Effects of Bullying Linger Into Adulthood

by Vince Pellegrino
Monday Aug 27, 2012

It wasn't enough that many of us had to endure incessant bullying as children and teenagers. Now we are told that the bullying may have led to medical ailments later in life such as depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

This is according to researchers who have focused their work on the effects of bullying on a person's psyche. But I don't need studies: As a victim of bullying during my teenage years in middle school, I cannot forget that time.

Unfortunately, bullying has not lessened but has increased with the advent of "cyberbullying." The estimates that each day, 160,000 American students "refuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal aggression of their peers. Many more attend school in a chronic state of anxiety and depression."

That childhood and adolescent depression often stays with us even after we grow into seemingly confident adults, mainly because of the strong feelings of inadequacy and poor self esteem bullying engenders in us. Gay men and lesbians still face bullying whenever someone calls us as a "faggot" or "dyke," words meant to demean us and place us less than the abuser or beneath his contempt.

Like the "n word," "faggot" has taken on meaning when we appropriate it. When Larry Kramer wrote the book "Faggots," it was not his intention to be abusive to the gay community but to paint a clear and provocative image of the promiscuous and self- serving lifestyle as he saw it in the gay urban culture of the late 1970s.

We empower the word "faggot" when we respond to those who use it to demean us with a retort like, "Yeah, I am a faggot but then what are you?"

When a neighbor threw the word at a friend, he "laughed. I honestly thought it was funny." Derisive laughter may be the best tool take power back from bullies or fools.

If a family member uses such words in the heat of anger, you need to speak up and say that is not acceptable. I have written previously about my nephew, who used those words on me when I defended his mother on Mother's Day. But where did he learn it was OK to attack his elders? We need to set clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.

As for the victims of present-day bullying, parents need to be aware of changes in the child's mood. They must ask questions. Teachers need to be ever vigilant whenever they witness bullying taking place in our schools and confront the bullies. Fortunately, there are programs in several local and state jurisdications mandating training in how to deal with these situations.

Classmates need to be educated about the problem as well. Six out of 10 American youth witness a bullying incident once a day, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They should comfort the bullied schoolmate and try to document the incident on a smart phone.

In one of my favorite movies about bullying, "My Bodyguard," everyone cheered when the bullied kid finally stood up to Matt Dillon and punched him in his face and broke his nose. "Good vs. evil" is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but, hey, it worked.

I'm not necessarily saying anyone should punch up bullies. But neither should anyone allow someone to overpower him or her. And that goes double for us grown-ups. In the same way a school kid (and his chums) need to stand up to playground bullies, stand up for yourself - and make sure that no one will ever be allowed to demean you again. Then feel the repressed guilt and shame lift from your spirit.

Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.


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