One of my past clients had a history of bullying back in high school.  He said that terrifying other kids was one of the few times he felt empowered and tough.

This particular client was abused by his father, and in order to alleviate the pain he felt, he took it out on others in the form of bullying.  He wanted to put on a façade of being strong, mentally and physically. Yet, on the inside, he felt weak and unloved. Suppressed beneath his fury and violence lived feelings of distress, unhappiness, and worst of all disgrace.  When the people who we rely on most mistreat us, we become frightened and upset.

How Does Trauma Affect the Mind?

The suffering and misfortune Richard underwent as a child induce an organic survival response in the brain.  Fundamental feelings such as anger, fear and sadness activate a waterfall of physiological reactions that affect nearly every organ in the body training it for survival actions, otherwise known as “fight or flight”. 

Inhibitory emotions suppress fundamental feelings.  When a child is abandoned and left to manage their overwhelming emotions, inhibitory emotions arise.  An example of an inhibitory emotion is shame. Shame prevents anger, sadness, and fear from coming to the surface.  Preventing these feelings might be fine for that instance, however in the long run, a child that feels an overpowering amount of shame becomes broken and feels unloved and alone until proven otherwise.   

To eliminate feeling shameful, it’s essential to understand how it affects us, ways to avoid shaming our children, and methods to repair the harmful effects of feeling shamed.  The amount of shame we have and the way we treat it immensely affects our health and happiness. For the majority, factors contributing to the feeling of shame are linked with negligence, harm, and hardship we’ve faced.  Furthermore, the more abandoned we feel, the more shame we feel. Good shame assists in educating us. It keeps us on track with where we relate to others. On the other hand, shame stemming from maltreatment, pains us and hinders healthy growth. Our mind distorts in many ways to protect us against the primitive and psychological pain of shame.

The Mind Distorts Shame to Protect Us

If a child feels toxically shamed, they tend to have built up aggression that can result in bullying others.  Another child could cope with toxic shame by detaching their mind and body, which is classified as dissociation, making them more susceptible to bullies.  Violence and disconnection are dependable methods to prohibit intense emotional pain. People who are bullied and who bully need someone on their side to validate their traumas and their emotions and getting involved by restoring security to a child’s life proves to be a positive way to do so. 

When people experience cruel and tragic events, it is important for them to learn that what happened to them was not their fault.  Knowledge about emotions and trauma allows people to feel less embarrassed since they know that they are hurting for real reasons. Processing emotions rather than covering them by shame, makes people feel and function better.

Therapy Can Help

Now an adult, my client has faced the suffering he felt after being abused by his father.  He became educated on how to offer sympathy to his younger self. He allowed himself to feel the emotions caused by the abuse.  He grieved over his hard childhood and the harm he caused others. Allowing himself to experience those feelings brought about a sense of liberation.  

He had a newfound sense of confidence because of his capability to focus on his emotions rather than writing them off.  As the shame alleviated, my client’s aggressive tendencies did too. He no longer needed them to guard himself. Instead, he accepted his emotional needs and listened to them, without distinguishing his relationships with others.  He wished someone could’ve helped him understand this in high school.

Creating a New “Norm”

In hopes of creating a future that exists without bullying, people must be educated in understanding trauma and emotions.  We must genuinely comprehend that as people, we all have feelings. Children must know that it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, to seek relief when they are distressed.  Schools need resources to aid in addressing bullying, such as the creation of a safe space. Men and women with authority, for example coaches, teachers, and mentors, should help educate kids to not ignore their emotions.

Throughout school, we are taught the anatomy of human beings.  However, many of us are not taught the psychological make up of human beings.  Is there a reason as to why we aren’t educated on our emotions and how to handle trauma?  There is information obtainable to aid humankind in finding its collective empathy once again. And it will help us all.