How to overcome the effects of childhood bullying as an adult in the workplace

Tags: blog, career tips, career development

It’s Anti Bullying Week 2018 – a time when parents, teachers and children throughout the country will be shining a spotlight on the issue of childhood bullying and raising awareness around the importance of showing respect to others and developing positive relationships during the formative years of life.

While the negative impact of bullying has become more widely recognised and discussed, thus leading to improved preventative measures for the current generation of school-aged children, it’s important to note that many adults still carry the baggage of bullying they experienced during childhood, which ultimately has a detrimental impact on their workplace performance and relationships.

If you have been a victim of childhood bullying, and feel that unpleasant memories and traumas continue to cast a shadow over your confidence and relationships in the workplace, then read on to find out how you can transcend the hurt of the past and build up your sense of self worth. 

The driving forces behind childhood bullying and how it impacts adulthood

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but the wounds inflicted upon your self esteem as a child can last a lifetime. Children and teens may be bullied for any number of reasons, such as weight, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, clothes, social difficulties, interests, and behaviours related to mental health conditions.

The negative terms bullies use to label their victims are often internalised by the victim at a tender, vulnerable time in their development. If fully digested, the bully’s taunts may become the victim’s inner voice, and negative judgments may distort core beliefs well into adulthood. Distorted beliefs can limit the choices survivors of bullying make in their social and professional lives. Children who start out as outwardly expressive may turn inward to protect themselves from further ridicule. Many survivors continue to re-enact their role of disempowered victims in the workplace and social settings. It may be difficult to see themselves as professional adults rather than the defenceless children they once were.

Research also shows that victims of childhood bullying may grow up to become bullies themselves. This is because their experiences may lead them to believe that this is the way to become powerful and protect themselves from hurt through dominating others. This ultimately continues to perpetuate the vicious cycle of abuse and trauma.

Top tips to beat the effects of childhood bullying 

While it may be impossible to rid yourself of the emotional scars of childhood bullying, there are ways to transcend the hurt of the past. We outline our top tips to help you do just that:

1. Allow your perspective to replace your childhood perspective

While you may have come a long way from the frightened, defenceless child you once were, your sense of self worth may still be dominated by your childhood perspective which deems the bully’s opinion as expert. This perception must be put to rest—just as other childhood beliefs such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny have been.

2. Practice self empathy and self evaluation

If you have internalised your childhood bully’s hurtful words, you may find it difficult to recognise your self-worth. Many survivors of bullying have an abundance of empathy for others, yet may be strangers to the concept of self empathy and validation.

Consider an individual who was teased about their weight and called unflattering names by their bullies. While your childhood self could be convinced that certain people deserve to be shunned due to their size, it’s more than likely that your adult self can see the ignorance and cruelty in such a claim. You need to ensure that your sense of self worth is based on reality rather than dominated by those who hurt you in the past. At the end of the day, the bullies did not have the right, life experience, empathy, or education to be valid evaluators of who you are as a person. 

3. Be respectful towards others, yet assertive and true to yourself

Many bullying survivors develop an interpersonal style that is submissive and passive, while others develop a hypervigilant and aggressive style to defend themselves from further attacks. While you should certainly be respectful of those you interact with in the workplace, you should aim to develop an assertive relational style which seeks reciprocity and respect from others too.

4. Recognise that bullying is about the perpetrator rather than the victim

Most bullies have been bullied themselves, and as such re-enact their experience from a position of power. Bullies detect a vulnerability in their victims and target that vulnerability, making the victim nothing more than a scapegoat. Understanding this will not only improve the perceptions you have of yourself, but also enable you to empathise with and even forgive those who have hurt you in the past – a truly important step to moving forward in a way that is beneficial to your emotional and mental wellbeing. 

5. Build positive core beliefs to improve your self esteem and confidence

If you have a tendency to allow your sense of self worth to be dictated by the words and treatment of others, your level of confidence and self esteem will continue to fluctuate based on the company you keep. In short, it’s unhealthy to depend solely on validation from others.

Instead, you need to develop a strategy to correct the automatic negative self-talk you have carried since childhood. The result will be an enduring positive and reality-based core belief and self-esteem derived from your values, behaviours, and accomplishments. Use the guidelines below to get started:

Preparing your journey:

  • Take inventory of what you’ve already achieved.
  • Think about your strengths and weaknesses (but especially your strengths).
  • Think about your goals and values.
  • Practice stopping negative self-talk in its tracks and replacing it with positive thinking.
  • Commit to the journey to self-confidence!

Setting out:

  • Identify and enhance the knowledge and skills you need to succeed.
  • Focus on the basics—don’t get bogged down in details or reaching for perfection.
  • Set small goals and achieve them to ‘pile up successes.’
  • Keep working on your positive thinking and self-talk.

Accelerating towards success:

  • Celebrate your successes.
  • Keep yourself grounded.
  • Assess your current level of self-confidence and identify what strategies you can use to keep building it up.

In conclusion, the road to self love is long and requires patience, perseverance and self discipline. In time, the self-confidence you develop in may provide new positive ways to navigate through life, thus affording you new opportunities that were once falsely believed to be out of reach.

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