Bullying Drove Me to Succeed. It Also Made Me a Cutthroat, Emotionless Boss—Until I Got Therapy | Opinion

Being bullied as a child can trigger an "I'll show them" mentality that helps drive career success. But until you come to terms with the lasting psychological effects of that bullying, you won't be able to enjoy and appreciate where you are in your profession. If you're in charge, you won't be the kind of boss you can and should be. And you won't be living your best life.

I know from experience.

From ages 6 to 12, I was bullied pretty badly. I was an only child, lanky, and always felt a bit different from the other kids. I was more sentimental and liked to compete intellectually rather than physically. When with family and friends, I often wanted to sit at the adult table and have adult conversations rather than doing things more typical for my age.

The bullying got so bad that I don't even remember large parts of primary school (what we called it in Sydney, Australia, where I grew up.) My mind blocked it out.

Around 7th grade, I started to develop confidence—and very quickly became career focused. Make that career obsessed. I decided that I had to reach the C-suite of a great company before I turned 30.

Last year, at the age of 29, that dream came true. I became CMO of G2, a tech company based in Chicago. But within a few months, when the excitement subsided, I found it still wasn't enough. I couldn't feel happy or satisfied. That's when I realized that I had a problem that no professional, external achievements would solve.

It was time to process the traumas from my childhood. Time to take my mental health seriously, and rebuild my self-esteem.

Up to 35 percent of people have experienced childhood bullying, according to one study. And some researchers have found that "children who were bullied by peers had significant mental health problems as adults—even more significant than children who were mistreated by their parents or caregivers," Healthline reports.

The lasting effects can include anxiety, depression, PTSD and more. I had both anxiety and depression.

I also had negative beliefs about therapy, seeing it as a form of weakness. But all that changed soon after I began. Getting treatment for my mental health has been transformative and eye opening. It's changed my outlook on life and given me a sense of self-worth wholly separate from work.

I've wondered at times whether I would have pursued career advancement with the same passion and commitment if I hadn't felt a deep need to prove my worth to myself and to those who mistreated me. Part of me thinks I would have gotten where I am anyway, but would have also enjoyed and appreciated each step along the way.

I'm certain I would have been a happier, more well-adjusted person earlier on. And I think I also would have been a much better executive.

For years, I was a rather cutthroat, emotionless boss. I couldn't, or didn't try to, understand the people I worked with as whole people. I fixated on work product, and didn't place enough value on building relationships.

Now, I prioritize relationships. I also speak openly about mental health. I put my therapy appointments on my calendar for everyone to see. I'm working to build an environment in which everyone feels comfortable discussing their mental health journeys. The more we talk about it openly and with no shame, the more we counteract the stigmas surrounding mental health.

A stronger work culture for mental health helps decrease employee absenteeism and work-related disability, while increasing productivity and engagement, studies show. It attracts and retains employees.

I've also joined Bring Change to Mind as a board member. Founded by actress and activist Glenn Close, it's an organization devoted to ending stigmas and discrimination surrounding mental illness. On the website, people have shared stories of the physical and emotional bullying they experienced as children, and parents have shared nightmare stories of their kids' recent experiences with bullying.

These stories are heart wrenching, and a powerful reminder that new psychological scars are being inflicted every day.

Over the last few years, there's been widespread concern about a possible increase in bullying in parts of the United States. As we work to fight it, let's make sure we all understand that it leaves lasting negative effects—and that it's never too late to get help.

Ryan Bonnici is chief marketing officer at G2 and a board member of Bring Change to Mind.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​