Internalised Bullying: Stop Beating Yourself Up!

Updated: Jul 24

by Emily Bosman (Intern) and Dean Harrison (Counselling Psychologist)


Bullying is a right of passage. Something most children experience at some point in their lives. It toughens them up. They get over it. You have probably heard this kind of reasoning at some stage. Bullying, however, can have serious and long-lasting repercussions. Being bullied increases a person’s risk of developing a range of mental health problems that often continue to wreak havoc on a person’s life long after the bully has exited the picture.

Words have impact. When a person has been exposed to negative, humiliating comments (verbal abuse) over time, they might begin to repeat this rhetoric in their own mind. This seed of insidious self-degradation, once planted, is difficult to overcome. The negative self-talk and shame born from the experience can chip away at a person’s self-esteem. Left unaddressed, it will ultimately effect the way they perceive themselves, undermining their identity, self-worth and quality of life. This is known as internalised bullying. Ultimately, although your bullying might have originated from a family member, partner, colleague, or classmate, it’s entirely possible that now your biggest bully is, in fact, you.


People engaging in internalised bullying see themselves, at least to some extent, as defective. As not enough. This can manifest itself in many ways, including:

  • Social withdrawal,

  • Engaging in obsessive thinking and/or compulsive behaviours,

  • Unexplained physical symptoms, (i.e., headaches/stomach aches not due to a medical condition),

  • Negative body image,

  • Under or over-achievement,

  • Continual self-monitoring,

  • Nervousness, irritability, defensiveness, shame, anger, or bitterness,

  • Becoming psychologically abused or remaining in an abusive relationship,

  • Truancy, dropping out of school or workplace absenteeism,

  • Conflicts with the law,

  • Substance abuse,

  • A fear of intimacy, low or lack of sex drive or celibacy, and

  • Suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.

Psychological therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy and schema therapy can help a person reframe the way they see themself. Through changing that critical inner voice into a more compassionate one, and processing unresolved feelings of shame, therapy can build resilience, confidence and self-worth and improve your relationships, work performance and quality of life. Is it time you stood up to the bully within you?

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