Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones and Names Can Really Hurt Me: Bullying and PTSD….


We moved from Rochester N.Y. back to the reserve in Canada when I about 8 years old. I was excited about this move because all of our family lived there and I was always sad every time we left to go home because I really missed them. My grandfather was there. the one man who I felt truly loved me in this world, he was such a beautiful man and I loved spending time with him. He passed away when I was about 12 or 13 and I was devastated that I didn’t get to say goodbye to him.

Moving meant attending a new school, which excited me too since I was a child to who liked to experience new things, although I was shy and introverted. It was grade three when I started at my new Mohawk school and I instantly disliked it. I didn’t know anybody and they didn’t know me, so from day one I felt like an outcast. Since I didn’t grow up in the community I was automatically branded as “white” and not “native” , which meant I didn’t belong either in the community or at the school I was attending. I had no clue what they were even talking about because my parents neglected to tell me we were Mohawk and I had no idea what that even meant. I remember going home and asking my parents if we were Indian and I may have even asked them what that was, I don’t remember. The ironic thing was that both my parents were natives so that meant that I was a full-blooded Mohawk, probably more so than the kids who were calling me “white”.

This started my private hell of being bullied and teased every day, most of the time just verbally but sometimes physically as well. My already low self-esteem took a nose dive and I don’t think it could get any lower. I was called names day in day out and usually threatened, along with my best friend, almost every day after school on our way to get on the bus by a group of much larger girls who were one or two grades ahead of us. Adults always tell children to walk away but we couldn’t because they would grab us and do things like twist our arms while verbally assaulting us.  This was the fourth rung on my ladder of PTSD, I had no safety at home and now no safety at school either. I remember feeling sick all the time at just the thought of having to go to school and face yet another day of bullying and this lasted for 5 years until I went to high school.

The teasing and name calling took its toll on me, not only did I not feel good enough, but I felt ugly and I like I didn’t belong anywhere and like I was an outcast. I felt like I was always outside looking in and never able to be a part of things going on around me. Luckily for me and I’m sure she was my only saving grace, I met my best friend at this little piece of hell on earth and we are still best friends to this day, 40 years later. We got each other through, not only school, but also our home lives, because she had a home life even worse than mine.

We are now just seeing how bullying affects children, I attended public school in the 1970’s so it wasn’t even a thought then, although I could have told people a thing or two about its effects even then.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Types of Bullying:

There are three types of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:
    • Teasing
    • Name-calling
    • Inappropriate sexual comments
    • Taunting
    • Threatening to cause harm
  • Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
    • Leaving someone out on purpose
    • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
    • Spreading rumors about someone
    • Embarrassing someone in public
  • Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:
    • Hitting/kicking/pinching
    • Spitting
    • Tripping/pushing
    • Taking or breaking someone’s things
    • Making mean or rude hand gestures

“In clinical terms, to officially be considered “bullying,” the behavior needs to take place repeatedly. Interestingly, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was traditionally considered to be a disorder that arose from a single traumatic incident. However, in recent years, experts have begun to identity a second definition for PTSD that allows for the victims of repeated traumatizing incidents. Bullying falls into this category. (link is external) points out that the most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual, which all doctors use to diagnose mental illness) recently updated its definition of PTSD to note that, although PTSD has traditionally been thought to be caused by a single, life-threatening event (or, at least, an event that seemed to be life threatening), in the case of trauma such as bullying, PTSD can also come about by way of an “accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents.” 3 (Note that this is often referred to as “Complex PTSD.”)

So by its most simplest definition, PTSD is brought on by one or a series of terrifying events and results in delayed and prolonged symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, suicidal behavior, alcohol and drug abuse, and emotional issues.

In worst-case scenarios, the abuse of bullying can lead its young victims to suicide, sometimes called “bullycide.” But even though most children grow out of the stage of bullying and being bullied, victims of this hateful crime are still at risk for the long-term effects of PTSD.

With Complex PTSD, victims are “held captive” by their situations. Children who are subject to regular bullying may not have any way out of what they perceive as a trapped situation. Reporting incidents to teachers or other authority figures can be a daunting prospect, as this sort of “tattle-tale” behavior is so apt to exacerbate the bullying instead of halting it. A pattern of bullying can also be exacerbated by parents – especially, and traditionally, fathers – who may believe that being pushed around or beat up by your peers “toughens you up” and is just a “natural part of childhood.”

Children need to feel safe in their environments and that includes their homes, schools and even online as we have seen a number of suicides related to online bullying, it has the same detrimental effects on a child’s mind as if the person or persons were standing right in front of them. We are seeing the consequences of childhood bullying either by children committing suicide or as children grow into adults and battle things such as PTSD. I don’t think there is enough emphasis placed on psychological harm and the damage it does, particularly to children, and it’s long-term effects. Clearly this is an area that is screaming to be addressed.




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