In my three decades of listening to the narratives of so many lives—and in my interactions with friends, colleagues, etc.—I am always amazed at how quickly people remember the first and last names of their childhood bullies. The details of what happened are remembered with pain and with what appears to be impressive clarity as well.
We don't necessarily remember the names of all of our teachers or old friends but the full names of our bullies seem, remarkably, to remain on the tips of our collective tongues. If you really want to witness a lively (and painful) dialogue, ask everyone in your group of friends to tell you about how, when, and who tormented them during their childhoods. You will be amazed to learn that you are in good company (unless you were one of the lucky few who never got bullied). Everyone seems to have a story to share.
It's important for everyone to be aware of why these bullies had such a profound impact. The following is not an exhaustive list, so please share your own personal stories and how your particular bullies affected you. Let's dialogue: Good things can happen when we give a voice to our stories and our feelings. (And you might want to share this article with your kids, peers, etc. so that people are aware of how their behavior may impact others.)
So, childhood bullies, know this: Many of us are grown adults now but we still remember how you made us feel tormented. Let me begin:
1. You confirmed the negative aspects of our very being that we were already painfully aware of. Yes, we knew that we were wearing the "wrong" clothes, that we were slightly overweight, that we were too tall, too short, or even too smart for your taste. You were uncomfortable with our differences but you didn't know that so were we. The problem is that you felt a need to bring these things to our attention and to the attention of our peers. You made us even more aware of the way that we might not have fit in, and of our differences. We were just trying to get through the day but you frightened us and increased our self-consciousness. When we think about you now, in our adulthood, we still have twinges of what you made us feel back then. It's hard to shake these memories and their accompanying feelings.
2. You embarrassed us terribly. You made us feel ashamed not only of who we were but also of our powerlessness and helplessness in your presence. You seemed to delight in having an audience who might be laughing at us, but we felt like doing anything but laughing. You embarrassed us even more when you bullied us with your group of friends. Our sense of helplessness and shame increased exponentially.
3. You made us feel terribly alone. Many of us had no one to talk to at home. We were ashamed to tell our parents about what you did. Those of us who did talk to our parents often received very poor advice from them that made us feel even more ineffective. We were often advised to "ignore" our bullies. But how on earth is it possible to ignore someone who is causing you so much torment and fear?
4. We are sure that you are not aware of this, but remember how frequently we were absent from school? Many of us woke up in the morning with stomach aches and skipped school to avoid facing you and our other tormentors. The very thought of enduring another day of torture made some of us want to stay at home, which was, for some of us, a safer zone.
5. It is unlikely that you realize that you were powerful enough to trigger the onset of our anxiety, depression and physical problems. And our stomach aches, nervousness, and other symptoms didn't necessarily stop when you were no longer part of our daily lives. You see, you may have hastened the onset of problems that we may or may not have ever experienced if we had never met you.
6. You took away our safe zones. For many of us, home was a tough place and we liked to go to school. We enjoyed the opportunity to play at recess. But once you started following us through the school hallways, and into the recess yard, our safe and fun zones were gone. You never even considered that you were turning our childhoods into an awful experience, did you?
7. We started to question our judgment. Some of us thought that you were our friends. But why, we thought, would a friend start rumors about us and/or tell the other kids that we were somehow unacceptable and undesirable? You made us confused about how to judge our peers.
8. You gave us no room to be different. For many of us, being a little quiet and shy was more comfortable than being outgoing. For others, being a bit bookish felt very comfortable. You taught us the lesson that we must, at all costs, be conventional and act just like everyone else in order to be accepted. For many of us, we only learned to accept our quirks and individual differences when we became adults and you were no longer present.
9. Problems at home often developed. The irritability and anger that we couldn't express toward you got taken out on our younger siblings. You disrupted so much more than just a few moments of our the day.
10. Even those of us who have wonderful and blessed lives and have developed positive self-esteem in adulthood look back at specific times during our childhoods with great pain. When our children reach the age at which we were bullied, we become hyper-vigilant because we expect that our kids will be bullied. Sometimes, but not always, this translates into raising anxious kids.
Bullies, we hope that you have changed as adults and are leading productive and gentle lives. As for us, we are older now and we have finally found our voices.
For more articles like this see my website.
Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers: