People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

The Lessons My Bullies Taught Me

Right before Valentine’s Day, my orthopedist decided that I should be hospitalized for tests. I’d been having crippling low-back pain for several weeks and the rest, pain medicine, and muscle relaxants he’d prescribed were not making me feel any better. I spent a week in the hospital undergoing a variety of tests to rule out structural abnormalities, cancer, and any other problems that could be causing the pain. They never found anything. The ultimate diagnosis: acute stress. The year was 1983. I was eleven years old.

This is the story of me and my bullies. All these years later, a whole lifetime, and I’ve already used half a box of tissue preparing to write about it. I was just a little girl, deserving of love and protection, like every other child, but I didn’t know that. I thought I was different: unworthy, flawed, and fundamentally unlikeable. My bullies, and the adults who allowed their behavior to continue, taught me lessons that I’m still unlearning nearly 30 years later.

Full disclosure: I am changing names for obvious reasons. Also, emotional pain and time have worked together to make my memory pretty hazy. This is a true story to the absolute best of my ability.

When I showed up at Madison Middle School in August, 1982, I was scared. And while I think that probably every 6th grader at Madison was scared that day, I was unique in my level of terror. We’ll get back to the reasons for that later, but for now, just know that I was shaking in my summer sandals like there was a salivating tiger on my left and a tsunami wave rolling in on my right.

I went to my classes and listened to the rules. So many rules! Do you remember how it was, how they threatened you and swore that they wouldn’t help you no matter what, because for God’s sake you’re not babies anymore and if you think this is like elementary school then forget about it and do you have any idea what it’s like in the REAL WORLD?!? Well, do you? Rules for the bathroom. Rules for the lockers. Don’t be late. Don’t forget your book. Always have your paper, your pencil. Don’t chew gum, don’t talk, don’t run (but don’t be late!), don’t eat, don’t swear. Do your homework; no, not like that! Put your name here, the date there (write it out), the period number in that place. Use pencil, no always use pen, no never use pen. That’s the wrong paper! Did you write in your book? Put a cover on it!

Here’s what I heard: Shut up, sit down, and if I never have any reason to notice you, or even glance in your direction, then you’ll be just fine. Teachers have no niceness to share; being ignored is the best you can hope for.

I was all alone. The Albuquerque Public Schools have a different system now, whereby all kids from several elementary schools feed to one middle school, and then several middle schools feed one high school. Not so back then. My elementary school fed four middle schools, with just a tiny handful of us going from Zuni to Madison. There were no familiar faces around me; I was surrounded by strangers in every class. My family might as well have moved across the country over the summer.

There were seven class periods per day. My 6th period class was PE. I had kind of looked forward to “changing out” because it seemed grown-up, something that you saw in the movies. Obviously I had a warped sense of what’s glamorous! And thus we arrive at problem number 1, the first thing that my bullies found to target about me: no breasts. I mean none. Nada, zilch. I didn’t know it then (and would have been devastated if I had), but I was still a year away from any action at all in the puberty department. But to be honest, I might as well have been wearing a big ole’, flashing neon sign on my head that said Pick on me! I am your willing victim!

I always had a hard time making friends, had struggled socially from the very beginning. My parents like to tell the story of my first day at pre-school. There was a one-way mirror so parents could observe, and they were stunned by what they say: me, a little girl who would not stop chattering, ever, while at home, sitting quietly and observing the other children. Silent. I was always terrified in social situations, and so excruciatingly sensitive to every perceived slight, even at that young age, that I usually believed that everyone around me hated me.

As I moved through elementary school, every year the kids were a little less tolerant of difference, a little less willing to befriend, or at least leave alone, the shy, awkward girl in the corner. Complicating matters was the fact that I was very intelligent and had a huge vocabulary for a child my age. This was probably due to the fact that my parents were both well-educated and used their own wide knowledge of words when speaking to me. I used my big words and that, coupled with my shyness, earned me a reputation as “stuck up.” It’s laughable, now, that I was accused of being the very thing that I’m most NOT.  All I wanted was some friends, some kids to talk to me and play with me at recess.

The most ridiculous piece of this particular part of the story is this: my second grade teacher told my parents that I would have more friends if they could make me stop using so many big words. True story, and a damn sad example of an “educator.”

I always managed to make a few friends, but never more than 2 or 3 at a time, and I was consistently a target of teasing by the girls in my grade. The worst bullying I endured while I was a student at Zuni happened when I was in 3rd grade. Two 5th grade girls started to mess with me on the bus every day on the way home from school. They spit in my hair, over and over, all the way home, to the point that I arrived home with saliva dripping onto my shoulders.

Gross, right? Here’s what’s grosser: the bus driver either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because she never said a word. Neither of my parents called or went to the school to insist that something be done, nor did they ever (not once) drive me home from school to spare me the torment. No other child on a bus jammed full of students ever tried to intervene. Only my little sister, in kindergarten at the time, tried to defend me.

I was in third grade in 1980, so 30 years ago now. I still remember the names of both those girls, can still feel the hot shame that nested behind my face when they taunted me and spat on me.

My elementary school experiences had primed the pump; I was more prepared for my middle school bullies than I was for middle school literature and science.

There were three of them: Kathy, Karen, and Tanya. I don’t know if they knew each other before 6th grade or if they fell together that year, but they joined forces and made me their common enemy. It was a campaign of terror that, while not unique to middle school girls, is certainly most common among them. Virtually all of it happened in the girls’ locker room, though they got away with plenty out in the open, during PE class. Our coach joined in just enough to make it clear that he wouldn’t be a source of support.

