Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Sticks and stones may indeed break my bones, but words have the power to stay with me forever.
Somebody from my primary school (children aged 4-11 for those of you outside of the UK) must have been in a nostalgic mood recently as they had posted up a selection of class photographs on Facebook, taken about 23 years ago. They appeared on my wall because one of my friends was tagged in there, and they instantly brought back a ton of memories.
Looking at those photographs, I can probably remember about 40% of those names, but there, right in the centre of one of them, was a little boy with tight curly hair, a pasty complexion and thick rimmed glasses. For the purposes of anonymity, I’m going to call him X.
I read through the many comments that had been written underneath by people that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years.
However, one in particular stood out.
I forgot that we went to school with Napoleon Dynamite.
Someone else had written something below about feeling guilt, but laughed about it all the same. My heart sank. I remember him, I remember his name and I even remember a cruel nickname that we called him. This skinny little boy was quiet and shy, and was bullied mercilessly to the point where he left the school because of the abuse that he suffered from so many. While I never considered myself to be a mean girl (although I wasn’t perfect), I remember one incident that still makes my stomach churn a little, all these years later.
Our primary school didn’t have a canteen, so we had to walk up to another building further up the road for our lunch, during which we were expected to hold hands in pairs. Nobody ever wanted to be near him, so he was forced to hold the hand of his sister, who was equally ostracised. I remember that they were walking in front of me once, and he turned around and looked at me.
“Eww, you’re kissing your sister,” I said to him, laughing with my friends and backing away so I wouldn’t have to walk near him. Even at that age, I knew what I had said was wrong, and I have no idea why I felt prompted to join in with everyone else. To my recollection that was the only thing I ever said to him during my entire school life with him. He didn’t say anything, he never said anything, he just turned around and carried on walking. I had no reason to dislike him – he never did anything to me at all, but I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t include him, I didn’t invite him to any of my parties. Almost nobody did – in my own little bubble he simply didn’t exist.
Karma came to bite me on the ass when I started high school. I was what my students would describe as a ‘boffin’ – I worked hard, was in the top sets for everything, played in the orchestra and band, was on the badminton team, and to my recollection received only one or two detentions throughout my five years at the school. Looking back, I was a bit of a know-it-all, I wasn’t considered to be as attractive and didn’t possess the same social skills as some of the more popular girls, but aside from getting involved in silly girly politics, I didn’t intentionally go out of my way to hurt anyone else and I had some friends.
One boy in particular despised me almost from the first moment he met me, and he and his cronies tortured me for almost the entirety of my teenage academic life. He learned how to flick spit with the end of his tongue and he would frequently spit in my hair when stood behind me in a line. If I did or said something in a lesson he would go out of his way to tell the teacher to try and get me into trouble. He would concoct lies, spread rumours, and tell the older girls that I had said things about them to try and get them to beat me up. On several occasions, it almost worked, and being surrounded by lots of students while an older girl threatened me, screamed at me and pulled my hair because she had been told I’d been mean to her sister by this boy still remains one of the most terrifying moments of my entire life. He and his friends used to take great delight by repeating my name over and over whenever I would walk into a room, or would call me fat or ugly. When my friend tried to stand up for me, they did it to her too. Unfortunately, I was in most of my lessons too, and so it went on all day, every day.
At one point my father, who was a governor at the school, intervened, and this made it far worse. The boy started to use him as a way of trying to wind me up. However, what he didn’t know was the way my very angry and violent father treated my sisters and I when we were growing up, which was something I didn’t tell anyone until years later, so I couldn’t tell my father any more after this for fear of what he would do, both to me and to him. My father expected me to ignore it and would get angry and lash out at me when I got upset. It wasn’t as easy as that.
Looking back, many of these incidents were silly and childish, and nowadays wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, but I’ve always felt that my teenage years, while successful, were lived in fear. I cared so much about what my peers thought and adapted my behaviour to try to be accepted, and then spent many hours hiding in the music room during breaks and lunch times to avoid contact with people. I even attempted to befriend some of them, to be told “don’t talk to her, she’ll grass you up if you say anything about her.” Worse still, my self-confidence was on the floor. I believed that I was ugly. I believed that nobody liked me. I used to feel physically nauseous whenever I walked into my form room every morning because I knew what was going to happen. I was so stressed that I suffered from nose bleeds. I pretended to be ill so I didn’t have to go to school. I was the ultimate victim, feeling sorry for myself and constantly repeating different instances in my head until I had made myself feel anxious and depressed. I didn’t help myself in the slightest, but I didn’t deserve what I got. My saving grace was the fact that I worked hard, I got good grades and was able to get away from them as soon as I possibly could – while others were all crying and hugging on the last day, I happily skipped down the school drive knowing that I was going to be attending a performing arts college and would never have to see them again.
