Loneliness NZ

Bullied or harassed and lonely

If your first experience of being bullied started in school… you had a tough time! You understand that bullying should never be condoned, and might have struggled with peers and parents telling you “It’s normal childhood behaviour.” or “It will help toughen you up… help you in the real world”. The sad fact is that bullying happens far too commonly by and to people of all ages. Some of you have been bullied or harassed as tertiary students, apprentices and in the workplace – this is not an issue confined to schools. What’s more bullying and harassment happens even outside of organisations… in social settings in the adult community. As you have had to face bullying, you know how it is not always obvious to others; how it can be done so subtly and silently, and that by the time you realise it, significant damage has been done…your relationships and job may have been sabotaged. The hardest situations some of you face is when these poor behaviours come from people you trust; and are condoned within professional organisations amongst very senior staff, the very people who in all other regards are our role models and leaders in our community.
Bullying behaviour can be physical, emotional or even cyber… you might be the recipient of insults, intimidation, and is maliciousness. Bullies humiliate and they undermine. Harassers cause feelings of distress or unsafety.

Whatever your injury from being bullied or harassed, we understand that it often leads to you becoming significantly lonely and socially isolated. You feel the effects long after the bully or harasser has left your life. Our heart goes out to you if bullying has left you with thoughts of suicide.

So if you are one of the many people who feels lonely as a result of being harassed or bullied, or you know of someone who feels loneliness from this, then read on. In fact even if you suspect others might be lonely, and they stoically say they aren’t, it’s worth understanding bullying and loneliness better.

Scratching the surface of being lonely

Just as you might find it hard to understand how people who have never been bullied or harassed might be lonely, it’s also hard for them to really grasp how very lonely you might be: what it’s like:

Dreading school break time

... because you know as soon as the teacher isn't with you the other children are going to mock your disability.

Your heart sinking looking at your phone

... to see several teenagers have written nasty things about you on the internet.

Putting in extra effort into your work

... and no matter what you do your boss undermines you.

Feeling your self-esteem diminish

... you are so confused because you can’t work out why you aren’t accepted by the group.

Anxious when you hear those footsteps

... knowing he won’t listen when you tell him again not to touch you.

Being the recipient of bullying and harassment gives rise to many challenges with regard to feeling lonely...

… and in addition to these, you undoubtedly identify with many of the same loneliness problems that aren’t related to how others are treating you.

Prevalence of loneliness

If you are being bullied or harassed or if you are still suffering the effects of it, it might be helpful to you to know you aren’t alone. We don’t really know how many people are actually being bullied or harassed. However, reading various reports the situation in New Zealand seems dismal… we do not have a healthy culture of treating each other with respect, with bullying and harassment being prevalent in our country.

Our children and young people are really suffering compared to those in other parts of the world. As an example, the 2015 OECD statistics for 15 year old students who reported being bullied at least a few times per month showed that NZ came out second worst of 33 countries. Only Latvia had a worse overall bullying record. The corresponding 2018 report shows bullying has risen overall in NZ since 2015, and all types of bullying are linked to lower academic performance.

Table comparing percentage of OECD and New Zealand students aged 15 who reported being bullied at least a few times per month

In January 2018 David Rutherford Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission indicated that without properly addressing bullying at schools, our children will be continuing to have one of the worst rates of school bullying in the developed world. Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero questioned the high rates of disabled children being bullied. This is also true of our Rainbow Tamariki.

Looking at recent reports, what has been of great concern is how many of our employees are suffering in the workplace.

From the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists report “Bullying in the New Zealand senior medical workforce: prevalence, correlates and consequences” we can see that experienced people – those in the 40–59 age group are on the highest levels of being on the receiving end of bullying. And at the junior end, international medical graduates were bullied more often than their Kiwi equals.

Bar chart of level percentage of different types of harassment or bullying behaviour experienced or witnessed in New Zealand Criminal Law
In March 2018 the Criminal Bar Association of NZ’s voluntary and anonymous survey showed that 90% of the participating employees had some personal experience or had witnessed harassment or bullying. These staff had been prey to wide ranging unacceptable behaviours – from mocking to withholding information, and a host of behaviours amounting to discrimination.
Both these reports give credibility to the anecdotal evidence that senior staff are often the culprits. And these reports show that between 70 to 80% of those who had experienced bullying behaviour had not reported it; partially out of fear for the repercussions and because they did not believe that anything would change.

Our empathy goes to employees being bullied and harassed by those more senior to you, those who can exert influence over the future of your salaries, your career progression and your jobs; you often feel more helpless – and more lonely – than those who are being bullied by less consequential people.