The details are lost to me. There was lots of name calling. I know they snapped my bra strap plenty, after I begged my mom to buy me one so I could keep my non-breasts covered. They pulled my ponytail hard, so that my head snapped back and hurt my neck. Mostly, though, they relied on the name calling and the taunting, and I almost never answered them. I just took it, because I believed it was mine to take.

By Halloween, I was in agony all day, every day, dreading 6th period. I cried every evening at the dinner table with the misery of it all, and my parents tried to be sympathetic. Eventually, though, they were annoyed, then angry, at my inability to resolve the situation. They encouraged me to fight back, to punch or kick or hurt the girls to make them stop. They sent me to a counselor in hopes that she could convince me to fight back. No luck. I was far, far too afraid of authority to do any such thing.

How afraid of authority was I? In three years of middle school, I was never (not ever, not even once) late to a class. I was in agony from a full-to-bursting bladder at least once a week, but I would not risk being late to class by using my 5 minute passing period to go to the bathroom. At Madison, the lockers are in long halls that are kept locked except before and after school and before and after lunch, so we had to make sure we had everything we needed as there was no running to a locker between classes. One time (ONE TIME) in 3 years of middle school, I forgot one of my books. (Funny how pain makes some memories fuzzy, and leaves some of them so sharp.) It was my English book, the class I had right after PE during 6th grade. I was shaking and sweating through 5th and 6th periods because of forgetting that book.

And my parents and my counselor wanted me to punch someone?

I went to the school counselor for help. She decided a session involving Kathy, Karen, Tanya, and I was in order, so that we could air all of our grievances. Clearly, the school counselor had a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the situation. She saw a conflict among peers, when in fact it was a victim/perpetrator situation. We sat in her office and the three girls told me all the things that disgusted them about me. (I don’t remember most of what was said, but I do recall that one of my facial expressions was a problem for them.) Thus emboldened by quasi-approval from a school authority figure, the girls re-doubled their efforts.

Sometime shortly after the New Year, my mom and I were at the grocery store when I turned to see Kathy standing next to her own mom’s grocery cart. She squinched up her eyes and pulled a disgusted, I-smell-something-nasty face. I yanked my mom’s sleeve and whispered, “That’s one of them, one of the girls from PE!”

We finished our shopping and when we got in the checkout line, my mom went to speak to Kathy’s mom. No big surprise here: the next day I caught hell. Karen and Tanya were furious that I got Kathy in trouble and tripled their harassment, stealing things from my locker and encouraging other kids in our PE class to join them in harassing me.

Eventually, the stress took its toll and I landed in the hospital. The back pain was so bad that I couldn’t sit or bend over. Except sometimes I could. The pain was not constant, and I have never admitted this to anyone, ever. I felt guilty about that for many years, but not anymore. I didn’t know how to communicate my anguish, didn’t know how to get the adults in my life to hear me, and letting them believe that the pain was more than it was was the only way I knew to get any relief. I missed two weeks of school and it was pure bliss, like taking off a 200 pound backpack I’d been staggering under for 6 long months.

Note to parents: if your child is so stressed out that he or she is in the hospital to rule out spinal cancer, something is deeply wrong.

I walked into the girls’ locker room on my first day back to school and Kathy turned to Karen and Tanya and, sneer on her face and disgust thick in her voice, said, “Look who’s back.”

I made it to the end of 6th grade. I faked sick a few times, though I never refused to go to school. My parents did not express any sympathy or take any action on my behalf. Once, my dad said to me, “If this is the way you act at school, it’s no wonder you don’t have any friends.” My mom got angry at the dinner table several times, saying, “Can’t we ever talk about anything other than you and your problems?”

And so, by the time winter became spring, I had learned my lessons, and I had learned them well.

What my bullies taught me:
  • I don’t matter. My suffering is not important.
  • I am socially unacceptable, worthy only of rejection.
  • I’m weak, a loser, destined to be a social bottom-feeder, or worse, absolutely alone.
  • The best I can hope for, in my relationships with others, is to be left alone.
  • I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.
What the adults taught me:
  • I’m unworthy of help.
  • To identify or talk about a problem is to whine or feel sorry for myself.
  • When I ask for help, I will not get it.
  • The way other people behave toward me, no matter how bad, is my fault.
  • I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.

I was never again bullied the way I was in 6th grade. There were some girls here and there, throughout 7th and 8th grades who taunted me, and I never had many friends, but that sort of systematic torment was over. But any social confidence I may have had (did I ever have any?) was shattered. Throughout the rest of middle-school, I went to the library during lunch rather than risk rejection in the cafeteria. Books, always my favorite escape, became even more important to me. I tried to hide, to blend into the background. I hated myself, hated everything about my life. I had increasingly frequent episodes of depression, but I had learned by then that there was no help, and so I just showed up and went through the motions until I could get back into my books, back into the quiet solitude of my bed.

High school was better. Much, much better, in fact. I never had any social confidence, didn’t make friends easily or feel comfortable with people, but I had some friends. Kathy, Karen, and Tanya all went to the same high school and, amazingly, I never had a class with any one of them. I saw them sometimes, in the commons or on the walk across campus, and the dominant feeling I had when that happened was fear. I hated myself for that fear, hated that I was still so weak, but I couldn’t shake it.

Since I’m eviscerating myself in public here, I’ll tell you the truth: it’s still my dominant feeling. When I am with people, no matter where I go (even online), I expect to be rejected. I assume that you will hate me, that you will seek to avoid me, that you hope I won’t bother you by trying to talk to you. Every expression of acceptance is a surprise to me. I want people to be nice to me, but I never expect it. I expect people to reject me; I hope they will leave me alone. Niceness doesn’t really factor into any of that.