I left school nearly seventeen years ago, and I’ve moved on – we all have – but I haven’t forgotten. Of the hundreds of people that I shared my lessons with, I am still very close to just one, and communicate regularly via Facebook with just two or three. I have a life that I am proud of, a supportive family, great friends and a wonderful bloke. While I don’t harbour any ill feelings towards them, I don’t wish to get in contact with any of those people I knew so many years ago ever again, and the photographs, and some of the comments written below them, served as a reminder as to why. I’m very sure they feel exactly the same way about me.
I take bullying extremely seriously as a teacher and am quite open in sharing my own experiences whenever I have had to deal with it. What I tell my students, and will continue to tell my students for as long as I am their teacher, is that the opinions of others don’t matter, especially those which have no connection to our lives and how we choose to live it. Some children are thoughtless and cruel and often they will continue to be just as awful in their adulthood. That’s their problem, not ours.
What matters is that we don’t allow ourselves to be the victim and, more importantly, allow those opinions to dictate what we do, who we are and how we act. What matters is that we can go through life being successful and happy, as kind and as generous as possible and be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of each day and know that we have done our best. What matters is that we like what we see in our reflection. Karma will often take care of the rest.
To X, and anyone else I treated unfairly along the way, I’m sorry. I hope he doesn’t read those comments and that, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, he’s happy.
What about you guys? Have you experienced bullying at any point in your life?
You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks
Good on you for holding your truth no matter how painful. Yes, I was the butt-er and the butt-ed so to speak. And much like you, knew right from wrong but for whatever reasons… To this day I have visible reasons by which others could and do judge me and that’s on them however what I hope and pray I have learned is that when I am judged for what comes out of my mouth, that I can count if on being good because that was not always the case. I too, send out my heart-felt apologies for those who are dealing with still today that which said or did out of meanness or spite. God Bless us, every one!
I totally agree. Children can be cruel – I feel guilt for my own behaviour. However, there has been an interesting revalation since this post – stay tuned for the update!
I was bullied as a child. You never forget.
No you don’t. It’s certainly something I’ll never forget…
I was bullied as a child I quickly learnt to laugh it off and try not to give the bullies any power. Having heard stories from my secondary school of what others went through I am thankful to have learnt it early. Did you know that the #1000Speak for Compassion movement have ‘building from bullying’ as a topic this month? I think this post would be a positive contribution.
That’s such a great attitude to have. I wish I could have laughed it off a bit more. Thanks for letting ,e know about #1000Speak – the last topic was fabulous so I’ll make sure I participate!
Thank you for posting this Suzie, it cant have been easy. For me it brings back lots of memories as I was bullied throughout school and even now can remember that feeling, the fear and the words used by the boys and girls who thought it was hysterical to pick on the short, fat, good kid. It killed my self confidence and I retreated to studying. I abhor bullying and won’t stand for it but these days its not the playground bullies but the online bullying that worries me. We can all learn from your experiences so thank you for sharing! Lets be the love and light in life! :o)
Thank you! Your comment has made me think about another topic that has been annoying me for a while, that fat=bad.
I agree about the online bullying. It’s so easy to hide behind a computer…
It’s crazy to me that even after all these years, someone felt the need to make the Napoleon Dynamite comment. I mean, why?
I read an article not too long ago about how many adults still hold on very strongly to their middle school / high school behavior and memories. They are impactful times, so it’s not surprising. I’ll see if I can find it. It was really interesting if you’re into psych.
I can relate to the pang of guilt you felt when you joined in on teasing that boy. I did that once (I also was not a mean girl) in elementary school to get in with the popular girls (who were mean girls). When I saw the look of hurt on the girl’s face whom we were teasing, it ate me up. I mean, I remember that just as much as I remember being teased and taunted myself. I never did it again after. There’s no joy for me in hurting other people.
Thank you sharing this. It’s well-written (of course) and important!
I totally agree. All these years later, someone felt that it was ok to make a crappy comment about another human being, me i know for a fact that they haven’t seen him in years. If I ever see him, I’m going to make sure that I apologise…
However, there has been a further development since this post. Stay tuned for the update!
