Welcome to Format Free Fridays, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited advice.
Earlier this week someone posted the equivalent of “hello” on my Facebook wall. Nothing unusual, except this person referenced knowing me from high school, which again is nothing unusual. Ordinarily, I try to write thoughtful replies to childhood friends, but for the life of me I couldn’t recognize this person’s name and her profile picture was of an animal so I couldn’t use that either to identify her. Anyway, I had this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach all day long, nagging me, causing me to click again and again on this person’s FB wall, hoping I’d trigger a memory and recall who she is, but still nothing came up for me. Until later that night, and then I realized why I had been distracted by this all day long. The person who wrote on my wall was none other than my high school bully.
Let me clarify what I mean by high school bully: I mean that for 3 or 4 years, this person capitalized on every opportunity imaginable to smack me, shove me, disparage my religion, humiliate me, hold me while others hit me, and eradicate any semblance of self esteem that a teenager could possibly have. Do I sound bitter?
I judged myself too. I thought I’d overcome all that horseshit in my trillion years of therapy. I’m 42 years old, I’m fairly successful, I have a few fancy degrees from some fancy schools, I’m in a loving relationship, I’m more evolved than I’ve ever been, I have wonderful friends who love me and a hobby that fulfills me. Why then, should I still be bitter?
I’ll tell you why: Because that fucking abusive bully traumatized me, and adding insult to injury, this embarrasses me. Just as it did when I was a kid. It’s the reason why I never told adults, why I never complained and why I never backed down when she cornered me. And from a professional standpoint, this makes sense. I should know. I am an expert on bullying, in large part because of her. So I suppose I should thank her.
I am not that big of a person. Instead, I messaged her on FB, as though I was in middle school. I confronted her, in as adult a manner as I could muster. And today I’m publishing that message to underscore that people shouldn’t be embarrassed into silence when they are victimized.
"I don’t even know where to start, frankly, to express to you the extent to which your torture in high school affected me. Suffice it to say that it was the driving force behind the topic of my dissertation (bullying), which I published 19 years after graduating high school.
I am not just a victim – I too was a bully, though I’ve come to learn that it’s a common response to being bullied. People like me are called bully-victims. But what sets me apart from you is that I made amends with the person who I abused. And I regret it to this day, knowing how I harmed her – how I may have affected her ability to trust others and form healthy attachments. I wonder…. Do you ever ponder the damage you inflicted on me? Do you ever wish you had gotten counseling instead of being physically and emotionally violent to a kid who was years younger than you, inches shorter than you and dozens of pounds lighter than you? I wonder…"
I didn’t expect a response from her, but go figure, I got one. She apologized, told me of some horrors that she’d gone through as a kid which caused her to become a bully. I knew that something had to have caused it. Kids are not born mean. They are taught to be mean.
So now I’m 2 for 2. My victim confronted me a decade ago and gave me the opportunity to apologize to her for what I’d done, and because of her courage, I in turn confronted my bully and received an apology. In the final analysis, I think we all want peace in our lives. I sure do. So now there’s one less ghost in my closet. One less burden to carry. We won't be having lunch together anytime soon, my bully and me, for obvious reasons and also because she has since unfriended me. If only things could have been that simple back in high school. I don't like you so I'm going to remove you from my list of friends...
So...the takeaways? I hope that this post encourages some kid out there to tell an adult that she’s being bullied. I hope I’ve dispelled some of the embarrassment that kids (and adults) often feel when they’re victims of this sort of thing. And I hope that if you bullied someone as a kid, you’ll consider sending them an apology.