Understand that I’m not laying any of my present emotional landscape at anyone’s feet except my own. They (the bullies and the adults who didn’t stop them) taught the lessons they taught; I chose which lessons to learn, which lessons to carry with me into my adult life. My struggle to let go of all of that is mine and mine alone. There are connections, of course. The lessons I learned helped me choose my first husband, an unkind and critical man who I believed was the only one who would ever want me. But ultimately, that choice was mine; the connections to my bullies are not causes.

I went about living my life. Sixth grade was a painful memory. In my early twenties, I thought about that year a lot and wished for the chance to do it again, to stand up for myself, to bring my adult strength to a child’s situation. But as my own children approached the age I was when I was abused by my classmates, my thinking changed.

I started to recognize that Kathy, Karen, and Tanya were little girls, too. They were so large in my memory, so much more powerful than I was, that they had become something other than children for me. They were just as young as I was, caught up in personal turmoil about which I know nothing. Why did they do what they did? I don’t know, but it seems pretty unlikely that they were bad kids whose parents didn’t care what they did. In fact, I’d guess that Karen and Tanya’s parents would have punished them for such behavior just like Kathy’s mom punished her. I think they were probably very nice girls from their parents’ perspectives. I think they would have been shocked to find out what their daughters were doing at school.

As I came, over several years, to this new perspective, my anger at the adults involved grew. How could they just let me suffer that way? And of course I know how, in a rational, removed sort of way. They didn’t know what to do; they didn’t know the breadth and depth of the problem. They’d been conditioned to believe that, unless there is physical aggression that leaves marks, the problem isn’t significant enough to warrant any real attention.

But past rational, past the adult-me who is raising children and sometimes making big mistakes and who understands that shit happens and you can’t always fix it, there is an eleven year old girl in a blind red rage. I was a little girl. The coach, my parents, the school counselor, they were adults. Their responsibility, first and foremost, before anything else, was to keep me safe. And they failed. They failed big.

In my adult life, I’ve had almost no contact with any of the people with whom I went to school. I didn’t go to any of our reunions, didn’t call or write, didn’t even exchange Christmas cards. Finally (finally!), as I moved deeper into my 30s, the pain of those years started to recede. Sending my eldest to 6th grade was indescribably gut-wrenching, but for the most part, I didn’t think about it much anymore. Although I’ve always been afraid that my children would bully or be bullied (I probably wouldn’t handle that very well.), they’ve been much more confident than I ever was. We still live in Albuquerque; my kids are students in the same school system in which I was educated, but things are different now. They take bullying more seriously.

Last year, I joined Facebook. While I was skipping sleep in that first week, hunting down old boyfriends and making sure my kids weren’t posting their phone numbers for all the world to see, I found all three of them: Kathy, Karen, and Tanya. For weeks, I thought about contacting them, telling them how much they had hurt me. I would see their names show up in comments to mutual friends and it was like a tiny stab. I turned it over in my mind, even starting, then discarding, a few messages.

Ultimately, I decided not to do it. If the first lesson my bullies taught me was “I don’t matter,” how bad would it hurt if the message I got back said, “I have no idea who you are. What the hell are you even talking about?” I knew that would hurt more than I could bear, so I gave up on the idea.

And then.

On March 24, the day before my birthday, a message from Kathy showed up in my Facebook inbox.

Gobsmacked.

I’m at a loss to describe what happened to me in that moment. I was sobbing and shaking before I finished the first sentence. How can a wound that old still be so tender? I can’t answer that, only tell you that it was.

Far from forgetting me, she remembered 6th grade often. These are her some of words:*

My oldest kiddo is ten and we just had his parent/teacher conference this past week. At every conference since he was in kindergarten, his teachers always comment about how accepting he is and how he goes out of his way to be kind and be a good friend to all of his fellow students. And while that is nice to hear about my child, it always makes me think of how I treated you and how for a very long time I have wanted to find a way to get in touch with you to tell you how sorry I am.

Not forgotten. NOT a person who doesn’t matter. Me, worthy of consideration. Me, worthy of the time it took to write a thoughtful, heartfelt apology.

I lay awake all night that night. I thought of nothing but Kathy, and 6th grade, and the other girls, Karen and Tanya, for several days. The letter turned my world inside out, brought me to my knees, and when the storm had passed, a Kathy-shaped piece of pain rose out of me and floated away, and in its place? A new friend. Kathy and I have exchanged more than a dozen messages since that first day and with every message, we’re a little more comfortable, a little less tentative and nervous. I giggle and joke and call it my Facebook miracle, except it’s not really a joke at all.

* * * * *

Recently, bullying stories have been all over the news, stories of girls who ended their lives because of abusive treatment by their peers. For all the anguish I experienced during 6th grade, when I came home from school, the taunting and teasing stopped, completely, until I went back to school. Back then, we didn’t even have cordless phones and answering machines, much less internet and text messages. I can’t imagine I would have survived if Karen, Kathy, and Tanya had had 24/7 access to me.

I’ve long wondered why they did what they did, but even Kathy doesn’t know:

For many years now, I have questioned why I treated you so horribly when we were in school together. And as much as I’ve thought about it and as much as I’ve tried to figure it out, honestly don’t know why. Maybe peer pressure of trying to fit in, maybe joining in with others so that they wouldn’t pick on me, or maybe I was just a horrible, horrible person. Maybe all of the above. But whatever the reason, it does not change the fact that I was wrong to treat you the way I did. I want you to know how very sorry I am. I know I caused you tremendous pain and suffering because of my actions. I want you to know that my apology is sincere and heartfelt. From the very bottom of my heart, I am so very sorry for the abusive way I treated you when we were in school.

