I’m 40 years old, and it was only this week, while reading the comments to Memoirs of a Bullied Kid on Single Dad Laughing, that I saw myself in them and finally realized: I was bullied! How could I possibly not have known it at the time, some may wonder? Because at the time, I didn’t think of it as bullying. To me it was just, “everybody hates me”. I didn’t even recognize it as bullying because I took the way they saw me and made it my own self-image. I figured they must be right: there was something wrong with me. I swallowed their poison, and it spread to every facet of my life.
It started in kindergarten and got worse every year, peaking in about ninth grade. It was your typical “mean girl” kind of bullying that’s been quite well documented in the media and books. I had a respite in first and second grade while attending a parochial school but then went back to the same public school in third, and stayed in that system the rest of my schooling. I have no memories of third grade. None. I can’t even tell you the teacher’s name. My memories of the rest of my childhood are quite clear. The only explanation I can come up with for not remembering third grade is that it was so emotionally and psychologically painful I’ve repressed it all.
Even after graduating high school, I still saw myself as a reject. Having been ostracized, I hadn’t developed normal social skills. Throughout college, and well into my adult life, I unwittingly rebuffed many people who likely would otherwise have been friends – rejecting them before they could reject me.
Throughout school and early adulthood, I was lonely. I suffered depression. Twice, in junior high, I made lame attempts to take my own life. But I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the torment to end. I fantasized regularly about running away from home.
I grieve for the many young people whose suicide attempts have succeeded. I grieve for the friend of a friend, who suffered such severe psychological damage that he is currently in a mental hospital and may never be able to lead a normal life. I’ve seen people express the opinion, “Bullying – what’s the big deal? You grow up, you get over it, life goes on.” I want to vomit when I see that. But I don’t. I just hope for those people to someday understand that it does matter. Bullying causes real suffering, and it is just not OK to make other people suffer to entertain yourself.
I think that one possible reason for some of the reluctance in our society to admit that bullying is a serious problem, is that we have so many people who were bullies as kids. With bullying as widespread and rampant as it has been, there have to have been a lot of people doing the bullying. Naturally, many of these people may not want to have to face the fact that they caused other people so much pain. I imagine that, subconsciously, the reasoning might go like this: “that’s not really bullying, because if that’s bullying then I was a bully, and there’s no way I’m a bully”. (Incidentally, I also see that kind of reasoning as responsible for some of the reluctance to classify date rape as rape — “That’s not rape, because if it is, then that would make me a rapist.”)
Perhaps a way forward, both for those who were bullied and for those who did the bullying, would be to use the methods of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, The Forgiveness Project, and The Compassionate Listening Project to bring former bullies and their former victims together. Having the perspectives and experiences of both the bullied and the former bullies would be so helpful in crafting an effective plan to end bullying in our schools now.
Recently, I have come to understand that bullying is painful for the bullies as well. Single Dad Laughing has already said it better than I would:
In the last several years, I have been blessed with the perspective to look back at those “horrible” years, and realize that the bullying I was receiving was simply the symptom of the bullying that the bullies were receiving in their own lives, whether it was their family, other bullies, or the “Perfection” going on around them. You see, I’ve learned one universal truth. People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer. Every bully that bullied me (and by the end of junior high there were at least a dozen of them) was a desperate and hurting individual. The victim of something going on around them. A soul that was probably crying in solitude as often as I was, even if the crying was silent.
A year or two ago, one of the girls who had been mean to me sent me a Facebook friend request. I couldn’t have been more surprised. I thought that after 20 years surely I should just let bygones be bygones, and accepted it. But every time her name came up on my wall, I felt that old pain just as sharply as ever. So, after three weeks, I “unfriended” her.
I think I’ll go look her up.