School Shootings: The Traumas of Bullying

The traumas of the bully and their victims both need to be addressed.

In an article in the Sun Sentinel, Tony Plakas notes a 2003 study published in the American Behavioral Scientist, in which researchers  observed a common theme among the 28  school shootings in U.S. middle and high schools between 1982 and 2001: Most of the boys that opened fire were teased and bullied mercilessly as a matter of routine.  Their violence was retaliation.  The  teasing and bullying was almost exclusively homophobic slurs.

trauma, ptsd, bullying, healing from truama, trauma treatmentAlthough strict school policies against bullying should be in place, merely stopping bullying isn’t enough. It should go further with a two-pronged approach: Prevention  to stop bullying and treatment for both the one being bullied and the one doing the bullying.

Once a bully is identified and the bullying stopped, the traumas that produced the bullying behavior (usually ongoing abuse or neglect at home that results in a sense of powerlessness and shame) should be addressed. In other words, the bully needs intensive counseling that will help release the pressure valve of anger and cruelty being perpetrated on him at home that causes him to inflict harm on others. (Girls, of course, are just as involved in the bullying dynamic, although theirs rarely escalate to shootings.)

While stopping the bully is priority one, healing the damage they did should also have high priority: the one who was bullied should also be sent into counseling. The effects of being bullied usually do not erupt in the violence of the shootings studied above. Instead, they haunt the victims forever, impacting their abilities to relate socially and function in the workplace. I can’t tell you how many adults I’ve seen whose troubles at work–such as anxiety, hypervigilance, and depression–originated with being bullied when young.

At work here is a familiar dynamic: victims become perpetrators. The bullied victims either become bullies themselves, or they internalize the bullying and victimize themselves or others, sometimes resulting in suicides or explosive revenge. (Often in both.) Only by resolving the underlying traumas of the bullies and the traumas caused by their bullying can the cycles be broken.

So if you know someone who has been bullied, encourage them to find someone who can help them with their traumas. Merely stopping the bully isn’t enough. They need help.

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