I’ve been a victim of severe bullying from age 4-16. I’ve often heard I did things wrong, I wasn’t this enough or I didn’t do that well enough. It make me often doubt myself and my abilities to do things. Even to points where I’d just not do it because I thought I would mess […]
Graduation was bittersweet. Although I was happy to graduate high school, I was sad because I would miss my classmates and teachers from Roseburg High. I felt that it ended too soon.
My first five years post-graduation was full of ups and downs. I struggled with bouts of depression and didn’t know why. I was on the rollercoaster again and desperately wanted to get off but didn’t know how. Having babies and being a post-partum new mother only doubled the depression that was already there.
I lived, and I worked. I was a mother of two small children but only going through the motions and surviving- existing. It felt as if I was living on autopilot. But then, something amazing happened!
In 1995, I came across a magazine article while on my lunch break at work. The article was about a kid severely bullied at school. Like me, his bullies had tormented him so horrifically that he thought about suicide and eventually transferred to another school. Also, like me, his life changed for the better. He, too, had made a complete turnaround and finally gotten the chance to experience the friends, fun, and excitement that high school was supposed to be.
Reading this article was a turning point for me, and finding it was one of the best things that happened. This piece in the magazine answered so many questions and confirmed that none of the abuse I’d suffered at my classmates’ hands was my fault. The article was also validation that there was never anything wrong with me. It only cemented the truth I’d always known deep down inside- I wasn’t to blame for their abuse.
They were the perpetrators.
They had the issues.
I was being held responsible for problems that were theirs, not mine.
With this confirmation came my empowerment!
During those years, many people, including a few well-meaning family members, had often told me that the bullying I suffered was all in my imagination or wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. Many more had said to me that I brought it all on myself. Deep down, I knew better.
In my heart, I had known the truth years before I found this article and held on to it. Maybe this personal knowledge was why I resisted my bullies and fought back, even if it meant getting hurt. And perhaps it was why I suffered so many physical assaults. Nevertheless, I needed confirmation- a second opinion of sorts, and the article was exactly what I needed.
At that moment, everything fit together like a perfect puzzle! I cannot express the relief I felt. It was as if the article had lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders. My heart began to soar!
For the first time, I was able to see the bullying for what it was- abuse!
I began to thirst for even more knowledge of bullying and the human predator/prey dynamic. From then on, I read everything I could get my hands on- magazine articles, essays, books, online articles, everything that pertained to bullying and peer abuse.
There were so many unanswered questions:
“What was it about me that made me a target?”
“How had my bullies been allowed to get away with their brutality?”
“What was it about my bullies that made them so charming and good to everyone else?”
The word Answer on a puzzle piece to symbolize the quest for understanding in answering questions and concerns
“What were the ingredients to their charm and allure?”
“Where had their intense hate, mean-spiritedness, and sadistic natures come from? What had precipitated it?”
“Had they too been abused, or were they just spoiled, coddled narcissists infected with schadenfreude?”
So many questions haunted me and increased my curiosity. So, I continued digging for information, like a police detective eager to solve a case.
During the late nineties, I came across Tim Field’s BullyOnline.org and hungrily read every one of his articles. The website was massive, and it took a while to read. I went through it with a fine-toothed comb. If I had questions, I emailed Tim, and he would always reply in a timely and courteous manner.
Sadly, Mr. Field is no longer with us. He passed away from cancer years ago.
It’s been 25 years since I found the article that changed my life, and I cannot tell you how many sources of information I’ve poured through. I can’t measure the truckloads of knowledge attained and how much just the knowing has empowered me.
Between experience and two and a half decades of reading, research, and study, I’ve gained insights that have empowered me even more. That article back in 1995 set me on a path to greater knowledge and a passion for helping other bullying targets through writing and advocacy.
I’ve found what I love to do, and it is so rewarding!
I thank God for placing that article in front of me that day at work. Otherwise, I might still be wandering in the dark and trying to find my way.
