I remember one episode during my childhood when I was chased home by a group of girls I didn’t know. They kicked at me, called me names, and scared the bejesus out of me. I didn’t tell anyone at the time that this had happened – especially not my mother! If fact, this is the very first time I have mentioned that memory. I never knew what it was I had done to cause them to treat me this way – because I was sure it must have been something I’d done or said that caused the abuse – but I was relieved when it never happened again.
We didn’t talk about bullies or bullying then. They were just a fact of the school yard and playground. And we dealt with bullies and bullying alone, and in whatever way we could. This usually meant internalizing the insults, taunts, and physical abuse (if it led to physicality), not reporting, not accusing, not complaining. After all, it must have been something that we, the bullied, must have done or said to cause ourselves to be bullied – to become victims – in the first place.
I was fortunate this was the only incident during my school years. I figured when I left high school that I was home-free! After all, bullying only happened in school, right? Wrong! I’ve since learned that bullying can happen throughout your life. Bullies age, just as we all do, and unless they’re caught and stopped, they also continue bullying throughout their lives – as friends, neighbours, colleagues, in the workplace, even as politicians and other elected and appointed officials. (We’ve seen several international bullies thankfully “taken down” over these past few years.) The difference between then, when I was still in school, and now is that bullying and dealing with bullies is very much in the news. What I’ve learned from all this coverage of the issue is that it’s not about me and my problems that cause me to have been bullied, but it’s about the bullies themselves, and why they bully in the first place. Bullying others not only gives them a sense of power over their victims, but is also a means of masking their own inadequacies, their lack of self-esteem, and in some cases the sense that they themselves are the victim. By giving into these bullies, and allowing them to continue, unchecked, we feed that sense that they are getting the better of us, that they are somehow superior to those who they choose to bully. What I know now that I didn’t know at that one time I was being bullied during my school years, is that the best way to deal with a bully is to ignore them, to walk away. Essentially, that’s what I did with the girls who bothered me at that time and, fortunately, they left me alone after that. But what I did not do was to speak up and tell someone else that I had been bullied. To expose those bullying girls to the light of day. But, as I said, I thought it was my fault I was being bullied.
So, when bullying happened to me again, as an adult, I did not publicly expose the bullies, but instead just walked away. In one case, it didn’t occur to me I was actually being bullied, but now I realize that making malicious comments about me to mutual friends, spreading rumours and untruths, misrepresenting me to others – including potential clients – can also be considered bullying. Another time, when I was bullied by a serial bully whom everyone agreed was a bully and that I was merely flavour of the month – in the wrong place at the wrong time, I walked away from that bully, too – as well as a paying job – because I received no backing or support from those who should have helped me at the time. The one positive thing I had learned by that point in my life, however, is that this wasn’t about me or anything I had done. It was the bully who had the problem. So I didn’t internalize the bullying, and I knew to avoid that particular bully and have nothing further to do with them again. That’s when I also realized that bullying can happen in the workplace and isn’t something kids alone must deal with in the school yard. The main benefit that came for me at the time was I was pushed towards setting out on my own and developing Alberta Books Canada. So something very positive came out of this for me. But that bully, and the bully’s enablers, have remained unchecked.
During this past year, I have been cyberbullied, receiving emails and blog comments (which I deleted before they made their way onto my blog) from someone who has taken it into their head that I somehow pose a threat to them – that I have being doing things against them, and they have essentially blamed me for their shortcomings, failures, inadequacies. I tried reasoning with this bully by email, addressing their accusations, trying to deal in an adult manner, but nothing I said made any difference – they were bent on my apologizing to them for all these imagined wrongs. (And the wrongs I was accused of committing were definitely happening solely in this bully’s imagination.) I just decided that, as in the other bullying instances in my life, I would delete the emails and have no further contact with this person. Besides, I considered, if I actually had been responsible for all these slights and injustices, why would this bully ever want me to be their friend? It just didn’t make sense.
What I have now learned is that bullies often consider themselves to be a victim of bullying and will lash out to blame everyone else for their own sense of victimization. This situation is explained in an article in Scientific American: Typical bullies have negative attitudes toward others, feel badly about themselves, and most likely grew up in a home with conflict. Victims share much of same, negative attitude, conflict in the family. I have not yet had a chance to research this concept more fully, but will look into it. This certainly presents a new twist to me – a bully who perceives they are the victim and have used bullying tactics to lash out at those they perceive done ’em wrong.
Now, I never would have been prompted to go public with all of this about bullying, posting to my blog and talking with other friends about this recent situation in particular, had my bully not stepped out of cyberspace and into my face, attacking me publicly and in front of other colleagues. And if the bully hadn’t continued trying to lobby against me and to win others over to seeing and agreeing with their side of things. At first, I tried to reason with this bully, but quickly gave up when, just as in previous emails, I could see there was no way of possibly reasoning at all. Just as I had in past episodes, I walked away. What else could I do? Fortunately, unlike with the emails, there were witnesses. And I have since heard from others that I am not the first to have been bullied by this particular person.
But what of the bully? As long as they are enabled by people who listen to them, believe them or, worse, are intimidated by them and don’t walk away or ignore them, then they will continue to find new victims and the bullying will never stop. We need to deflate the bullies. We need to realize that bullies are the ones with the problem, not us, those who they pick on and bully – unless we enable them. As long as we enable, there will be bullies. But the bullies also need to take that first step and admit that they are actually bullies. I’d like to know how we manage to get them to take that first step, especially if they have been living with this delusion that they are not wrong and are themselves, in effect, the victim.
I am trying to put a positive spin on this episode. I am not a victim, nor a bully. And I had it in mind anyway to write a novel about bullying, so this recent situation has now added grist to the mill and pumped up my storyline by giving me firsthand experience. I have faith that my friends and colleagues who know me will not be swayed by this bully’s smearing tactics of my character and reputation. I will NOT be a victim!
And, since this post was published, I have indeed written a novella and the story is about teenage bullying, titled “Teach Your Children Well.”