January 29, 2018
based on findings of a recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)—and the health consequences may be reducing their ability to function.1
The online survey of more than 2,000 adults nationwide found that fully 31% of adults have been bullied and many (43%) say the behavior has become more accepted this past year.
The survey defined bullying as being subjected to repeated, negative behavior intended to harm or intimidate.
Victims of bullying reported significant negative impacts on their physical and mental health. The pollsters discovered that, of those who have been bullied as an adult:
- 71% suffer from stress,
- 70% experience anxiety/depression,
- 55% report a loss of confidence
- 39% suffer from sleep loss,
- 26% have headaches,
- 22% experience muscle tension or pain,
- 19% reported a mental breakdown, and
- 17% noted an inability to function day-to-day (i.e. calling in sick frequently).
Other health responses to the emotional strain induced by bullying include gastrointestinal problems, nausea, elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular issues, according to osteopathic physicians.
Typically understood to be a problem children face and outgrow, the new findings show that bullying, and its subsequent impact on mental and physical health, continues long into adulthood—often in the workplace, home and educational setting.
Specifically, the poll found that 25% of adults (have experienced the ”silent treatment” from an individual or group on a repeated basis as an adult, while about 1 in 5 (21%) have had someone spread lies about them that no one refutes.
Behavior from adult bullies is more subtle and sophisticated than what a child might employ, Charles Sophy, a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and medical director for the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services and a member of the AOA, said on behalf of the professional organization.
He notes that a common, yet poorly understood, tactic makes a victim question his or her own reality. This controlling behavior is done slowly over time through small manipulative words or actions. The victim begins to doubt his or her memory, judgment and capabilities—ultimately limiting his or her competence to perform tasks in the workplace or at home..
“If you feel your power being diminished by another, it’s time to question the health of the relationship,” said Dr. Sophy. “Bullies operate everywhere and can be partners, professors, colleagues or grown children.”
The first step in recovery is acknowledging the problem. Adults who are unsure if they’re being bullied should try describing the situation as if it were happening to someone else. “If a friend told you this story, how would you react? You can see the situation more clearly if you remove yourself from the story,” Dr. Sophy advises.
Dr. Sophy recommends patients spend time reviewing common bullying tactics in order to identify and inventory the inflicted behaviors. The list can be used to develop a roadmap to confront the perpetrator or to formalize a complaint.
A medical professional can support the healing process by treating conditions onset by bullying, including loss of sleep, anxiety and depression. Patients may also benefit from counseling to cope with the effects of bullying.
You can’t always beat a bully, cautions Dr. Sophy, but the long-term consequences of being a victim are significant. If direct confrontation doesn’t change the bully’s behavior, he urges victims to find a way out of that situation and relationship.
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