How to Regain Confidence After Being Bullied


recovering confidence after being bullied

I have had my self-esteemed knocked quite a bit by bullies. It started in elementary school and I have dealt with in high school, college and in many different forms in the workplace.

I know I am not alone. I began to wonder the best way to recover your self-confidence after being bullied. I did some research and this is what I found out.

So, how do you regain confidence after being bullied? The best way to recover your confidence after being bullied is to change the relationship you have with yourself. You will need to learn to love yourself and celebrate the inconsistencies that bully often exploits.

Although the answer is the same across multiple age groups, the process can vary depending on whether you are in school, college, or career.

We will look at each phase of life and I will point out what seems to work best for the appropriate ages.

The anatomy of bullying, it takes two

Whether we like it or not, most relationships teeter on a delicate balance of dominate and avoid domination.

What is bullying? It is behavior that revolves around social domination that yields a payoff for the bully. It is usually a power-play and often hides the bully’s own insecurities.

Sense of shame: attracts a bully

Regaining confidence after being bullied at school

Recovering from the elementary school bully’s torment

kat photo in middle school
Me in middle school..

I moved here when I was twelve years old. I looked different. I had a completely different background / culture, and I didn’t speak the language.

My family moved here after my house burned down. At the time, we lived in the poverty-stricken slums of Cebu, Philippines. After the fire, we were left with nothing.

My dad had moved to the states in search of better work opportunities and sent money back to us. But, with nowhere to live, it only made sense for us to make the move.

At first, I loved the U.S. It was everything I didn’t have in the Philippines. My siblings and I fought over who could use the vacuum cleaner first (I was the eldest so I got to vacuum the largest area), and we ate bacon virtually every day (a rarity from where I came from).

But the joy was short-lived when I met my deep south peers at school. I made it worse by being good at sports. The only thing I had going for me was that my English was so bad that I didn’t understand all of the insults hurled my way.

I always say I was bullied by boys in grade school and middle school and by girls in high school.

The reason is that the boys felt threatened when I beat them in competition. I’ve experienced pushing, aggressive behavior, ugly comments, and all of it was tucked neatly behind the wall of all of the other ugly things I had been told growing up.

My forehead was too big. I had monkey ears. My nose was too wide. My skin was too dark, and everything that goes wrong is my fault.

So, I felt pretty isolated.

Studies show that:

Repeated bullying chips away at children’s self-esteem and increases feelings of shame, loneliness, powerlessness and low value.

Parents should be understanding, nurturing and caring if they hear their child mention a situation at school that smacks of bullying.

But the truth was, my parents were busy trying to survive as immigrants.

Children are often embarrassed or feel they are to blame for the bullying, and that is exactly how I felt.

Working through all of these emotions when you are 10, 11, 12 years old is pretty tough. I hadn’t yet discovered the motives that are behind why people do this to others.

I didn’t see the truth that the other kids felt powerless when I beat them at a race or game. They weren’t prepared for that. It was just too easy to try to regain their self-esteem by being mean.

I remember in sixth grade. During an indoor dodge ball game, the coach actually physically separate the boys from me because, all of them decided to single me out. I was already out, and the boys kept hitting me with the ball from close range.

The coach asked me if I was okay. I remember I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to let them have the pleasure of knowing that they had gotten through.

For kids, regaining self-confidence is going to take an adult. There was no way I would have been able to sort through all of this on my own, and in an elementary school environment a lot of interaction is physical and requires a physical solution.

Telling an 8 year-old that the bully is projecting is pointless. You’ve got to get an adult to take physical action through removing the student or creating boundaries for the child.

I needed guidance but found I didn’t really have someone to turn to.

When David Goggins was bullied in his small hometown in Indiana and complained to the principal, the principal dismissed it insinuating that David needed to recognize that his bullies were misguided and compensating for low self-worth.

Although the principal was right, David was left to fend for himself. The first day he got a car. He parked it in the school parking lot, and mean-spirited kids sprayed the “N” word on his driver side door.

Again, the principal took no action.

Eventually this turned David into the epitome of racial aggression.

I’d like to think if David or I for that matter had someone who understood what it was like to be on the receiving end of such racial prejudice or bully aggression, we would have graduated with fewer emotional scars.

Regaining confidence after bullying at this age is going to take time. It took a long time for me to regain confidence, and it was gradual.

It’s just too easy to believe the lies.

