect themselves, while the bullies are either given a slap on the wrist or escape with complete impunity.

However, school staff and workplace management should know well that, just like all God’s creatures, targets of bullying have this fight or flight instinct.

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

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