Emotional Effects of being Cyberbullied

Cyber bullying is increasingly becoming a fact of life just as real world bullying has been a fact of life for generations of children. There are some unique factors to cyber bullying, including the possibility of anonymity, creating multiple identities and operating within a social networking group as different personalities.

The difference between school age cyber bullying and adult cyber bullying, however, is that children will be more likely to have to go to school or live in the same communities with their online bullies, making real world confrontations a more likely problem.

The same dynamics happen, however.  Bullies love to prey on those who have no more ability to defend themselves on line than they do in the real world. In fact, inability to defend oneself may trigger even more rage in some bullies, causing escalation in abuse. Group bullying is far more likely in children and is far more likely to get completely out of hand, making real life and cyber life difficult to tolerate.

Fear of discussing the problem is one effect of cyber bullying, especially in children and in newcomers to the group. People have a fear of being ejected, having access taken away and causing an end to what interactions they are having if they complain. More seasoned adults do not hesitate to confront bullies and to remove them from the group if they do not back off. 

Children, however, have no construct for coping with difficult people and will be far more inclined to conceal the problem.

The emotional effects that indicate possible bullying include anxiety and depression associated with the computer or PDA. There is isolation from others and from society, nervousness around computers, declining health and even drops in school performance, according to  Robin M. Kowalski, PhD in the Psychiatric Times.

Feelings of hurt, being alone and being weak or helpless can result from cyber bullying, mainly because those are feelings that the cyber bully wants a person to suffer. Cyber bullies cannot do physical harm, so they go for the most psychic harm that they can cause. And one trick is to give the impression that others are supporting the bully. 

When there is a real world/online connection, such as most of friends also being school mates or co workers, the problem gets compounded and can lead to serious emotional and social problems.

When there is only an online connection, the problem can only be caused through words, exposure of personal information that was shared, and relentless attacks on everything that an individual chooses to expose or reveal about their life. Many times, people cannot understand that it is all, indeed, choice.

People can easily be manipulated into giving up their personal business, which then can be targeted by social and emotional bullies who are anonymous, who could be another version of the same person who also poses as a friend, and who could be serious criminals. The emotional effects of being fooled, controlled, conned or manipulated pile on to the other emotions.

This is why the encouragement to expose as many photos, diaries, wall posts, tweets and other information as possible might be the source of the problem in social networking sites such as Facebook. Emotionally, a person can feel left out or shut out if they do not expose what everyone else is exposing. This makes for a vicious cycle where being careful about exposure is emotionally sanctioned, while too much exposure gives bullies their power.

One group that is often invisible or ignored is the group that is manipulated and controlled by bullies. Many times, people will feel remorse, guilt, shame and other painful emotions after realizing that they allowed themselves to be manipulated into helping a bully to harm someone else.

Finally, parents, teachers and other adults who are charged with keeping the world healthy and safe for their children can also suffer from the shame, guilt, anger, anxiety and other emotions that go with failing or being unable to prevent or stop the abuse and bullying in the first place.  The most painful aspect has to be when the children do not trust them to be able to help and withhold information.

Given the ability to have private accounts, to delete or hide social networking communication and activities, and to even be more knowledgeable about the latest technology than adults, children will continue to be on their own and  vulnerable to cyber bullying. They will need help in a general way through education and with ways to get help without the help becoming an aggravating factor.