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Pink Shirt Day: Bullying affects adults in B.C. too

Therapeutic counsellor says bullying is a common source of relational, emotional wounding

Pink Shirt Day, which falls on Feb. 28 this year, is an annual event against bullying that champions kindness and respect.

It also serves as a reminder that bullying can occur at any age and have lasting impacts that last well into adulthood.

Marlie Philp, a registered therapeutic counsellor with Alight Counselling in Victoria, finds that many of her adult clients who have experienced bullying often feel highly insecure in their adult relationships and experience pronounced lasting effects.

“I would consider bullying amongst peers to be one of the most common sources of relational, emotional wounding that can leave lasting impressions on people’s self-esteem, as well as their sense of self-worth and belonging.

“They often continue to carry painful beliefs about themselves that might have been either a direct verbal attack from a bully or an internalized belief formed due to ongoing feelings of rejection or humiliation. It can also cause folks to doubt the emotional safety in their relationships.”

Bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance and leads to the person with lesser power being victimized, according to Pink Shirt Day.

It can be physical, verbal, social (ignoring or excluding someone, spreading rumours), or online (cyberbullying).

While conversations around bullying often focus on bullying between children in the school setting, it may be overlooked that it can occur to adults, particularly in the workplace.

Thirty-seven per cent of workers reported being bullied in the workplace, according to a 2007 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The majority of offenders (72 per cent) were bosses and the most common victims were women in their 40s. A majority of targets (77 per cent) stopped the bullying by leaving or losing their jobs, despite being the ones harmed.

Workplace bullying can take many forms including humiliation, rumour spreading, withholding resources (such as time, budget and training), false accusations, and undermining targets behind closed doors, said Canada Safety Council (CSC).

To get the most effective help, people experiencing bullying at their jobs should document all instances in detail, and then make a plan to resolve the bullying, CSC suggests. This might involve seeking assistance from management, getting legal advice and soliciting witness statements.

WorkSafeBC also compensates for mental disorders caused by significant workplace stressors, which now include bullying or harassment.

Adult bullying can also happen outside of the workplace, and includes behaviours such as spreading malicious, false rumours; turning social alliances against a target by painting a negative picture of them; excluding; mocking; and claiming credit for the work of the target, said Richa Bhatia M.D. from Psychology Today.

Healing bullying wounds as an adult

If someone is experiencing or has experienced bullying, it’s important to find someone safe and trustworthy to talk to and to seek additional psychological support, Philp said.

“A very common response to bullying, because of the feelings of shame it evokes, is to pull away from people and isolate, which only perpetuates and amplifies feelings of shame.”

Without a safe place to unpack, deconstruct, and reframe these experiences, people who have been bullied may internalize painful, self-referential beliefs, she said. These beliefs can lead to deep insecurities that manifest in a variety of self-protective behaviours later on in adult relationships leading to further disconnection or isolation.

“The idea of ‘toughening up’ might look adaptive on the surface, but ultimately it may end up pushing people away, losing or hurting the very connections that matter the most,” Philp said.

“In terms of healing, I might suggest that folks begin to (a) learn about the concept of one’s inner child, (b) practice turning towards or befriending that part of ourselves, and (c) practice self-compassion for those hurt parts of us.”

She recommends checking out resources, such as books and podcasts, or googling “healing your inner child” to head in the right direction. Speaking to a therapist can also be helpful.

“I believe that when emotional wounds are inflicted in relationships, often the most effective healing takes place in relationships with others. It provides a new and different relational experience and can restore some sense of trust and safety in people again – something that can be deeply damaged when we are rejected or humiliated by our peers.

“Speaking to a therapist who specializes in working with healing one’s inner child, taking part in group therapy, or finding a trusted other who can witness your process, adds an incredibly profound layer of healing… something we can’t fully do on our own.”

For more information on bullying or harassment in the workplace, visit