That magazine article truly changed my outlook on the bullying I suffered. I no longer see it as something that ruined my life. No.
I see the bullying as an event that gave me a fiery passion for speaking out about my own experiences and sharing the knowledge I’ve gained to help people who endure bullying today. It showed me my life’s work and, through that, gave me eventual confidence and happiness.
I do not need to hate my bullies, nor to take revenge. Turning abuse around to the benefit of others is how I turn victimization into power! And that, my friends, is the best revenge a person can ever take!
If you’re a target of bullying, know this:
What’s happening to you is wrong and it isn’t your fault. You never asked to be brutalized, you do matter, and you are enough!
First and foremost, I’d like to thank Amber, a friend and fellow blogger who inspired me to write this post.
The healing certainly didn’t happen overnight. My trial by fire ended during my senior year when I finally managed to escape my Oakley High School bullies through a school transfer. My new school, Roseberg High, felt like a paradise! Everyone there accepted me as I was, and I made so many new friends. I felt safe again and was finally able to relax and be myself.
I felt as if my life was finally beginning, and I could finally put Oakley High School behind me and move on. But it didn’t come without a few hang-ups. The last several months at Roseburg were the best of all four years of high school, but I didn’t realize that I was still carrying a lot of leftover baggage from the severe abuse I suffered at the old school.
Although I was in a much safer learning environment, there were afternoons during my first month at Roseburg when I’d have a long cry after I got home from school. Being four months pregnant at the time, I mistook the tears for the raging hormones of pregnancy.
Though I loved my new school and all the people there, I regretted that I couldn’t have transferred schools earlier than I had. I was grieving the loss of so many years- years that I could never get back.
My then-husband worked a twelve-hour graveyard shift, and I spent most nights at home alone. In the afternoons, he would be asleep when I’d come in from school. So, I had plenty of time to grieve.
During those times, I also suffered flashbacks of the bullying, and they would come automatically and without warning- flashbacks of being shoved to the floor, brutally beaten, cursed out, and yelled at. At night I’d have nightmares.
In these nightmares, I’d be swimming in a lake and enjoying the water. Suddenly I’d stop and look around to see that my classmates from Oakley High were in the water as well, and they surrounded me. One of them would push my head underwater, and I’d fight like crazy to come back up for air.
But as soon as I’d get my head above water and gasp for breath, they’d shove me back under again. Once more, I’d have to hold my breath and fight with my arms flailing in the water, trying to come up and get away from them.
Finally, I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and had no other choice but to give up the fight to live. Just as I inhaled and felt the searing burn of water fill my lungs, I’d wake up with a jolt. I also had another dream that one of my old bullies hunted me down and shot me. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, so frightened I couldn’t move a muscle. I’d only lay there, trembling in the darkness.
During my first month out, I also dealt with a lot of sadness and anger that didn’t show. Roseburg High was my happy place, and while I was there during the day, I didn’t have those emotions, nor did I have the flashbacks. The sadness, anger, flashbacks, and dreams only happened when I was home alone or sleeping, and I wanted so badly to forget about Oakley and live in the present.
During that month, I also felt a degree of shame- shame that I now realize wasn’t mine to bear. In my mind, I’d ask myself,
“What’s wrong with me? I’m out of that hellhole now! I should be happy about that! And I am, but why do I keep having these episodes of crying and feeling angry any time I’m alone?”
When I felt angry, I wasn’t as mad at my former classmates but myself for allowing them to tear me down and bring me so low.
I felt like a battered wife who’d just left her abusive husband!
I was fortunate, though. It didn’t take long for the raw emotions, the flashbacks, and the nightmares to go away, and I begin to focus on making great memories with my Roseburg friends and classmates. During that month, I had allowed myself to feel and to cry. I talked to a few of my most trusted family and friends.