Parents, talk to your kids about bullying, because any child can be a bully. Any child can get caught in the swirling social morass of middle and high school. I don’t vilify my bullies anymore; we were all little girls. We were children who, lacking adequate supervision and guidance, found ourselves tangled in a situation that got too big for us. Adults should have saved us, and I do mean us, not me. I suffered from years of shame; Kathy suffered from years of guilt. (Perhaps Tanya and Karen have suffered, too, though I don’t know.) Adult intervention could have protected us all.

Know what your kids are doing at school, how they’re treating other children, and find out what their school’s bullying policies are. Find out if they follow those policies, how they are enforced, and what the grievance procedure is. If there isn’t a policy in place, or if the policy is inadequate, work with some other parents and pressure the school to change it.

And if your child is being bullied in school, do not wait, do not hesitate, do not be scared. Just make it stop. Find a way. I can’t tell you how to make it stop because every situation is different, but if you need the courage to confront the school, you email me and I will pep talk you to the moon. As parents, keeping our kids safe is job one. You can do it.

Because honestly? I would have been better off if my parents had done almost anything, up to and including letting me hang out at home and read books all year. Academically, I learned something between nothing and absolutely zero that year. How could I have learned? That’s like locking someone in the tiger pen at the zoo and insisting they write a 2,000 word discourse on surplus transfer and the birth of capitalism.

For more information about bullying, go to Stop Bullying Now!

* * * * *

I want to thank my lovely, generous Twitter friends who supported me while I wrote this painful story. I couldn’t have done it without all of you cheering me on and reminding me that I’m a bad ass who can keep writing no matter how hard I’m crying.

And Kathy: thank you. From my toes to my head, thank you. I know you feel guilty, but hear this my friend: I forgive you, wholly and completely.

*I’ve included portions of Kathy’s message to me with her permission. Because for all the painful lessons I learned from my bullies, I also learned this one: It’s important to play nice.

There’s a follow-up to this post here.
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119 comments to The Lessons My Bullies Taught Me

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this. My story is similar. The differences: more bullies, and less physical violence, because teachers were always watching and I tended to kick back anyway. I was in the UK. Instead of back problems, my hair fell out. If I wasn’t hiding in the library, I was hiding in the toilet cubicles – even at university I was so terrified of eating lunch on my own and being judged to be unpopular by the people around me, I ate behind the locked doors, sitting on the toilet with the lid down.

    I expect people to reject me, too. My first and only boyfriend dumped me suddenly, on my sister’s birthday, and I thought it was all my fault. I still find myself wondering sometimes what it was that I did that was so awful that he would play with my feelings like that, even though objectively I know he was an idiot and didn’t deserve my feelings. I don’t know how to talk to people I like, people I think are interesting. It’s too scary – I’m afraid of how it would make me feel to have someone I really liked and who’s opinion I treasured reject me again. It practically tore me apart the last time, although it helped me realise all the stuff I put myself through.

    Thank you.

  • It is really interesting to see how similar your story is to the stories of many other people. I myself have a very similar story, even though I grew up in Austria – not just a different country, a different continent, a different culture …

    I was bullied every single school day from age 6-14. I don’t remember much of it. I guess it was better for me to bury those memories in the back of my mind.
    Like you I was bullied for being “stuck up” (amongst many other things) – I had moved from Vienna to the country side and spoke, what they called in a “posh accent”. Of course I was the most insecure person in class, too shy to talk to anybody which made me seem even more stuck up.
    I also avoided bus rides which meant I walked home for 1.5 hours almost every day.
    AND one of the girls who bullied me was called Tanya (but I guess you changed the name so this doesn’t really matter).
    My mother (a single mom) intervened once. When I first got bullied, at 6 years old – I told her about it. She stormed into my school, yelled at all the teachers, the kids, the parents. The week after that was hell, so I decided to never talk about what was happening to me again. She must have known that it hadn’t stopped when I spent many nights of the week crying after school but I guess we both decided that it would be the best if we just stay out of each others business. In retrospect I think it would have been good to at least have somebody to talk about it with.

    Only a handful of people know about the full extend of how much I was bullied and these people are people who used to go to school with me. I only told my husband about it a few weeks ago, when the topic of that girl who committed suicide came up. He was shocked. We were talking about what we would do if our child was bullied. First of all I would never tell my child to “just shut up and let it endure because they’ll eventually go away”. I’d try and teach them comebacks. If that doesn’t work – take them out of school, put them in another school or if you have to – homeschool.

    If you are bullied as a child, you CAN rise above it. But it takes a lot of work and you will always have to deal with it on some level. I also always feel a little bit suspicious when I meet new people. I always think that maybe they don’t really like me. But finally, at least I have learned to like myself.

  • Dea

    Thank you for your story 🙂

  • Rachel

    Thank you for sharing your story. My junior year of high school, I was bullied to the point that I asked my parents to allow me to transfer to a school in another town (I grew up in a rural area) for my senior year. Ultimately I wound up staying for my senior year, but I avoided those classmates as much as I could, which is tough in a school with only 150 students in grades 7-12.

    As much as I’d like to say I never talked to either of those girls again, one of them pledged my sorority when we were freshmen. She apologized to me at initiation. The other girl never apologized to me, but sometime around the time her brother married my sister, I decided it wasn’t worth the energy to hate her anymore.

  • Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. Your story is so heartfelt and genuine, it really touched me.

    Also, I just wanted to say I’m so sorry you didn’t get the support you deserved as a child. I’m not surprised you experienced back pain because in the world of metaphysics, the two go hand in hand. You really did deserve to be supported (and still do). I’m also sorry your parents responded the way they did — they acted out of fear themselves. They also didn’t know what to do. Here was their lovely little girl getting picked on and they didn’t have a clue how to handle it. The easiest response was, “Fight back.” They didn’t understand how impossible it was for you.