I was bullied. I never gave it much thought, just kid stuff that most of us go through at some point. Through therapy, I am realizing that it actually plays a big part in my battle with depression and my current personality. I agree with the comment above, you should add this to the #1000Speak collection. I think the Bullying posts are going live on Friday
Thanks for sharing your story. Having experienced so much of it in my teens, it took me years to build up my self-confidence and learn to move on. I held onto it for a long time…
Hopefully we are both stronger because of it.
The bullies never make anything of their lives. Their school years are their peak time which is quite sad as it only lasts 5 years and some (not all) spend the rest of their life in the gutter. Great post and it kind of reminds me of this one of mine http://steve-says.net/2014/01/25/one-way-or-another/
I so wish this was true, but unfortunately my main bully has done very well for himself. Not that I would wish pain and suffering on anyone, but I think that sometimes, the bad people get away with it.
One word – karma. It shits on your head eventually. One day someone or something will dump all over him
I read these words to my daughter. Thank you for sharing your story and your message.
That really means a lot. Thank you.
I’m very touched by your story. And it’s amazing how Life took you to both sides of the bully coin, and how you chose to rise above it and now support your students from a first-hand perspective. Your experience is valuable to your students, I’m sure. I applaud you.
I wasn’t bullied to the extent you were, but I did have some experiences. I was “different” wearing thick glasses and looking like a nerd, and acting like one too- running away from a ball instead of heading toward it to catch. My behavior did not endear me to my classmates. But what was worse in my bullies’ eyes was that I was a “show-off” and a liar. Though I looked like a nerd the rumor got out that I acted and sang, etc. They thought it was just made up because I could not possibly be doing those things. I remember finally standing up for myself, by kicking someone in the stomach and then running off to a grove of trees. In self-imposed exile I created my “house of trees” and played there. I gathered grass and fed a little bunny. I hung out with the yard moms (yes how geeky could you get?) who had horses and taught me all they knew, bringing me equine magazines. And in my imagination I created a world I loved.
Until one day, the bullies began to be nice to me. They caught a tv show and saw that yes, I was in it. They actually apologized. I think that is rare in bully-world and still have no idea why they even cared. And by that time while I was stunned they apologized, I didn’t care much about them. But it was a lonely year. That one year affected my self esteem. I can only imagine how it was for you for several years. My heart goes out to your teenage “you” and I offer hugs. It isn’t childish or small. It was important. God bless ((you)).~KaiCarra
I’m sorry you had to experience that, and thanks so much for sharing your story with me. It does affect our self esteem, and I’m really pleased that you were able to create a place in which you were happy.
What was the TV show you were on? Do you think that was why they apologised?
Thank you 🙂 it worked out well though, thank goodness. It was the Evening Show with Connie Chung when she first began her career. (This was a long time ago- ’76 or ’77). Yes for some reason they really must have thought I was lying or showing off. When they saw that program maybe they realized I wasn’t? Blessings to you. 🙂
I was bullied by this girl in my class and her cronies from grades 3-8. I wish I could say that I’ve forgotten what it felt like but I can’t. That stuff stays with you forever. Something I don’t think the bully realizes. I know that what I endured all those years affected me greatly for years after. I’d like to think I was the better person for not having taken the bait and fought back but I kind of wish I had. If only to have learned how to stand up for myself. Oh well, some lessons are learned the hard way.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with me. You’re right – that sort of stuff does stay with you for the rest of our lives. There has been further developments since this post which relates to your comment – stay tuned for the update!
Reblogged this on K'Cadences and commented:
Bullies. From childhood to adulthood. From the playground to the corporate office. Here is a touching story of one woman’s experience and how she allowed it to become compassion and wisdom for her students. Blessings! K
Thanks so much for the reblog!
I was an art teacher for many years, in 3 different schools. At one school I taught grades 6 – 12. I loved every minute teaching there, and one of my favorite projects was what I called The Values Project. Each year I assigned a topic to the students in the high school classes. They were to represent their view of that topic in any media they chose, accompanying their project with a written Artist’s Statement. I spent hours each year choosing a topic that would have meaning for young teenagers and would elicit passion from them while requiring a bit of research in order to do a great job on their final submission.One of the topics that generated the most heartfelt and energetic projects was The Bullying Project.
The students in our school were quite privileged. It was a private school and though there were scholarships for many students, most came from wealthy families. Their parents were professionals in all walks of life and used to giving orders and commanding respect. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the topic that year as I wasn’t sure such pampered and sheltered children had ever experienced bullying.
