Confronting the Bullies

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Just the word itself – Bully – is enough to cause my heart to skip a beat. For me to get a little short of breath and to force myself not to run to the nearest bathroom stall to shake in fear.

I was bullied as a kid. Through portions of elementary school, junior high, and the early part of high school, I was the subject of many different torments, taunts, and teasing.

Why? I’ve asked that question millions of times throughout my life. At times I was the new kid – I moved from Michigan to Phoenix just before third grade and then again to the suburbs of Chicago after sixth grade. Easy pickings with no friends at the beginning of my tenure in Arizona and Illinois, for sure.

Perhaps it was because of my weight. I take after my father’s Scandinavian line – overweight, but not plagued with health issues. It took me a long time to accept my weight. Even today it is difficult for me to lose weight and I’ve decided it is so I can survive the long winters in Sweden and Norway. But, the size of your shirt makes a difference to bullies when you have to undress in front of each other in a junior high locker room.

I’m sure I could come up with some other reasons, but the end result was the same. The bully would get their words and jabs in and I would just have to suffer.

But why didn’t you stand up for yourself? (Those who have never suffered from bullying might ask.)

Here’s the thing – I did. At least a few times. But, I wasn’t skilled at hiding from teachers and evading their wandering eyes like the bullies were. Once I got tired of the bullying from a classmate in junior high and tripped the kid in the hallway. End result? I got a detention as the bully got away Scott-free. Other times I said something to a teacher, but it just made it worse when the offender was free again.

Lesson learned? Don’t tell. Don’t fight back. Endure the bullying and it will go away.

But….

I was wrong. You have to fight back or the bullies will get their way.

It took me a long time to get to this point. I’m 34 now. High school bullying pretty much ended for me about my junior year when I fully settled into my role as a high school band member. I played the saxophone and the rest of the band welcomed and accepted me. Strength in numbers kept the bullies away. Slowly my self-esteem rebounded and I now believe I am strong psychologically and emotionally. But, the memories of bullies still strike fear into my heart.

Now as a high school teacher, I do see some bullying and when I see it, I do my best to stop it. To be honest, there are moments when I – twice the bully’s age – are fearful they will turn the taunts right back on me. But, those moments are thankfully more fleeting than they used to be thanks to the love and acceptance of family and friends.

Let’s bring this back to writing now. A few days ago, Hugh Howey wrote a blog post about paying for book reviews. Apparently, an anonymous blog “outed” a number of authors who have allegedly paid for reviews and they were going forward with names. Howey was on that list along with a number of other successful indie authors. Hugh decided to stick up for himself, declaring he had never paid for any reviews.

(In a brief sidenote – I’ll make a similar declaration that I have also never paid for reviews on any of my books.)

In his post, Hugh noted of a time when he was in middle school and being bullied.

The most common advice given is silence, to just ignore it, and I have mostly heeded this advice. I have chickened out. It has left me feeling like I did in middle school, where I was regularly bullied. I remember pretending to be sick so I didn’t have to go to school and deal with a kid who once pointed a gun at my brother, pulled the trigger, and laughed when it clicked. A kid who pushed us into thorny bushes (why the hell do they plant those at schools?) and who roughed us up when anyone wasn’t looking. I really did feel sick most mornings. My stomach would twist up in knots, and I lived in constant terror that I’d be targeted on a whim. I was also afraid to stick up for anyone, because I didn’t want to be targeted. We all felt this way.

 I’m right there with you Hugh. Now, the anonymous site is striking back at Hugh, pointing at Hugh’s declaration, made on the memory of his deceased dog, Jolie, as a ruse. “Could anyone be more guilty?” they say.

More bullying tactics. As people are calling for proof and evidence, the bully comes right back with taunts, name calling, sarcasm, and…no proof. In fact, there are no responses on the blog post. I have at least one friend who said he tried to make one but the moderator of the site hasn’t approved it. Shocking.

Bullies don’t want to show both sides. That’s a job for professional journalists. Bullies with blogs are just looking for website traffic and sensationalism. Job achieved. You’ll notice I haven’t linked the blog in question. If you want to find it, you can, but I’ll not give it any more links than it deserves.

I told Hugh this morning, “Success breeds jealousy.” I saw this in school as well. My grades were another aspect that earned me ridicule and I now realize my place and success in life are points that my grade school bullies would likely be jealous of as they contemplate life from a jail cell.

If a bully picks on you, we don’t have to take it. It may seem like junior high all over again, but it isn’t. We have family and friends. What do they have? An anonymous blog with no proof. Desperate for approval. Don’t give it to them. Don’t give in. 

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5 thoughts on “Confronting the Bullies

    • Thanks Brigid. This is difficult for me to talk about even today. In fact, we had an in-service at school a year and a half ago about bullying. The entire time I sat there wanting to get out. Even most of my fellow teachers couldn’t relate to the pain I’d experienced.
      The fact that as adults, we still have to put up with it from those insecure with their place in life is sad more than anything else.

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