    What I hear from your post though is forgiveness and love, and that’s a beautiful thing. Knowing we can go back to our past selves and say, “I love you, I forgive you,” it’s incredibly healing.

    May you feel unconditionally loved now and always. And may your voice inspire the voices of others so we can all live in a world of peace and harmony.

  • Gut-wrenching. This post had me crying, and makes me fear for my 2 yr old son. I promise to not stand by and do nothing if he is bullied or god forbid becomes a bully. I’m glad you’ve gotten some closure.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this. “When I ask for help, I will not get it”: That was true for me in 8th grade, when I was bullied every single day by three guys who surrounded me in class–the desk in front, behind, and next to me. I’d hide at recess. Pray to be left alone. Beg them to stop. They laughed, and NO ONE in the class of 35 ever came to my defense. Not once in six months. I would dread the moment when the teacher had to leave the classroom. When I told her, she offered no help at all. Wouldn’t change my seat. I was afraid to tell my parents, because I was ashamed. I thought there was something wrong with me.

    It was by far the worst time of my life, and I was never the same afterwards.

  • LCW

    Thank you for sharing, I was bullied in high school and wrote a whole post on why I wasn’t going to my 10 yr reunion, because sadly I was a nobody then, and who would miss me now? I was also a teacher and now am raising a daughter. I WILL talk to her about her days at school and I WILL raise her to be compassionate and caring of other people. Thanks again!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I was bullied starting in 6th grade by my group of so-called popular friends. How did I find out that they didn’t want to be my friend anymore? One day I came to lunch and found that they’d given my seat to someone else and that there was “no room for me.” I cried and cried and cried that day. Their torture continued throughout middle school and with a class of only 30 kids, it was impossible to escape them. I started having panic attacks and my self-esteem was nonexistent, which I tried to hide as best I could. My teachers were just as bad as those girls sometimes. Even though I was a great student, they would reinforce my feeling of worthlessness by pointing out my flaws.

    High school wasn’t any better, as my dad was the principal at my small Catholic school. I think this is really where I took on the attitude that everyone hated me and that I was “fundamentally unlikable.” Most kids wouldn’t even give me a chance and I got no attention from boys. At the time, I thought I was hideous, but looking back, I was quite pretty. Still, I’m almost 23 now and these feelings have never left. I look up the girls from junior high from time to time on Facebook. I still hate them so much. I’m terrified of running into them when I go home to visit my parents. Your post really helped me identify that what I still feel about them is fear. It’s amazing how these people still affect the way I feel about myself over 10 years later. Thank you so so much for posting this. It really helps to know that there are other people out there dealing with this.

  • Anonymous

    This post has really made me think. It also makes me want to pay very very close attention to my incredibly sensitive son.

    My ecologist husband said coming of age is the natural point for animals breeding in the wild to establish a pecking order; and to attempt to push others lower than themselves. He also said, animals once they have established their rank behave in that manner throughout their life.

    It takes brave thinkers and talented writers like you to help us all shed the rank we were forced into– and to protect our children from this cruel process.

  • Amy

    Wow. I could have written almost this entire post, VERBATIM — down to the part about having a huge vocabulary and having teachers tell me to “stop using such big words” (at one point a teacher refused to speak to me until I used ONLY words that were two syllables or fewer!!), and down to my parents being totally unsympathetic and telling me that “if this is how you behave, I can see why the other kids hate you”.

    Unfortunately, my story is even LESS happy than yours, in that the bullying continued, for me, from 1st grade through COLLEGE — I know, you wouldn’t think it possible, but human cruelty apparently knows no bounds — and in that no one has ever apologized to me, ever. Not the bullies themselves, not the teachers who blatantly encouraged them, and not my mother or stepfather, who put the entire blame on me.

    I remain as scarred as you were before Kathy contacted you. The vicious teasing and mockery I endured through my entire childhood completely shaped me into who I am now….someone who struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy, security, self-esteem and confidence over a gigantic, poorly-hidden ocean of profound misery, grief and self-hatred. My heart hurts every single day when I think of my own lost potential — who I might have been if I had been taught to believe I was worthy, and important, and loveable — and of the lost potential of ALL children who are bullied…who are learning through that experience that they are less than nothing, when it is NOT the truth, not reality, and not fair.

    Thank you for writing this.

    — Amy
    actor, writer, solo performer
    http://www.amysalloway.com

  • Thank you for writing this.

    I’m going to link to this from my LJ because parts of your story is so similar to what I experienced that it was hard to read. My shyness didn’t start until the 3rd grade though – which is when the teasing and bullying started. I went from being very outgoing to very shy and all the blame for this was put on me. I was told over and over again that I should ignore it and that people could only hurt me if I let them. That’s total BS to say to a kid!

    My roommate also had some pretty horrific bullying when she was in school – including being intentionally hit by a car.

    Again, thank you for sharing this.

  • Finally, someone writes and posts EXACTLY what I went thru, including the pain of being blamed for my own suffering. One of my childhood friends was recently approached by some of the kids who were unkind to him at that age, and he is facing the dilemma of whether to accept their invitation to hang out in person this Summer. Perhaps your words will help him decide. I won’t be accompanying him, however, as I am not over it and don’t trust them. I wonder if I will ever trust anyone after that.

  • As so many others here have written, I experienced bullying similar to yours. I’ll never have closure on it. I’ll never understand why those girls treated me that way, one of whom was supposedly my best friend, who turned on me to keep from being bullied herself.

    I wanted to tell you how brave you are for sharing this. I know you’ve helped countless people by bringing this in the open. You are an excellent writer. Thanks for your message.

