The Relationship Between Emotional Suffering and Cyberbullying

Today, there are increasing numbers of children and adolescents who are victims of cyberbullying. However, what types of cyberbullying exist? And, what are the emotional symptoms that occur as a consequence of this behavior?
The Relationship Between Emotional Suffering and Cyberbullying
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 08 April, 2024

Cyberbullying is an act with the potential to deeply hurt people. In fact, sufferers consequently develop symptoms of emotional suffering such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress. Moreover, it’s been observed that close to 60 percent of adolescents could be victims of cyberbullying. This increase in its prevalence has prompted scientists to investigate.

You might think that the concept of bullying is comparatively recent. However, this term was first mentioned more than 50 years ago. It was described as ‘a type of hostile and violent behavior that’s repeated over time and whose objective is to cause harm to a victim, who is perceived as less powerful and strong’ (Olweus, 1978).

“New online formats and platforms have given rise to new arenas where bullying is easier and more accessible.”

-Michelle F. Wright-

teenager with mobile
Around 80 percent of adolescents have suffered cyberbullying.


The fact that technical and technological advances have led to new ways of interacting on a social level is undeniable. It also means that traditional bullying (face-to-face) has undergone a transformation.

These new forms of harassment are known as cyberbullying. They take place in the digital world and allow the harasser to hide behind the anonymity provided by social media. This tends to produce greater feelings of helplessness in the victim.

Cyberbullying is a new form of harassment and differs in some aspects from traditional bullying (Moleroa et al., 2020):

  • Traditional bullying is clearly associated with the differences in status and power between the bully and their victim. On the other hand, cyberbullying tends to be linked to the morbidity of anonymity. In addition, the victim may have a harder time defending themselves.
  • With traditional bullying, the victim can choose to leave the situation, or at least avoid it as much as possible. However, with cyberbullying it’s more difficult to do so because victims are constantly exposed to social media.

These two elements comprise the difference between traditional and digital bullying. This has prompted some researchers to delve into the phenomenon of cyberbullying. In fact, according to a Save The Children (2019) report, almost 80 percent of adolescents up to the age of 20 have suffered cyberbullying at some point in their lives.

“If you report a case of harassment, you are not a snitch, you are brave.”

-Iñaki Zubizarreta-

The different types of cyberbullying

There are many types of cyberbullying (Álvarez-García et al., 2017):

  • The kind exercised through the written word. For example, via profane expressions, insults, offenses, expletives, or anonymous calls whose objective is intimidation.
  • The kind exercised visually. For instance, via the theft of intimate photos or videos. These are later shared on social media and have a huge impact on the social life of the victim. It’s known, ironically, as happy slapping.
  • The kind that occurs by default. For example, the cyberbully deliberately and maliciously excludes the victim from and within social gatherings. Moreover, they make fun of them in front of their peers.
  • The kind that involves identity theft (Moleroa et al., 2022). This is extremely common in the digital universe.

It seems that cyberbullying exercised through words and the kind that occurs due to omission or exclusion of the victim in social interactions are the two most common types.

Cases of visual cyberbullying are becoming increasingly common. They’re characterized by forcing the victim to view extremely humiliating scenes, videos, and photographs (Barragan et al., 2021).

“Digital victimization has been pointed out as a factor closely related to psychological damage among adolescents.”

-Álvaro Montes-

Emotional suffering and cyberbullying in adolescents

The absence of a firm and consolidated self-esteem or emotional symptoms of suffering such as fear and shame are frequently reported among victims of cyberbullying. In addition, they feel intense anguish at the fact of opening up to the people around them. Consequently, they experience the kind of loneliness that paralyzes and freezes them.

Depression is one of the frequent consequences of cyberbullying. In fact, a growing number of cases of young victims of digital bullying suffering from this clinical entity have been discovered. Cyberbullying increases the risk of both depression and anxiety disorders. At the same time, it makes victims isolate themselves from their environments and feel intensely alone.

It’s been discovered that the consequences of cyberbullying depend on the skills a victim has when it comes to managing the negative impact of this behavior. For example, how they perceive their self-efficacy or adaptive strategies for emotional regulation. Social support (how the victim makes use of their friends and family when it comes to releasing pressure) is a variable that helps reduce the emotional symptoms of cyberbullying.

“The psycho-emotional adjustment of adolescents is closely linked to digital victimization on the Internet.”

-Carlos Evangelio-

depressed teenager
Low self-esteem, along with emotions such as fear or shame are common symptoms of cyberbullying.

The loss of the meaning of life

Frequently, as a result of cyberbullying, adolescents lose their sense of the meaning of life. Indeed, thoughts about suicide are common. This has alarmed researchers. Moreover, specific emotions, such as anger, feeling confused, or constantly tense have been associated with a higher probability of being a victim of cyberbullying.

As a result, various experts have pointed out that we should be developing interventions focused on promoting better management of emotions among adolescents (Pasquale et al., 2021). Undoubtedly, these would benefit the mental health of young people exposed to this type of digital harassment.

“Face-to-face social connections protect against negative mental health outcomes linked to cybervictimization.”

-Larisa T. McLoughlin-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Molero, M. M., Pérez-Fuentes, M. C., Martos, Á., Pino, R. M., & Gázquez, J. J. (2023). Network Analysis of Emotional Symptoms and their Relationship with Different Types of Cybervictimization. European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context, 15(1), 23-32.
  • Olweus, D. (1978). Aggression in the schools: Bullies and whipping boys. Hemisphere.
  • Wright, M. F., & Schiamberg, L. B. (Eds.). (2020). Child and Adolescent Online Risk Exposure: An Ecological Perspective. Academic Press.
  • Save the Children. (2019). Viral violence: Executive summary [Violencia viral: resumen ejecutivo].
  • Álvarez-García, D., Barreiro-Collazo, A., & Núñez, J. C. (2017). Cyberbullying among adolescents: Prevalence and gender differences. Comunicar, 50(25), 89-97.
  • Evangelio, C., Rodríguez-González, P., Fernández-Río, J., & González-Villora, S. (2022). Cyberbullying in elementary and middle school students: A systematic review. Computers & Education, 176, Article 104356.
  • Barragán, A. B., Molero, M. M., Pérez-Fuentes, M. C., Simón, M. M., Martos, Á., Sisto, M., & Gázquez, J. J. (2021). Study of cyberbullying among adolescents in recent years: A bibliometric analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(6), 3016.
  • Montes, Á., Sanmarco, J., Novo, M., Cea, B., & Arce, R. (2022). Estimating the Psychological harm consequence of bullying victimization: A meta-analytic review for forensic evaluation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(21), Article 13852.
  • De Pasquale, C., Martinelli, V., Sciacca, F., Mazzone, M., Chiappedi, M., Dinaro, C., & Hichy, Z. (2021). The role of mood states in cyberbullying and cybervictimization behaviors in adolescents. Psychiatry Research, 300, Article 113908.
  • McLoughlin, L. T. (2021). Understanding and measuring coping with cyberbullying in adolescents: Exploratory factor analysis of the brief coping orientation to problems experienced inventory. Current Psychology, 40(2), 4300-4310.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.