What I discovered was that nearly every one of them had a personal and deeply embedded experience of bullying. A few admitted to being a bully, and were chagrined by their actions, but most had been victims. They’d suffered and cringed as you did. One of the things that moved me was that so many of these kids had resolved to change their own behavior to be something more positive as a result of their suffering but also as a by-product of the art project.
The Bullying Project made them not only remember their own frightening moments of being cowed by another person, but caused them to be reflective of themselves. Some of them told me how painful it was for them to engage in the process of figuring out how to exhibit what they’d felt at the time of being bullied and what they’d learned by considering other kids’ experiences. A few cried as they worked, still feeling the pain and fear.
You’ve brought up an emotional and thought-provoking topic, Suzie, as you often do. Perhaps this will be another one of your blog conversations that starts a movement of social reorientation. I don’t think we’ll ever end bullying, but hopefully we as a community can dilute its awful effects on people who do not deserve to be bullied – and no one deserves such treatment.
Thanks for opening the door and welcoming us to tell about our experiences.
And yes, I was often bullied, mercilessly, and it has made me even as an adult a bit awkward socially. But I survived and now have a wonderful family and friends.
Be well, Suzie.
Your project sounds absolutely amazing. My school has a very strict anti-bullying policy and we deal with it quickly, but it’s a sad fact that in every school there are children have to experience it. I think that there should be far more time spent on dealing with anti-bullying projects as part of the curriculum… Thanks so much for your comment as always my lovely!
I had a similar experience to you, but I was mean to other people as a way of deflecting attention from myself which I feel terrible about now. Much of it seems trivial looking back, but at the time it was anything but that.
That’s a really honest thing to say… I only fought back once to a girl who was making my life miserable, and this resulted in her getting her older sister to attempt to attack me… I shut up after that.
Agreed. Was bullied and have had to move on. Interesting thing is the amount of ‘bullies’ I’ve encounter on Twitter who clim they were bullied as children…but don’t seem to have learned the lesson.
A computer makes it easy for these sorts of people to be able to hide behind it… I still can’t believe how pathetic some adults get over what I would deem to be insignificant things. You’d think people would have better things to do with their time…
There seems to be a theme going on this week about bullies, as I have read several this week and mentioned the subject briefly in a post I wrote yesterday.
I was not bulllied at school, nor did I bully anyone, but I was bullied at work by two people, about 20 years ago. It was a horrible experience and caused me great stress and time off work. I think it goes on a lot in many work places, and not just in the school playground. It seems some children can not shake the bully from them and end up passing on the torture it brings, for the rest of their life.
I’m sorry you had to go through that Hugh. I experienced the same thing in a previous job by someone who had been doing it for years. Eight people left in as many years because of this person, and nothing was done about it. There have been one or two that had to receive therapy afterwards because it was so extreme… It amazes me how someone can be a fully functioning adult and still think that this sort of thing is ok.
Sorry to read your story and that you were bullied. But glad to hear that you can use it both to be so strongly against it as a teacher and to help the kids you work with now because you know what it feels like and where they are coming from.
I also take your point about high school feeling successful for you despite this ongoing issue – that’s how bullying felt with me too. It didn’t always overpower everything else – but it was always there and ongoing and I never knew when it was going to become more prominent again – so I’d keep thinking “Oh good, maybe this is over” and then it wouldn’t be….
Ooh I can relate to that feeling. Things would go quiet for a day or two sometimes, but then it would suddenly start for no reason, and I would become tense and anxious again…
Yes, I was bullied and just today I shared my post on the #1000Speak FB group. You should add your awesome post there as well.
My post is here https://happinessandfood.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/a-choice-bullied-vs-beautiful/
Thank you for sharing the link! I’ll check it out!
Your words are powerful – and inspiring. I was bullied in middle school (6-8 grade) because when you mix frizzy red-hair, with a pinch of braces and a dash of glasses – you get a recipe for middle school disaster! Once I got a a straightener, toned up from sports, rid myself of braces, and got contacts – I was able to be part of the “popular” group in High School – and although I made it a point not to bully anyone intentionally (though I’m not saying I did not act foolishly and rudely at points – I’m grown up enough to admit that) I was often guilty by association because of my “clique.” Sure, it felt great being in that group – but when I was “phased out” by those same girls during college, it felt crappy being on the outside. We’ve recently had our 5th year high school reunion, and only the popular kids from high school showed up – because who wants to be around us? No one. It was eye-opening. No one that was bullied by the popular kids came to the reunion, because none of them have changed, few have matured – I would know, I run into them or go out with them downtown on a Saturday night every few weeks. I’d like to think that I’ve matured and moved on, I’ve worked hard to be a good person, to help people, and I try to love each person because I’ve reaffirmed my faith, but that doesn’t make up for the guilt I feel when I come across my yearbook and remember how my “friends” made others feel, and I stood by, letting it happen. I’m guilty too. I wish I could tell my younger-self to dump those B*****s and stand up for what was right. But I can’t – So I encourage my younger cousins and the kids I babysit to accept and extend a hand to those on the outside – so they don’t regret not doing so later on.