  • All props to Kathy for coming to you to apologize all these years later. She should take a look at the Stanford Prison Experiment for insight into why she could so such things. Anyone could, under the right circumstances. To be terribly cruel is human, to be self-sacrificingly (not a word) kind is human. Admitting such things about yourself is extremely difficult and takes a very thoughtful and sensitive person.

  • Ang

    I can’t read this whole post. I want to but then I start crying and have too much to do today to be derailed by the pain. For me, your 6th grade was my 6th grade through 12th grade. I too faked sick. I too had counselors and teachers tell me to just stand up for myself, at one point the high school principal asking me why I didn’t have “tough friends” who could stick up for me. I vividly remember the sit downs with the main girl and her parents, my Mom, teachers and counselors and her blaming how she treated me on my hair. Or how I crack my knuckles against my chin. Or how I held up a pinky when drinking from the milk carton.

    To keep me “safe”, they eventually gave me a pass to go from each class early….passing between classrooms silently, alone, every day. I couldn’t go to football games, dances, even to the mall without threat from these girls. I fantasized taking an unloaded gun to school to hold them hostage, just one day, one hour….just to make them understand how it feels to be the victim, to be afraid.

    My parents tried, but there was so little press about it then that they had no idea what they *could* do. So they did the best they could. It was the school…..my teachers, my principal, my counselors. They were the ones who failed.

    Funny, 25ish years later that reading this (and all the horrors lately with bullying in the news) brings things back so vividly. I have a 7 year old daughter now, and she too (like me) has an incredible imagination and vocabulary. I worry. Because I still don’t feel like anyone really *can* fix this when it happens to a child……and it scares the hell out of me.

    Thank you for being brave enough to dig into your memories and write this.

  • Here from Javagoth. Wow, I could’ve written this. Thanks for writing it.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this. It made me cry and remember my own experiences being bullied – thank goodness one of my teachers actually did something when I told them about it. Just thank you.

  • 6th grade was also the worst for me. There must be something about that age.

    I also went to the library instead of the cafeteria.

    Thanks for writing this. I know it must have been difficult. It’s revealing to see it from Kathy’s point of view too.

    HB

  • I love you. In a non creepy way.

    I love that you were able to write this post and share this with us. I love that you have managed to forgive “Kathy.” And I hope that this post will have the effect of having parents examine their own lives and their children’s lives and see what’s going on. Thank you for your honesty and yep, I love you. 🙂

  • I admire you so for writing this.

    & I admire Kathy, for becoming the woman she has.

    You are an amazing person & you do matter. I’m person #71 to make sure you know that 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing this.

    My time in sixth grade was the worst time in my life too.

    I still remember the lyrics to the song that a group of boys made up about me and taught to an entire class full of kids. I remember walking down stairs and wondering what it would feel like to hurl myself down them until my neck broke.

    I am so glad you shared this story, and I hope we all have some wisdom when our kids are these ages. It sounds terrifying to me.

  • Kim

    You are a warrior. Know that.

  • Meg

    I’ve now read this a couple of times and it’s really painful to read but really well written.
    Hugs to you girl, Meg

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for writing this. I could have written it too, except that I think I’m too worthless and nobody will listen to what I write.

    I’m suspicious of people complimenting me, I assume that a new group of people is going to barely tolerate me rather than welcoming me, and a chill runs through me at the sound of laughing children. It’s one of the most evil sounds I can think of.

    Holy crap on one of these people apologizing. I’ve never heard of anything like that. If any of mine did it I would not be a big enough person to forgive them, much less make friends. They deserve to have their apologies thrown back in their faces, as far as I’m concerned.

  • I finally got through all the comments and now can post my own. 🙂

    I too suffered at the hands of mean girls. When I was in 6th grade I was given a 5 page note that had “People Who Hate Cindy” at the top and signatures of my classmates below. Even when I found out that the person who gave me the note had written the top part after everyone signed the paper, I felt awful. Why did I care what she thought so much? Why did I care what every one thought of me through middle and high school? I was so convinced that other girls didn’t like me (and that this meant that I was unworthy of doing anything that I liked) that I stopped playing softball, a sport that probably would have gotten me a college scholarship, because of the mean girls.

    Fortunately, I can now answer why I was like this. I was taught very early on from my stepmom that I needed to earn love from her so I thought I had to earn it from everyone, that I wasn’t deserving of love just because I was born.

    On a different note, despite my horrible experience in 6th grade, I decided that 6th grade would be a fine grade to teach after a few years in the primary grades. What a mistake that was! I was not nearly witty nor tough skinned enough to survive. I did a second year just to be sure that I didn’t really like it, but then quickly moved to a lower grade. I think I would have liked teaching 6th grade in an all boys school…they were still mostly sane in 6th grade and were just as befuddled by 6th grade girls as I was. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing such an emotional experience with us. You are so very, very brave.

    Mommy C

  • Anonymous

    I, too, was bullied in school – to the point that I feared for my life on a daily basis. The teachers were complicit in the violence and actively encouraged it. Some of the most dangerous attacks on me occurred in the classroom, in full view of the teacher, who did nothing. My parents were well-meaning but useless. No amount of “self-defense” will help a smallish 11-year-old girl against five attackers twice her size. No amount of “just ignore them and they will go away” will help when the adversary is hitting you over the head with a full bookbag.

    I learned to fear people. I learned to hide. I learned to be alone. I learned to hate myself. I thought about dying. I developed a stutter. I chewed the skin off my fingertips until they bled.

