Admitting you were a bully

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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.

 

27 comments

  • Cyber bullying is a terrible issue with no easy answer. There is no way for a teenager to simply turn off their Phone or block the bully from social media sites. And ever since PCs removed their off switches and chained kids to their seats there is no way for them to not be a target.

    Commenter
    Dean
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 8:24AM
    • I once bullied a boy in primary school and the early states of high school. We isolated him, left him out and teased him. We were never violent.

      I recently found out that his mother walked in on him trying to hang himself during our time in high school. I can't help but think he was motivated to hang himself as a result or partially due to the isolation and ridicule we imposed on him.

      I've never been so ashamed of my behaviour in all of my life. It seems like the child I was during primary school was basically a sociopath who experienced joy from isolating and humiliating this boy for six continual years. Then, for no particular reason, during high school the empathy switch turned on and I totally changed into a normal, caring human who stuck up for kids when they were being bullied.

      Even though it feels absolutely horrible to be the "bad guy" and I will always be ashamed, I'm sure its nothing compared to what this boy experienced and is probably still affected by.

      Commenter
      A
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:17AM
  • This gave me Goosebumps! I was a bully, I was bullied - then became a bully, albeit the follower bully and not the leader bully. I feel the same way you do now - how could I ever have been so mean? Perhaps there is an empathy chip missing whilst growing as a women, hormones raging.

    I have since apologised, as an adult - via Facebook, to those 2 girls I was horrible to. The great thing to see now, is that they are great young women living great lives - and although I’m sure I have damaged them somewhat, they haven’t crumbled because of it. The only solace I find in my behaviour all of those years ago.

    Commenter
    Sarah
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 8:43AM
    • This is an interesting article and I hope it helps get the discussion started on the long terms effects of bullying.

      In high school I was bullied by a girl who I'd been friends with - it was horrendous and long term in the end peaking when I was in year 10 - 1994. All sorts of things happened - similar to the 're-friending' then rejection described by Karla above. It did do damage. It set me up to accept all kinds of inappropriate behaviour including being bullied in the workplace and in a long term relationship. It sets up patterns for how you live your life. My bully and I ran into each other at a mutual friends wedding in 2007. We had a tearful and heartfelt re-union and became solid friends again. For a few years we maintained a good relationship until once again she started bullying me again. I was incredulous. And more than a little heartbroken. Bullying is a big deal - as pervasive and damaging as any other form of abuse. It affects the victim and the bully and the lives of the people connected to them both. Good work on this article! Ongoing discussion is the only way to get this out into the light.

      Commenter
      pilot78
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 9:22AM
      • Plus one.
        I was even lined up against a wall while blindfolded and had a tennis ball thrown at my testicals by the flammin troop leader at Scouts. great example that bloke set and of course others followed his lead.

        When you receive no support you believe your doing something wrong and just quitely accepting that which is rediculous becomes a habit.

        When i finished school, I hurdled the fence and never looked back..
        On the flip side those that are bullied usually turn out to be the most caring, sharing and lovely people in world... Cause they would NEVER want to make anybody feel how they used to be made to feel.

        Commenter
        Baen
        Location
        banmel
        Date and time
        February 06, 2013, 2:21PM
    • Great article. I was bullied so badly by a mean spirited girl in my group of "friends" that I ended up changing schools. This girl was horrible. I often would love to go back to that time with the knowledge I have now as a 30 year old and give that girl a piece of my mind. She was unattractive, inside and out, and I have no idea how she became some powerful. I was not the only one she bullied in our group, she took turns. Eventually everyone saw her for what she really was and she got her own just desserts, which was very satisfying for me. It has only been through recent therapy that I have realised how deeply that experience has affected my adult life. Good on you for having the courage to admit your wrong doings, I think most of us are ashamed when we think back on our teenage years.

      Commenter
      Jemima
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 10:06AM
      • Great article - thank you for sharing.

        I think for many people school and high school are difficult and often everyone (no matter where they sit in the pecking order) plays the role of both bully and bullied.

        Unfortunately some people get bullied a lot more than others and other people tend to do more bullying than the rest.

        It's a very challenging and complex situation and i think at that age, adult intervention is definitely required. Bully's also need to be worked with to determine why they pick on others... is there something going on at home? Are they struggling with school/grades?

        There could be a number of reasons causing the negative behaviour.

        In most cases when kids pick on others at school I believe its done in a sort of lighthearted joking way and the next day everything is fine... but in cases of extensive and ongoing bullying I believe there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

        Thankfully you were a bully that realised the error of her ways and did not go on to become a workplace bully of which there are plenty around.

        Commenter
        Adrian
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 06, 2013, 10:55AM
        • I still don't get the reason for bullying others. How does making someone feel bad make you feel better? I came from an abusive,violent home, but I never had the inclination to take out my pain on someone else. In fact I would stand up for victims of bullies.
          Bullies disgust me.

          Commenter
          Les
          Date and time
          February 06, 2013, 11:15AM
          • It doesn't make most people feel better. My husband was bullied all the way through school. Once he tried bullying another kid but it just made him feel bad.

            I suspect the bullies have very little power in their lives except in the school yard.

            Commenter
            Sapphyre
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            February 06, 2013, 1:56PM
          • Thank you, Les. I completely agree. I was beaten up at home, bullied at school, and all it taught me was that this was exactly the way I never wanted to treat another person. Bullies have no excuse. They are not victims, they are perpetrators.

            Commenter
            Red Pony
            Date and time
            February 06, 2013, 2:23PM

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