Men Coping with Past Bullying

Bullying Basics

Bullying has long been a hot topic amongst researchers, and in the general community. There are many forms of person-to-person aggression, abuse, violence, etc, but bullying is set apart by the tendency for it to be intentional, repeated, and committed by someone in a more powerful position (e.g., older, bigger) than the victim (Hymel & Swearer, 2015). Bullying can take place in various settings. While the school environment often holds focus for many people, researchers have looked at bullying in other settings (e.g., work environment).

Research has really piled up in recent years to suggest that there are potentially numerous negative effects of bullying. This work has been recently summarised by McDougall and Vaillancourt (2015):

  • There are many different outcomes from bullying. Children and adolescent work suggests effects cut across many areas of functioning ranging from academic achievement to physical and psychological well-being.
  • The combo of bullying/victimisation with other early-years problems (e.g. early emotional difficulties) might be especially risky for later psychological problems.

It has been estimated that up to one third of children are bullied (Hymel & Swearer, 2015).

Males on the Receiving End of Bullying

Suicide, aggression, and heavy smoking being identified as problems of particular relevance for male victims (McDougall & Vaillancourt, 2015). As for women, men can have a history of both being bullied and doing the actual bullying. The bully role is extra relevant for males given we tend to take on this role twice as often as females (Hoertel & friends, 2012). This is important because the bully can also experience negative psychological effects.

There are many issues related to bullying for men, but I wanted to briefly mention one which involves the relationship between masculinity and bullying. For many of the guys I have worked with, being bullied tends to result in feeling/appearing weak and powerless. Neither of these are consistent with a traditional Western view of masculinity. Being put in this position can have long-standing effects, particularly for self-image, confidence, and how new instances of bullying/intimidation are managed. For instance, if your ability to assert yourself appropriately has been dented, you can go on being repeatedly put into a type of 'victim' role. Alternatively, you might try and 'overcompensate' by getting a bit too heavy handed when you perceive someone is trying to get the upper hand.

Making Positive Headway with Bullying Effects

If a history of bullying has negatively affected your life, here are a few suggestions based on strategies my clients and I have tried:

  • Assertiveness: There are some good resources on assertiveness training which can be helpful (e.g., the book 'Assertiveness Step-by-Step' by Windy Dryden). The aim here is to be able to stick up for yourself in a positive way that is good for all concerned. Turning yourself from bullied to bully is a route that can't make things better in the long-run.
  • Thinking: Looking out for unhelpful thoughts can be useful. Thoughts such as "I can't stick up for myself", "I'm weak", "People think I'm a wimp" are understandably present in the minds of some men who have been bullied. Testing out the accuracy of these thoughts is one way to tackle them (e.g., look for examples of occasions when you have shown strength in any form). There are literally hundreds of books that can help you learn this approach (e.g., 'Brilliant Cognitive Behaviour Therapy' by Stephen Briers).
  • Problem spots: If you have difficulties in a specific place, such as work, identifying skills development/training needs (e.g., conflict resolution) might be a helpful way to make progress with your confidence and self-image. 
  • Flexibility: Being a bloke involves more than beer, lifting weights and refusing all forms of help. There are men who find ways to relax the masculinity rule book by expanding the definition of what being a man is all about. Other guys have re-defined traditional male attributes to allow for more flexibility in behaviour. For example, showing strength might involve seeking help under circumstances where others are telling you that only wimps go to the GP/Psychologist. I have written more about this for those who are interested (Spendelow, 2015)

Remember, it is possible to address and reduce the negative effects that bullying has had on your life. It's never too late to tackle this issue. Seeking help is a positive way to build strength and resilience. Hiding such difficulties is ultimately just a fake way to show these traits. 



Carlisle & Rofes (2007): small sample of adult men-  Lasting effects to their school bullying notably in high levels of shame, anxiety, and relational difficulties as adults

Carlisle, N., & Rofes, E. (2007). School bullying: Do adult survivors perceive long-term effects. Traumatology, 13(1), 16-26.

Hoertel, N., Le Strat, Y., Lavaud, P., & Limosin, F. (2012). Gender effects in bullying: Results from a national sample. Psychiatry Research, 200(2-3), 921-927.

Hymel, S., & Swearer, S. M. (2015). Four decades of research on school bullying: An introduction. American Psychologist, 70(4), 293-299.

McDougall, P., & Vaillancourt, T. (2015). Long-term adult outcomes of peer victimization in childhood and adolescence: Pathways to adjustment and maladjustment. American Psychologist, 70(4), 300-310.

Spendelow, J. (2015). Men’s Self-Reported Coping Strategies for Depression: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Studies. Psychology of Men and Masculinity. DOI: 10.1037/a0038626


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