    And then, years later, after the scars faded somewhat, I extracted a different lesson from what my bullies did. I learned to appreciate human kindness – there was a time when no one was kind to me. I learned to reach out to those who may be lonely, or sad, or in pain – there was a time when I was lonely, sad, and in pain. As a result of the abovementioned behaviors, I made friends. And somewhere along the way, I learned to accept myself for who I was, and to make peace with myself.

    I have not forgiven my bullies. I would not have accepted that kind of apology, and I would not have renewed contact. I am very glad they are all far away. But I have absorbed the lessons they taught me.

    • Mary G.

      I attempted suicide twice by the time I was 15. Get a clue world…. that doesn’t happen when adults pay attention to what’s going on in a young girl’s life!

  • Val

    Painful childhood experiences can feel as raw as the day the traumatic event occurred years ago. I think it has something to do with being an innocent child. We are protected in our cocoon of ignorance only a child knows until something unfathomable occurs. As a child we have no concept of evil. When we experience deliberate pain from others, at one time we considered safe, we are forced to see the cruel reality of existence. We have no control over what others think or do. Yet, as a child we yearn so deeply to be loved, because we came from love and that’s all we know. As bitter as these experiences are they have opened a door for you to choose to become the ugliness bulling is or open up a new capacity to love and protect the ones that bully and the ones that are bullied. In my opinion the girls just wanted to fit in and you provided a way to make themselves feel better about them selves. My heart goes out to you because I know what it is like to not “fit in” at school, and feel more safe hanging out in the library during lunch periods. After reading the numerous comments, I know without a doubt we are both not alone. Which makes me wonder what the definition of normal is? Everyone of us has to step back and realize we are not deficit! We were merely jumping through a hurdle that we let make us or brake us. It is really are choice in the end to let the pain go, and realize the lessons it taught us. Thanks for sharing!

  • […] it is impossible to read this without […]

  • […] can’t stop thinking about the post at No Points For Style on bullying.  It’s one of the most affecting things I’ve read in a long, long time.  Please read […]

  • Alyssa

    we all suffer sometimes in someway. children, men, women, dogs, squirrels. but only humans can do more than just survive suffering. they can chase happiness. the more import you place on the suffering of your life, the more you minimize your achievements, your work, your happiness, and ultimately your value. suffering is not important. the voracious pursuit of happiness is the only goal in life. if you dwell on your unhappiness and how much more that has affected you than the things you have done to make yourself happy, then you have no value and no longing to really live.

  • […] the only thing we need to be worried about. The problem is bigger than that. Someone shared this link with me last night and it really moved me. Not only because of the story she tells, but because […]

  • Reading this, my heart was breaking for you. I am so sorry that you were left to suffer through such a horrible time in your life. It really is a blessing that Kathy contacted you and you were able to experience forgiveness and to heal a little bit.

    I could relate to your story. When I was 11, we moved across the country. I went from a happy public school fifth grader to a miserable, private school outcast. My self esteem was shattered and once a child learns those awful lessons that you listed here, I don’t know that they can ever be removed.

    As the mother of four, two of whom are in middle school (and one with an obvious disability), I like to think that karma might play a role in protecting our children from experiencing such bullying. I am hopeful, for I just don’t know if I could face it again… every hurt that my kids’ feel hurts me even more than my own experiences did.

    Thank you for sharing your story so bravely.

  • […] A great blog post on bullying and a video message from Ellen […]

  • […] week the very brave and fantastic Adrienne from No Points for Style wrote a post about being bullied throughout her childhood. Please head on over there, read her wonderful blog, and COMMENT because she totally deserves the […]

  • Reading this just breaks my heart. I couldn’t get all of the way through it without crying. I was in a situation very, very similar to yours when I was in elementary & middle school and I know the lasting mental and emotional scars that it leaves behind. I’m nearly 30 years old and to this day I still have issues with anxiety in social situations and I am constantly expecting rejection. I think that a lot of parents and teachers alike underestimate the impact that bullying can have on a kid. Thank you for sharing your story!
    Kimberly recently posted..Friday at last

  • Jen

    Wow! I read this and it was my seventh grade year and it was *gasp* boys who made fun of me. It was horrible. I never told my mom or any adult because I was being blamed for my parents divorce at the time and everything. But I have something else to add. I went to my high school reunion the 10 year one. It cost a tiny fortune but I went. The ring leader bully boy came up to me and my family and apologized in person to me. That one apology made the entire reunion price worth it. I forgave him and I haven’t spoken or seen or heard from him since, but that apology made a world of difference. Helped me regain something I had lost and I needed as an adult. Confidence. So I understand and I appreciate your journal. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mary G.

    My daughter’s pre-school experience was similar to what you described for yourself. When I’d go pick her up in the afternoons, she’d burst into tears as we stepped across the threshold of the school, then sob all the way home. I’d hold her in my arms and rock her for an hour after we got home.

    It was baffling to the teacher, who said that she “seems happy all day at school”.

    This is why I pulled her OUT of school and educated her at home for the remaining 12+ years. She’s now a happy and healthy young woman. Everyone loves her because she’s so kind and generous to others. I wish your parents had made the same decision.

    I’m SO glad you received some healing with Kathy though. That’s quite a gift!

    Be well.

  • Marcie

    I’m so sorry you endured such a horrible experience. Nobody deserves to be bullied. To make a long story short, I was also bullied. On and off from 5th grade through 12th. It wasn’t constant, and it wasn’t always the same girls, but it was enough to be a real pain in the butt. I was terrified of everything. One thing they didn’t do, however, was shake my self-worth of my self-confidence. I knew the bullying was their problem. Fast forward, I’m 45 now and found most of these creeps via Facebook. Just as I suspected, none of them have amounted to anything, they have miserable lives and look decades older than they are. That alone is sweet retribution for me. Best wishes to you and your family.

