When we picture the classic bully, it is typically someone their target doesn’t have a history with who picks on them for no clear reason. This can make it easier for people who have been bullied to feel victimized. However, it also helps them recognize that it may not be personal and that this stranger’s opinion of them does not matter. On the other hand, being bullied by close friends and siblings can warp one’s sense of identity and self-esteem. A recent study suggests that depression and self-harm are more prominent in adults who have been bullied by close friends and siblings throughout childhood.
The Effect of Bullying on Later Mental Health
In this study, conducted by the University of Warwick, the participants were asked to self-report bullying when they were 12 years old. Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and self-harm were assessed at 24 years old. The effects of childhood bullying were found to be long-lasting, even after participants left environments where they were bullied.
Of 3,881 youths studied it was found that 31.2% experienced bullying by a sibling compared to 27.6 who experienced bullying by peers. Of those who both became victims and bullied siblings, 15.1% were diagnosed with clinical depression, 35.7% experienced suicidal ideation and 16.1% self-harmed with a further 4.9% with the intent of suicide. Those who experienced sibling bullying and peer bullying had double the odds of developing clinical depression and consider suicide.
Lack of Social Support
Sibling bullying is often overlooked as fighting with siblings is accepted as a common family dynamic. Parents struggle to intervene without showing favoritism and often back off to let their children settle their problems on their own. Those bullied at home are more likely to be bullied by peers and have no safe space at school or at home. While parents may be aware of their children fighting, kids are often scared to tell on their siblings, as that might give their sibling a reason to pick on them more. When bringing it up to other people, it is more likely to be normalized rather than seen as significant. Teens who are bullied by their support system worry that reaching out for help would mean losing their only support in other areas.
Loss of Trust
Teens are also more likely to question their experiences when they are bullied by friends. They may struggle to consider relational aggression and gossip “bullying” because the “bullies” were supposed to be their friends or were at some point. Instead of recognizing mean comments as hurtful and exaggerated, people are more likely to internalize that these negative things about themselves must be true if someone they trust says they are. This can completely distort one’s self-esteem, as it becomes contingent on other people’s perceptions of you. Relational bullying can be traumatic as it is a breach of trust by people who are supposed to be there for you. After realizing they can’t trust people around them who have played a role in shaping their identity, many teens question if they can trust who they thought they were as they begin to see themselves as a victim.
Difficulty Forming New Relationships
Teens who have been bullied by people they were close to struggle with setting healthy boundaries in relationships. They may be more likely to overlook red flags if they are desperate for connection or if they are used to toxic friendships. They may also overestimate bad intentions from other people and withdraw socially to protect themselves from rejection or abandonment. Quality of early relationships are the strongest predictor of later relationship styles.
Taking a Relationship-Based Approach to Healing
Residential treatment centers acknowledge that the social culture of an adolescent has a powerful influence on their behavior. Milieu therapy is based on creating a nurturing therapeutic environment, including an inviting campus, supportive staff, and positive peer culture, that helps teens change their beliefs about relationships. Teens who have a history of being bullied by peers are less likely to trust authority figures and more likely to compare themselves to other people and believe they do not measure up. At Solstice East, our goal is to help students recognize their strengths, rebuild self-esteem, and repair relationships with their peers and family members.
Solstice East Can Help
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for young women ages 14-18 who are reclaiming their sense of self after experiencing traumatic events, depression, and addictive behaviors. We help young women heal from emotional pain by reintegrating healthy habits into their lives. Students learn to build healthy relationships, cope with emotions, and effectively communicate with others. Through adventure activities and creative expression, we encourage girls to explore their passions and strengths and empower them to make healthy choices. As a relationship-based program, we emphasize rebuilding family relationships and developing close bonds with mentors, staff, and peers.
For more information about how we help girls who have been bullied, call 828-484-9946.