As we know, bullying is highly traumatic to targets. However, bystanders also suffer a degree of trauma as well, just by witnessing it.
For now, let’s talk about what bullying does to targets, since they’re most affected by it.
Any form of psychological trauma, whether it comes from combat, rape, or bullying, brings about actual changes in the physiology of the brain. It reprograms the brain’s alarm system, causes a sharp increase in stress hormones and activation, and changes the way the brain distinguishes real information from fake information, and the relevant from irrelevant.
Because of these changes and disruptions, people become hypervigilant. And the hypervigilance in some survivors is so bad they aren’t able to function day to day. It’s also the reason why trauma can cause one to repeat the same negative and destructive behaviors over and over again- survivors of trauma have a difficult time learning from experience.
Survivors of bullying who often repeat the same behaviors due to changes in their brains are often accused of being “bad” people – they’re accused of laziness, stubbornness, bad character, and immorality.
Understand that when a person is bullied for long periods of time, it rewires the brain to prepare for a hostile environment and expect hostility from others. This is why targets and survivors of bullying have a difficult time trusting other people.
Targets and survivors of bullying are accused of being lazy when what they’re really dealing with is “learned helplessness” as a result of being bullied and verbally abused repeatedly.
They’re accused of being hotheaded or crazy when they’re actually experiencing the release of pinned up rage from being abused, then being silenced and punished for speaking out about it.
They’re often accused of being defiant and stubborn when they’re actually shutting down.
All this comes from being repeatedly bullied and abused and having no way of fighting back to defend themselves, no way of fleeing the bullies and abusers, and no way of escaping the toxic environment. Learned helplessness comes not only from being bullied and abused repeatedly, but more so, it comes from being trapped and powerless to do anything to better your situation.
For examples: If a group of bullies lock the door of the bathroom or surround the target, blocking any escape, then hold the target down as they attack him/her, this is likely to cause “learned helplessness.”
Or, if the target reports the bullying to the school principal or teacher and they blame him and refuse to give him protection- then the bullies retaliate against him the next day and beat him even more severely for snitching, this also causes “learned helplessness.”
If a battered wife is constantly threatened by her abusive husband that, if she leaves, he will take the children from her, or kill her, or worse, kill her entire family, than she’s trapped with no way out. She is likely to develop “learned helplessness.”
Therefore, it’s not so much the bullying and abuse that causes this condition called “Learned Helplessness.” There have been many abused and bullied people who have escaped their situations and later because highly dependable, healthy, and successful people.
What causes “Learned Helplessness” is the inability to oppose, stand against, or escape bullying and abuse. Being trapped, held down, having no one to turn to for help, or constantly having possible paths of escape blocked, with no other recourse than to take the abuse just to survive- that is what causes “learned helplessness.”
With knowledge comes empowerment!