  • Wendy

    I thought I was the only one.

  • Heather

    Your story is so close to mine except my bully which was also my bestfriend actually apologized to me when we were teenagers. I forgave her then, but now that I’m an adult late 20’s I have a hard time forgiving her. I don’t want to forgive her now or be her friend anymore. We are not close anymore but talk occasionally over fb. I think I have a much harder time now because I don’t feel I need her as a friend or in mylife anymore. I now have more confidence and friends to surround myself with who I want to.
    Thank you so much for your post. You write very beautifully!

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  • fighting man

    My experiances were pretty hardcore and i would have my face bloodied from the age of 5… Ive grown into some what of a protector of the week and a serious fighting man… Im the guy whos already dead with nothing to lose that will not think twice about maming a bad person… I punish and take great pleasure… The pain i endure now makes me more determined to exact revenge on my opponant… I am intelligent enough to see that my behavior is exceptional. But i was the one kid that endured extreme violence so should i not become an exceptional individual. Some say i should of become a soldier but i can not inflict pain on those whome i have not judged personally… I am equally as kind as i am furious…here in lies my resolve…
    Thankyou for posting your experiance…

  • becca

    I went through this as well. I was also depressed by then and clearly remember people saying “I can’t deal with you today, you’re just too sad.”

    Our youngest started being bullied as soon as we moved here. We’ve told them all, she told her teacher and her counselor and the constant refrain is that they didn’t see it so they can’t do anything about it. Our response has been to remove our child from the district, and homeschool her. Maybe in a few years we’ll be able to move, but I couldn’t let her keep suffering here.

  • Matthew

    I was once tall and very skinny with a long neck and a funny shape. My cheeckbones were so defined, my face didn’t even look all that great. I was bullied alot, usually by groups of people through most of my schooling. I was beat up often, had my shoes thrown in the trash on one occasion, humiliated of awful ways that were degrading among many other things. I was once
    beat up by a classroom of 20 people and during
    my school career, two principles and three teachers bullied me with their power. I was once beat up by two guys and they dry humped the back of my head afterwards in my own neighborhood. This one guy would hit me and ran away several occasions. The rumors were bad two. I still had my virginity and the rumors were I was a girl in disguise, I was anorexic, had both sets of genitals, had no genitals, had a tiny penis, lost half of my penis in an accident, had a deformed penis, people were told I was gay, bisexual and none of it was true. I worked out like a madman post high school and muscled up to 200 pounds with a height of nearly six foot three. I now have the face of a male model as well. My strength in on par with guys twice my size and no one ever tries to bully me unless they are from my past and forget I was much smaller and incredibly weak back then. I wish I had gotten closure and I sometimes wish to rectify the situation since I have dabbled in mixed martial arts. I’m a big guy that suffers from muscle dis morphia meaning I have days where I feel rail thin, most likely resulting from the skinny jokes I endured. On top of this, my dad tried to bully me until i got bigger after my senior year. The girls that were mean to me in the past either can’t look me in the eye or wants me but I get satisfaction in the fact the ones that want me can’t have me and know it. Many of my former bullies either avoid me or kiss up but I never once got an apology for it. I do however get satisfaction in the fact many of my old bullies can only dream of looking how I do now as petty as that sounds. Maybe that should be some form of closure.

  • Brandi

    I still have horrid nightmares from how people gossiped & lied about me in Jr High & then in High School too, almost 20 years later and still haunted. My classmates thought (thought key word there) they knew me, but they never gave me a chance. It was more fun for them to call me horrid names & spread horrid rumors than to get to know me & realize I was just a girl who wanted friends & had been a victim of a rape. It was more fun for them to assume things than just ask me…It was more fun for them to make up lies & gossip & berate me & talk to me like I was dirt then for them to actually get to know me. I had to act strong, act like I didn’t care but they knew, deep down they knew. I wasn’t a good actress, it was obvious I was hurting inside, but hey what they did to me sure made them feel better about themselves. Till this day they treat me like I am below them when I see some of them. I sometimes wonder if they even realize just how mean they where. If they even cared. If how their lies & gossip they spread even mattered to them. It mattered to me. They thought they knew me because I had to “act” strong & confident but fact was they never even knew me at all, I was just a girl who wanted friends who actually cared & liked me for me inside but they never bothered to find that out….the me they never bothered to know but rushed to gossip & lie about. I tried to use the facts of what they did to remind me to always be kind to others cause you never know what someone maybe going through, if someone your path crosses feels sad & hurt inside too & maybe a shining act of kindness maybe just what that person needs. I try to shine for others, to give another hurt soul what others denied me. I try. I don’t know if I ever do any good but I try….that is about the only thing I learned from my some of classmates mistakes of how they treated me. Their past actions still make me shy away from real interaction from them & I truly hope they someday realize how cruel they actually where & are sorry & they change for the better but when I think back at some of them they make me cringe at the thought of them and they more than likely always will…they taught me how I never want to treat others.

  • Tasha Williams

    Been bullied my whole life at home and at school and I hated it every bit it of it worst experience no child should go through and just like you no one helped or gave a damn about it and just found ways to make me feel like it was my fault or that i was too defensive when they ganged up against me but didn’t give two shits about me when I needed their asses to help me so fuck em’

  • Mary

    This is so close to my own story, right down to having a tormentor named Tanya. My year of torture was 1976, and part of 1977 (6th and 7th grade). Like you, I got absolutely no support from my parents, and they believed I must have been doing something to deserve it. I had my halter top ripped off my body in the school cafeteria and was dragged around exposed while the teachers on duty did nothing. Perhaps they approved.

    I just wanted to let you know there are still people out here reading your article and benefiting from it. My your life be rich with joy and love.

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