A report commissioned by Diversity Works New Zealand in October 2016 revealed that only 56 per cent of Kiwi businesses have formalised a complaints process around harassment and bullying. With this in mind, and the knowledge that bullying and harassment complaints are sometimes dealt with by confidential legal settlements, reported numbers from organisations might be considerably lower than reports from individuals.

So with such prevalence of bullying and harassment in the workplace you, like us, would hope that organisations would start taking a more proactive stance to actually eradicating bullying behaviours at all levels of the organisation. That would significantly help in reducing the loneliness many of you experience in your workplace.

Exposing loneliness

Feeling socially isolated occurs when people, like you, are not connected into their communities in a meaningful way.  Society, other people and we ourselves unwittingly contribute to loneliness. To name a few, loneliness resulting from being bullied or harassed might be exacerbated when:

  • the policies in place at schools and in the workplace are used as checklists rather than a meaningful intention to address bullying or harassment.
  • Your repeated reports of bullying behaviour is used against you, labeling you as a difficult rather than action being taken to deal with the person bullying.
  • the bully is actually a charming, charismatic person who keeps themselves surrounded by well-liked people.
  • The bullying comes in the form of micro-aggression, where the looks and the comments are only noticeable to you, on the receiving end.
  • you start losing friends because no-one wants to be seen socialising with you in case they too become targets.
  • your workplace culture condones forms of sexual harassment, and the view is that you shouldn’t take it personally.

These are very real issues for you;
and some are not quick fixes! So despite these challenges it’s vital you actively find ways to ensure that you – and those around you – are emotionally healthy.

Exhibiting signs of being lonely

Solitude is very important for people to reflect and to come to grips with their situation. Being lonely for short periods is also not necessarily unhealthy. What we are considering is the type of loneliness which is prolonged and might be damaging to an individual’s health and wellbeing.

Some people talk about their loneliness; other’s don’t; Some might not recognise that they are actually suffering from loneliness.

When people are already lonely, having people around you that you aren’t able to connect with on a deeper level, might even make your loneliness worse.

Research has shown that when socially isolated people aren’t getting enough regular human contact that can create problems with their family members and people who they do end up talking to.

This manifests behaviour such as:

  • putting your own interests first… as shameful as you feel that damage is being caused to your colleague’s career, you can’t do much because you have your own job to protect.
  • retaliation… you might not get even with the person who has tormented you, but by bullying others yourself you feel you claim back some power.
  • lying awake at night… sleep escapes you as you relive today, and try to work out how to avoid being harassed again;
  • evading your partner’s questions… he won’t understand the fear and anxiety that stopped you talking to the lecturer….and if he says something, how will that affect your grades?
  • becoming isolated… you can’t share with your colleagues what you are really going through, and you are distraught because they think you’re not committed to the team;
  • begging your mother not to send you to school… she can’t understand that you really do feel sick all the time – stomach-aches and nausea.

These are just the surface of the ways you might be showing signs of being lonely… and that you could recognise in others.
So where to from here?

Conquering loneliness

We appreciate…

you all have a unique story.

How long you have been lonely;  What you believe causes your particular loneliness; and what you have already tried to alleviate the loneliness.

To get to the heart of your loneliness we would like to get to know you!

Your personality, your eccentricities, and your values are all part of what makes you feel your loneliness more than some others.

Your next step

We appreciate the trust you would place in us to talk openly and frankly – so we promise no judgements – genuine empathy, respect and confidentiality.

Then when we have understood you better, we can help you move forward. Help you form better connections with your spread out communities, with your friends and your families… wherever they are in the world.

If you are ready to take the next step, click the button to get started addressing your loneliness:

People feel lonely for many reasons. To learn more about other hurt and lonely categories, select one of the coloured boxes below, or scroll down the “I’m feeling lonely” menu.

Loneliness NZ square I'm feeling lonely logo

With our help you can conquer your loneliness by taking better care of your inner self.

And we can conquer loneliness in New Zealand by better understanding and accepting each other.

So when you are ready…click here.

We look forward to hearing your view of the world!

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (2017), Bullying in the New Zealand senior medical workforce: prevalence, correlates and consequences”. View the report.

Criminal Bar Association (2018), Anonymous survey about harassment and bullying in the practice of the Criminal Law.  View the report.

Diversity Works New Zealand (2016), New Zealand diversity survey: 2016 bi-annual report – October. View the report.

Newshub (2018), “Bullies ‘need change in attitude’ towards disabled kids – commission”, January 12. View the article.

OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Student wellbeing.  View the report.