It would be lovely to think that the bullying that occurs in school life stays within the confines of that period of our lives. It would be great to be able to leave those buildings on our last day, bid farewell to our aggressors, and happily, cleanly move on with our lives. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to work that way.
I was unlucky enough to be a bully’s dream when I was at school, both primary and secondary. I have red hair, wear glasses, braces for a while, worked hard, and was fat. I ticked so many boxes on the bully checklist I’m amazed some bullies didn’t spontaneously combust with the excitement of it all. However, I was fortunate enough to have been equipped with relatively thick skin, so, for the most part, while it made me sad, I could accept that the bullies were a part of the school experience and ignored them. A lot.
I always thought that since leaving school I had left the moderate bullying I had experienced behind. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and it never escalated to physical bullying, simply name-calling. I am not downplaying the lasting effects that verbal bullying can have; this is simply the mindset I held for the majority of my adult life, until recently.
The things that can trigger us are often strange, unrelated to the original trauma or experience, and tend to come out of the blue. Hence why I have never questioned or addressed the residual effects of the sustained bullying I experienced at school until recently.
As someone who tries extremely hard to consciously remain positive and happy, and who tries to share that positivity with others, it is strange when I find myself unable to be happy for certain people from my past. An example that comes to mind is that of a generally cruel girl throughout secondary school. She would laugh at me, the way I looked, my size, my glasses, my braces. She would band together with her buddies and whisper and point and giggle.
I can still remember exactly how I felt at the time. I felt weak, I felt ugly, I felt hideously fat and also like the smallest person in the world which was a confusing combination. Their constant picking at me wore me down until my self-worth was non-existent.
Those memories while not overly specific in their nature, are burned into my brain forever, I can see the corridor, the block of lockers, the uniform I was wearing, the way I looked and felt. That will never leave me and in some ways, I am glad of that, because it has made me into a person that strives to make others around me feel loved, valued, worthy, and simply good about themselves because I know what it’s like to not feel that way.
However, that didn’t stop the sting of anger and fury that I felt when I saw the same girl post on her social media about seeing some teenagers being mean and bullying other kids around them. She commented that ‘kids are so mean nowadays’ and that she ‘hopes her children would never do something so cruel’.
It took all my strength not to unload those years of pent-up emotion in the comments section. The lack of self-awareness and retrospection broke my heart though. I will never forget her because of the things she did, small things, but things that have had a huge effect on my life and the relationships I have been able to form with people. While she moves through life apparently totally unaware of the heartache and pain that she caused.
While I accept that children’s frontal lobe isn’t fully developed and they are incapable of understanding the devastating effects even small acts of unkindness can have on others, I think the biggest step in beating bullying is to encourage more introspection and retrospection in general. While I am sure that I never did anything heinous to others at school, I am self-aware enough to know that there were probably times where I upset someone and for that, I am sorry. And I suppose that is what is missing for those who had school bullies. The apology, the genuine, unforced apology never comes. There is never closure and that makes it all the more difficult to deal with.