If you or your child is in a similar situation. Here are some steps to help recover confidence (this is written as spoken to a kid):

  • Do things that you like to do.
  • Find an adult that looks like you, and ask them about their experiences.
  • Ask them to explain why these things happen.
  • Talk to a teacher that you feel comfortable with.
  • Realize that it isn’t your fault even though you might feel like it is.
  • It’s normal to feel guilty or question whether you have some part in it.
  • Avoid your bully whenever possible.
  • Stay close to your teacher during recess.
  • Make new friends.
  • Stay close to friends who have your back during recess, lunch and other school events where adults aren’t aware of what is going on.
  • Talk to your parents or a counselor that your parents help you find.
  • Write down on a sheet of paper what you like about yourself.

As a parent, a great life skill for your child to learn is to stand up for themselves, but like anything, make sure that you are there to catch them if they fall.

What do I do when the school is doing nothing?

When the bullying occurs outside of school, it can be tough for the school to be involved. If the victimization occurs on a school bus, parents have more leeway to go toe to toe with the school’s administration if they are non-reactive or too relaxed about it.

The high school bully

kat photo in high school
This what I looked like when I graduated with my friend.

When I got to high school, things shifted. I didn’t feel like the boys cared much about trying to bully me. Instead, the focus shifted to the girls.

It took me until I was an adult to really understand, but the girls didn’t like me if they were certain that the boys they liked, liked me.

It was like a vicious triangle (not circle, see what I did there, wink). My ego was so beat up during middle school that I figured none of the boys liked me.

But the girls knew they did, so they turned on me.

I felt completely isolated.

It wasn’t long until I turned my emotional outlet to the internet. I stayed up all night at times chatting with my friends online in the Philippines.

This was my place of refuge. At least they didn’t judge me. It served as a valuable escape from my daily ritual.

Since then, the internet has evolved, and there are new ways to bully; namely, online.

So how can you recover if you are already a teenager, and there always seems to be an aggressor lurking around the corner?

Refocus your attention on things that make you happy. Build on that foundation. With that, your self-confidence will improve.

As bullies witness your sustained changed mental attitude, they will begin to leave you alone.

Here is a list of things changes to make:

  • Talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself that you are good looking and have lots of cool traits. At first, it can feel really awkward, but set out to do it every day for 30 days, and watch what changes.
  • Groom yourself. This is not a time to retract into a social shell of isolation.
  • Develop and focus on the friends you have. Stick close to them.
  • Talk to someone who looks like you, or whom you suspect may have dealt with similar issues. If they are older, they can tell you how to navigate the discomfort of being singled out.
  • If you are an introvert, make sure to schedule an adequate amount alone time to recharge your batteries.
  • If you an extrovert, make sure to schedule adequate fun time with friends for the same reason.

Cyber bullying: social media an oppressor’s outlet

As discussed earlier, an outlet for me was to chat with my friends back home to minimize the pain I was experiencing from adjusting to a new world.

Fortunately, Facebook, Xbox, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media outlets weren’t able to be weaponized because they simply didn’t exist in the form the do today.

My step-son posted a video online that got over 50,000 views. Unfortunately there were mean comments left by others, telling him to drink bleach and die among an assortment of other things.

At 10 years old, he wasn’t ready for that kind of rejection (not that we are ever ready for rejection).

We had to take his privileges away after seeing the impact all of it was having on him.

Fortunately, these days, there are things you can do on social media to fight back.

Here is a list to follow:

  1. Ask the aggressor to stop.
  2. Tell them that if they don’t you will be forced to take action.
  3. If they don’t, report their channel, their profile or posts as inappropriate.
  4. Block them on social media channels.

Usually, this is enough to stop the bullying. However, it continues and is from someone local, you can report it to the school and law enforcement.

What should you do if you have made a social media blunder and it is haunting you?

Things like this happen. Often when unfavorable images go viral, it can have a devastating effect.

The internet never forgets and once something is out there is virtually impossible to remove.

However, defamation of character is a serious thing. You can have your parents talk to an attorney to see what your rights are.

Beyond that, recovering emotionally can be challenging especially if you feel raw and exposed.

Keep in mind, that we have all have lived through embarrassing moments, and that ultimately, life will go on.

Separate your emotions from what happened. Work hard on loving yourself and rewarding yourself for having to have dealt with this type of hardship.

Don’t play the victim, but if you embrace the experience and realize that it can’t get much worse than that, then you will be set up to handle any situations.

Reshape your self-esteem after workplace bullying

kat as a young nurse
My early nursing days

The variety of motivation for bullying in the workplace can vary. It ranges from jealousy to cut throat tactics to cap other people’s growth in the organization.

Regardless of the reason, the effects can be long-lasting. If you find yourself a victim of bullying in the workplace, you may be afraid to speak up.

Speaking up is what you have to do

Years ago, when I was working at the hospital, I started feeling awkward around a particular doctor. He began making snide remarks about my body, and I noticed that he made verbal advances towards others at work.

At first, I dismissed it. I reasoned that it had to be because I was to open to joking around.

