Bullying in its simplistic form is petty. Fully blown it leaves an indelible mark on the person who it targets and, in extreme cases, can result in the victim suiciding. Unfortunately, as a fifteen year old I didn’t consider the ramifications of my own behaviour as a bully. The truth is I was vacuous and justified my bullying with self-righteousness.
A few years ago, at a school reunion for my level at secondary school, I apologised to the woman who I bullied at school. She accepted my apology and thanked me for the acknowledgement, a gracious act on her behalf.
My apology on the night of the reunion was sincere, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope that it would absolve my actions just a little. It didn’t. It simply made the memory of my shameful behaviour more tangible and regrettable.
Back in secondary school, a close friend of mine had a falling out with a girl who would become the target for bullying. As a result of the dispute, this girl decided to also stop talking to me. This infuriated me and I wanted payback. Soon after the bickering and bullying began.
What intensified this period of bullying is that I did not act alone. I don’t think I would have had the gall to treat someone with such open disregard all of my own accord. There was a group of around six of us (all female) who frequently taunted this girl with anything ranging from whispering in front of her, pulling faces and hurling insults to arguments pitting six of us against one. It was relentless and puerile, and it carried through much of the school year.
One of my most shameful acts during this time was when I hatched a plan for the group to “make friends” with this girl who was openly relieved by the offer. When the moment arrived to make amends we all lined up in a row and told her that we didn’t want to be her friend and then laughed in her face.
As an adult, it’s difficult for me to reconcile my behaviour. It’s like finding a piece to a jigsaw puzzle only to discover it doesn’t fit. How is it that I could have been so cruel?
It’s commonly recognised that bullies feel insecure or disempowered in their own lives and so the act of domination or bullying is an ineffectual style of defence.
The girl who we bullied was not what you’d expect your typical victim to be. She was attractive, confident and outspoken and for a long time I somehow justified that she was getting her just deserts. In retrospect I think I was jealous of this girl’s beauty and ebullience even though I wasn’t unpopular myself and was certainly no wallflower. Under a confident exterior, I was extremely insecure which only became apparent later in my 20s when I developed an anxiety disorder.
Insecurity does not justify bullying. Nothing does. Only for my own conscience have I tried to find rhyme and reason for my behaviour. Unfortunately, though, the damage has already been done.
Eventually this girl’s parents spoke to the school Principal to complain about the bullying and we were reprimanded. Until this point, I was so self-involved that I didn’t see how traumatic this experience was for this girl. It took the intervention of an adult in authority for me to understand some of the impact, though it would take me years to fully comprehend it.
From that day onwards in the Principal’s office, there was no further bullying though in the next school year this girl went to live with her extended family in Spain for a year to recover from the ordeal.
Today, there’s a proliferation of information and support available in regards to bullying. And I do believe that education and quick intervention is paramount in decreasing the occurrence and impact of it. In my own experience, intervention was instrumental in stopping my own bullying behaviour.
Of course cyber bullying, the latest incarnation of bullying, is more difficult to monitor and control. While the internet has inspired an unprecedented freedom of speech, this doesn’t come without its complications. I do believe software creators and proprietors have some responsibility in how this plays out.
Admitting that I was a teenager bully is incredibly embarrassing. But by far the worst of it is the knowledge that I caused another person psychological harm.
Last year, a week before Christmas, the woman who I bullied at school died of breast cancer. It sounds conceited of me to inject my feelings on her passing given the circumstances but I was really saddened by the news. Mortality is always shocking and, leaving a partner and young child behind, 45 is too young for anyone to die. I’m also deeply regretful that in my memory of her I’ll always be one of the girls who bullied her at school.
Friday 15th March is National Day of Action Against Bullying.