I realized that I wasn’t wrong to have those emotions as they were signs that something was terribly wrong in my previous environment. I also began to understand that I wasn’t what was wrong. I’m thankful that I didn’t bury those emotions like so many survivors of bullying do. I’ve since concluded that what I experienced was the release of feelings that had, for a long time, been suppressed.
They were emotions that I wasn’t allowed to have in the old environment and was afraid to feel and show because I knew they’d punish me for it with more bullying. The only alternative had been to keep those feelings buried deep. And although my parents were well-meaning, there were times that neither of them could accept the emotions I felt.
Only after I got out of there did they begin to pour forth.
After a month of riding that roller coaster, I can tell you that everything finally subsided, and I felt like a new person! I didn’t get any therapy, although I should have. I was young, newly married, and expecting my first child, and everything was changing so fast I could barely keep up. So, I worked through it on my own.
Beautiful cloudscape over the sea, sunrise shot
And with the help of a new and nourishing environment, a few trusted people in my life, and new friends, I was able to get through the horrible after-effects of bullying and peer abuse. I began to set goals to learn about computers and make Honor Roll at my new school. As my grades skyrocketed and I achieved those goals, so did my confidence!
Sadly, most survivors of bullying aren’t as lucky as I was. Many take years to even get through the grief.
You don’t have to be a combat soldier or veteran to have PTSD. Victims and survivors of rape and incest can develop it. Targets and survivors of severe bullying and abuse can also have it.
Although many of us survive and, better yet, overcome whatever or whoever tried to harm us, it still leaves scars on our psyches. Our abilities to regulate emotions are deeply affected as is our abilities to find stability, happiness, joy, love, and intimacy.
I know this from firsthand experience. Because of the severe bullying I had suffered at school, I was a very angry, hypervigilant, and vengeful twenty-something back in the 1990’s.
All it took was for someone to stare or look at me the wrong way and I’d very rudely and belligerently ask them what their major malfunction was. If someone got in my face, approached me in a threatening manner- did anything to provoke me, I would want to put up my fists.
Because of the trauma I had gotten from the bullying I had suffered in the past, I was determined that no one would ever bully me again.
I remember when I was 23 years old. While standing in the checkout line at the supermarket and having my groceries rung up, another young woman, who happened to be a neighbor I was at odds with, kept standing in line behind me, cursing and shouting at me to “hurry up.”
Sadly, she was one of those people who seemingly stayed into it with everyone in our neighborhood. In a way, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
When I handed the cashier my cash to pay for the groceries and the woman put a finger in my face, I grabbed her by the back of her head and slammed her face down across the checkout counter so hard, the machine beeped.
Honestly, I don’t know how I kept from going to jail but I was lucky. No. I was blessed!
Fortunately, other than splashing a bully’s face with a fountain drink after work a year or so before, this was the only altercation I’d gotten into at the time.
When I look back, I’m pretty embarrassed of it now. Being young and not having enough life experience yet, I let some idiot cause me to get violent. ‘Definitely not one of my finest moments!
But that’s what trauma from past bullying can do. It makes you hypervigilant, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And when it does, you react. You tell the person off, maybe curse a blue streak in them, calling the person every name but a child of God. Or you double up your fist and give the jerk in front of you a fat lip.
You don’t want to react that way, of course, but it’s kneejerk. Then you end up feeling like a complete heel later. This is what happens when you allow ignorant people to push your buttons and it’s too easy to do when you’ve been traumatized.
Now that I’m older, anytime some creep crosses a line, I usually tell the person to get a life then walk away. But I never stay silent. I’ve found that I can get my point across in only a few words, keep it moving, and continue to feel good about myself. There’s no need to get physical.
And that’s what I would recommend anyone to do when someone is running off at the mouth. If they put a finger in your face, however, there’s no law that says you can’t grab their finger and shove it away. And if the person tries to hit you, then it’s time to throw up those dukes and defend yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with self-defense. It’s how we set boundaries. It’s how we teach people to stay out of our personal space and keep their hands off.