Survival Advice for Adult Survivors

A Note from Jodee to Adult Survivors of Bullying

It’s amazing isn’t it? You’re an adult. School should be nothing but a memory by now, yet it’s as alive for you today as it was when you were a student. Though you’ve grown up, you can’t seem to grow out of the insecurity and self-doubt left over from those painful years.

You’re not alone. As a former school outcast I know what you’re going through. Perhaps, you’ve become an overachiever like me, driving yourself into the ground because the only way you can turn off those old voices from school is to keep trying to drown them out with accomplishment. Or, maybe it’s the opposite for you. You have so many dreams of what you want to do with your life, but never seem to have the energy or ambition to go for it. Whether you’re the Adult Survivor who’s attempting to fill the hole in your soul with success after success, or the one who never reached their full potential, we are all of us victims of what I’ve come to call Adult Survivor Syndrome.

Adult children of alcoholics, codependents, battered wives, rape victims, and dozens of other abused groups in our society have somewhere to go for answers and help. Our culture recognizes their suffering and responds to it with government funding, research grants, support groups, how-to books, outreach programs, press coverage, and other forms of tangible assistance.

Until now, Adult Survivors of Peer Abuse have had nowhere to go. In fact, to be honest, I never even realized we were a population until I decided to turn my own pain into purpose and travel the nation’s schools doing anti-bullying work. Something astonishing started happening when I was on the road.

My typical daylong anti-bullying program in a community includes student presentations and a teacher workshop during the day, and in the evening, a Parent/Family Seminar that is usually open to the public. I expect parents of bullying victims and even some parents of bullies to attend the nighttime seminar. I never anticipated it would draw enormous numbers of Adult Survivors, many of whom don’t even have kids, who come up to me afterward seeking comfort and information.

It was then I realized that I wasn’t the only one. I was a part of something much larger than myself. Our struggle is valiant. Our wounds are real. Our needs are profound. It’s time for all of us to reclaim our lives.

Warning Signs You May Be Suffering From “Adult Survivor Syndrome”

  • A nagging insecurity that makes you second-guess yourself to the point of negatively affecting your daily life
  • Compulsively driven in your career, or the opposite extreme of never living up to your full potential
  • Susceptible to abusive romantic relationships
  • Tendency to overextend yourself to others for fear of abandonment, rejection, or exclusion
  • Fear of bumping into former classmates that can be so extreme you avoid necessary errands
  • Negative voices from school keep replaying in your head, making you a hostage to self-doubt

If you can identify with two or more of these bullets, chances are you have Adult Survivor Syndrome. I’m so glad you’re here, because that means you’re ready to take the next step and seek help. I invite you to peruse the rest of my website. I suspect you will relate to what I’ve gone through.

Guidelines for Healing

It took me until the night of my twenty-year high school reunion to realize there was never anything wrong with me back in school. I was simply an old soul trapped in a young body and was misunderstood because of it. Before you can truly escape the hold your former classmates still have on your self-esteem, you need to reprogram your self-talk now rather than replay past voices.

Say to yourself, “There’s nothing wrong with me. It was everything that was RIGHT about me that made me stand apart from the crowd. I was not excluded because I was beneath the crowd; I was excluded because I was misunderstood.”

Years later, I would be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Response (PTSR) as a result of my years being bullied at school. Most of you probably associate PTSR with Vietnam, a disorder that afflicts only soldiers. The truth is that PTSR can affect anyone exposed to prolonged traumatic experiences. My diagnosis saved my life. I encourage you to seek out a therapist or other mental health professional to help you overcome your own past as a victim of peer abuse. Make sure that whomever you choose understands PTSR and has experience treating PTSR patients.

I won’t lie to you. I’m still working through my own healing. Sometimes, when I drive by my old high school, hear a certain song, or smell something that reminds me of the school cafeteria, it takes me right back to those painful years and I am gripped by an irrational panic. The struggle to become whole again is a daily process, achieved through small, but vital triumphs. I celebrate my courage every time I step foot inside a school gym. If I run into a former classmate in a restaurant and am comfortable making small talk, I smile inside, knowing that I’m getting better. You can achieve the same. Remember, you’re not alone anymore. We have each other.

Below is some advice:

  1. Realize that you need to deal with the abuse and rejection you endured in school the same way you would any other trauma from your past. Do not let anyone tell you you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Bullying can cause permanent emotional and psychological scars, and acknowledging this is your first step toward healing.
  2. Though you can never erase the painful memories, therapy can help you learn how to cope and move forward. When choosing a mental-health professional, review their background and make sure they have experience in this area.
  3. Some Adult Survivors of Peer Abuse can suffer from post-traumatic stress response. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and social anxiety. If you suspect you may have PTSR, be sure to tell your therapist.
  4. If you’re a married Adult Survivor of Peer Abuse or in a committed relationship, talk about it with your significant other and make sure to include this aspect of your past in any couples counseling sessions.
  5. If you’re debating whether or not to attend a school reunion, remember that the only way to overcome a fear is to face it. Try to go with a safe person who understands your fears and is there to support you.
  6. If you’re a parent, pay attention to how you react to any bullying situation with your child and be aware that you don’t want to blur the line between your past and their present. You may need therapy to help you keep that line clearly defined. The same applies with your students if you’re an educator.
  7. Turn your pain into purpose: reach out to your local school district and ask if you can speak to students about your experiences to help create awareness of how hurtful bullying can be.
  8. Reach out to the parents in your district whose children are being bullied and provide insight and moral support. Form a support group in your community.
  9. Attend a school board meeting and share your personal insights about bullying. It could generate awareness that saves lives.
  10. Always remember, there’s nothing wrong with you and there never was. It was everything that was right about you that made you stick out when you were a student. It’s time to celebrate who you are!

Jodee Blanco

Scroll to Top