I blamed myself.

This stirred up victim memories of an event in my childhood, and right away my subconscious leaped into action.

I began taking less and less care of myself.

I dressed in more loose fitting clothes. I stopped doing my makeup. I stopped fixing my hair.

I had attracted the wrong type of attention. I wouldn’t stand for it.

Although, when I really thought it through, I never made it okay or said it was okay for him to say some of the things he did to me.

Finally, it came time to do something about it. I was already on the roller-coaster of gaining weight and wanting to disappear in a corner at work.

Finally, the day came. I had enough.

I went to the doctor and told him to meet me outside. He agreed.

We stood outside on a warm sunny day. I looked at him and said. Let’s keep it professional between us.

He maintained his composure, but agreed. I think silently he knew he had pushed the boundaries too far.

From that day on, things changed. I was liberated from a past demon that had haunted me in the workplace and regained my confidence once and for all.

I realized that I was powerful and that I could have any conversation with anyone about anything.

It’s always odd when you have this type of break-through because you wonder what was holding you back all of the times before.

What was interesting about the situation was that I didn’t have to get management involved or file a report. I could simply have a conversation that in so many words communicated, “This is where my boundary is, and I respect myself enough to let you know that.”

Let’s break this down into a step by step process that you can follow to identify situations in which you are being bullied in the workplace and what you can do about it.

10 Steps to Dealing with Workplace Bullying and regaining your self-esteem:

  1. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself.
  2. Do things that make you happy.
  3. If your skill-set is lacking, go to work on improving your skills on the job.
  4. Have a conversation with someone who will understand what you are experiencing.
  5. Beware of the guilt trap. Take ownership of what is yours to own in the situation. Maybe you were seeking attention or didn’t say something about it when you had the chance. For me, I wanted to be cool with the doctor. So I opened the door, but nowhere did I give permission for it to advance in the direction it did. When it did, I didn’t say anything because I was afraid of what he would think or what others would think. I didn’t want to lose his approval (and the approval of others) and set a clear boundary. Instead, I hid from the situation, which caused even more anxiety.
  6. Remember, you aren’t responsible for other people’s emotions. You are only responsible for what is going on for you.
  7. Respond rather than react. I know it can be difficult but maintain your emotional composure.
  8. At the appropriate time, have a conversation with your aggressor. Be clear about how you feel.
  9. If it continues, reach out to administration.
  10. If nothing is done, you can always discuss your complaint with an attorney.

If the process leads to a legal situation, rely heavily on your attorney to fight your battles for you and establish clear boundaries between you and your aggressor.

Remember you are never powerless. You always have a choice of how you will respond.

Your self-esteem may take a beating, but be prepared for it. Accept and embrace it as normal.

Be okay, not being okay, until you can start focusing again on the things that make you happy.

Related Questions

What is the appropriate way for a kid to fight back when being bullied?

If we circle back to why bullying occurs in the first place, we see that it is a power play. The best way for a kid to “fight back” is to confront the bullying behavior by acknowledging it and then dismiss it.

What I mean is that the child shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. He should acknowledge the bullying attempt and then walk away.

Here are some of the things that I tell my step-kids.

  • If you don’t give your bully the satisfaction of knowing they got under your skin, it will go a long way to warding off future attempts.
  • Stand up for yourself. Tell them to stop and mean it.
  • Stay positive, laugh hysterically and comment on how funny you find what they are doing. Or, say, “Here we go again. Moving on now.” Anything that lets your bully know that it’s not going to work.
  • Hold your ground.
  • Remember it’s not your fault, but you should carefully examine if you are contributing to the situation.
  • Don’t play the victim, but if you are uncomfortable, say something.
  • Picture your bully in some ridiculous way. Minimize how big they seem to you. Remember everybody bleeds.
  • Let your teacher know.
  • If the bullying is happening off of school property, you need to discuss the situation with your primary caregiver.

What do I do when the school is doing nothing?

When the bullying occurs outside of school, it can be tough for the school to be involved.

If the victimization occurs on a school bus, parents have more leeway to go toe to toe with the school’s administration if they are non-reactive or too relaxed about it.

Nevertheless, it is appropriate for a parent to have a conversation with the school’s administration to keep an eye on things.

Never forget that everyone has a boss. So, as a parent, you may have to work your way up the chain if you feel like your child is threatened.

Back to home

Kat Clukey

I am so glad you are here, and have chosen to spend your time reading my blog. For the past 4 plus years, I have been on an intense mission to read books, go to seminars, and generally turn myself inside out to find out why some people seem to feel good in their own skin while I've struggled with self-worth and low self-esteem most of my adult life. I hope you find insights that help you on your journey!

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