Background: Psychological distress following experiencing bullying victimization in childhood has been well documented. Less is known about the impact of bullying victimization on psychosocial adjustment problems in young adulthood and about potential pathways, such as shame. Moreover, bullying victimization is often studied in isolation from other forms of victimization.
Objective: This study investigated (1) whether childhood experiences of bullying victimization and violence were associated with psychosocial adjustment (distress, impaired functioning, social support barriers) in young adulthood; (2) the unique effect of bullying victimization on psychosocial adjustment; and (3) whether shame mediated the relationship between bullying victimization and these outcomes in young adulthood.
Method: The sample included 681 respondents (aged 19–37 years) from a follow-up study (2017) conducted via phone interviews derived from a community telephone survey collected in 2013.
Results: The regression analyses showed that both bullying victimization and severe violence were significantly and independently associated with psychological distress, impaired functioning, and increased barriers to social support in young adulthood. Moreover, causal mediation analyses indicated that when childhood physical violence, sexual abuse, and sociodemographic factors were controlled, shame mediated 70% of the association between bullying victimization and psychological distress, 55% of the association between bullying victimization and impaired functioning, and 40% of the association between bullying victimization and social support barriers.
Conclusions: Our findings support the growing literature acknowledging bullying victimization as a trauma with severe and long-lasting consequences and indicate that shame may be an important pathway to continue to explore. The unique effect of bullying victimization, over and above the effect of violence, supports the call to integrate the two research fields.