Great post. Loved it.
Thanks so much for sharing things from a different perspective! Have any of the kids that were picked on ever said anything to you?
They have not said anything to me personally about my actions, but they have talked to me about the actions of my ex-friends. And although they’ve gotten over it, they said it hurt. Which is expected. Ironically, they typically tell me that although I was associated with them, they knew it was not me personally doing/saying anything – but I have apologized for not being more firm in standing up for them. I think we have all just grown up and realized that we were 16/17 at the time, we were young and dumb and easily influenced. However, the closure on both ends was great!
Yeah, on several occasions. It’s not a good feeling…at all.
No it isn’t… I don’t think that theres ever a point where I will feel comfortable with what they put me through…
I’m constantly having to remind myself that just because I choose to treat others with love and kindness does not mean that the other person will respond in kind.
I couldn’t agree more – I have to remind myself not to take it personally if someone is an asshole. That’s their problem, not mine.
We had our 10 year re-union some time back, i did not attend. No,I don’t really fancy seeing any of my former school mates either. Not that I hate them, I would just rather not. Not that I was bullied, well maybe I was but it was not that bad or I just didn’t really care and they soon found other targets but still.
I felt exactly the same way about my former classmates… There’s nothing I can say to them that would be genuine I think, so I decided not to bother…
I love your blogs Suzie, they are very honest about important subjects. I was bullied at a young age by my youngest brother (7 years older than me) and I then bullied my best friend for a short time until it was made clear what I was doing. I then apologised, talked to her mother and was best friends once again. I felt terrible about it. I was also taunted by peers in junior and early senior school about something very embarrassing. There’s a big story behind all of that, but one thing is clear; bullying is bad and you are right, I do not forget either. I would not want to know any of them now, and even stopped talking to that particular brother a couple of years ago. I decided I didn’t want any toxic people in my life anymore. xxx
That’s a really honest thing to admit to. I’m sorry you had to go through that with your brother – I was estranged from my sister until last year for exactly the same reasons…
Thought provoking Suzie. I think society causes so much suffering for the bully and the bullied.
I totally agree – I don’t really know of anyone who wasn’t affected by it
Yup. Bullied at school and at home. Never attended a school reunion…and left home at 18, never went back. Bullying makes you empathetic to others, creative (coz you have to look within for comfort) and strong. I wouldn’t be a writer and fighter.Mind, if anybody touches my grandaughter in future years. I will DEAL with it!
Haha I bet you will! So sorry for the late reply Carol – I’m catching up on my comments now and I keep missing them because of the new WordPress system. So sorry you had to go though that…
Totally relate to this. I never hurt another soul but was bullied all the way through secondary school by various groups just for looking different or speaking differently. You never forget. Never. It eats away at your self esteem and can last a lifetime psychologically. It’s the number one reason I became a teacher. I had some flight of fancy I’d stamp out bullies. (of course bullies are clever but I have stopped some instances in my time). Ironically I suffered being bullied once at the hands of two year 6 pupils which sounds ridiculous but it happened and had no support from my head. Kids really can be very cruel and easily led.
I’m sorry you had to suffer so much too. But I always think people like us are maybe in some ways stronger for those experiences.
Absolutely loved your comment, although I’m so sorry to hear that you had to go through that. I agree – kids can be so cruel. The problem is, when adults don’t show the, the correct path they’re equally as responsible!
Absolutely. When I hear some of the things said to my six year old…I hear an adult somewhere in the background. He is so kind to other children it hurts when they make fun of him. Unlike me though he does stick up for himself verbally in a positive way. He’s even told me he’s told bullies off for laughing at other kids so somehow somewhere I’m hopefully doing right. 🙂
Aww bless him – you certainly are doing something right! I hear my students say things to each other and I know that their voice is their parents rather than their own!