I recent times we heard a lot about bullying and how it affects a person emotionally. This is particularly true in children. Among some of my friends and associates, especially the men, they would say that these kids need to “get over it” or “man up and fight back.” I understand where they are coming from because they believe that is what they would do. The truth is that none of my friends really know what happens to a child that has been constantly bullied. Physically fighting back may create a bully in that child as well.
Beyond the emotional impact on the bullied child is what happens to the brain. During the bullying events, the child suffers from stress. It become a constant in their life. This leads to an affect on the part of the brain known as the hippocampus. This small structure is a very important one. It is the control center for learning and memory. It’s also where the feel-good hormone, serotonin, is produced in the brain. The hippocampus also acts as a “feedback regulator” for the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is important in helping deal with stress since it leads to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Without cortisol being released during times of stress, we would not be able to get back to normal (or a sense of balance).
Chronic stress leads to a shrinkage of the hippocampus. Eventually, even cortisol stops being released. Many studies have shown that a smaller hippocampus leads to many mental disorders, including schizophrenia. In the case of the bullied child, a smaller hippocampus can lead to suicide, depression, PTSD, a decreased immune system function, substance abuse and even criminal behavior later in life. This doesn’t even include the inability to learn. Yes, the brain structure changes. This can be long-lasting. In neuroscience, it is the hippocampus that helps to produce new brain cells via what is known as the brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). A smaller hippocampus stops this from occurring.
There are also other parts of the brain that is affected as well. I won’t go into that since I’ve already thrown enough at you. You get the point that bullying damages the brain. It may leave the bullied child behind in their development. They may have a loss of self-control which leads to behaviors that society deems bad. It may lead to the bullied child to take his or her life.
By the way, these mechanisms also affect the bullied teen and adult as well. So if you’re a workplace bully, stop it. And if you’re being bullied in the workplace, get help.
There are things that can be done to help the bullied child, teen and adult:
- Legal action can sometimes help. Studies have shown that it leads to renewed sense of self-esteem when the bullied person believes they are back in control. Also, the bully has to be taught to take personal responsibility as does the organizations where the bullying occurs.
- Exercise helps the hippocampus to grow via BDNF expression. Do it consistently.
- Meditation and other mental training exercises helps to reduce stress. Deep breathing and exercise also work to reduce stress as well.
- Reduce the sugar and increase healthy foods that boost the mood.
- Martial arts training may help in building self-confidence and esteem. Not necessary to fight, but to accomplish. I know that this helped me during my early childhood stressors.
- Get support via therapy, friends and family. It’s important for those that are bullied to have family support.
There are more things that can be done to help. Those are basic things that one can do. And if you’re one that has been bullied, you may need help to get started. Never go at it alone.
It’s time to stop bullying in its tracks. NOW!
America’s #1 Mind-Body Transformation Expert and author of Mind Your Own Fitness