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Messages to Bullies - Forgiven not Forgotten

By Yvette Vignando - 14th March 2011

I’m writing a feature article about the effects of bullying. To prepare for the article I asked several adults about what they’d say now to the people that mercilessly and sometimes violently bullied them in childhood. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them said they had nothing they’d want to say. But their reactions to this question are still important and poignant reminders about why schools and parents need to keep talking about how to reduce the incidence of bullying.

The effects of childhood bullying last well into adulthood and range from mild anxiety to more serious problems of depression, substance addiction and self-harm.  It would be rare for an adult to have the opportunity to talk to a person who bullied them as a child - I’m unsure of whether it would be a helpful experience.  Amongst these answers is a haunting story of one adult who came face to face with a bully in later life, and then had to care for them.

I thought the answers could help parents who are talking to their children about bullying - they might be especially helpful as conversation starters with your child if she or he has been behaving as a bully.  Instead of editorialising, I wanted to share the responses I received in full. They are raw, they are real and I am grateful for those adults who generously and compassionately agreed to share their stories to help others. The feature article will appear on this website later this week.

I asked:
As an adult, looking back, do you “understand” the bully/bullies? How do you feel about him/her/them? If you could say something to the person who bullied you now, what would you say? Anything?

I understand that the school environment had become a competitive place in which adolescents were establishing a pecking order.  The lack of sophistication in their tactics meant that their way of making themselves feel more important (and consider themselves further up that pecking order) was to put someone else down.  Those that were in any way different or less sporty were easy targets for this kind of approach.  I don’t think I could say anything to the bullies today that would make me feel better or give me back the dignity that was taken from me at such a critical time in my development.

I don’t think I will ever understand why people make fun of people. I guess people bully to distract from their own insecurities.

If I am perfectly honest, I don’t think about the people that bullied me at all. I have no feelings about them whatsoever. If it weren’t for the way they treated me, I wouldn’t have learnt awesome coping strategies and developed a ridiculously strong sense of self.

I understand in one way, in that kids target those different to them, but mostly I still don’t understand why they felt the need to go to such an effort to do what they did. I guess it made them feel ‘bigger’? I’ve let go of any real bitterness, though. I’m not sure I’d have anything to say to them these days.

I have never understood their bullying although I suspect there was animosity against myself and my mother’s family that went back to a time before I was born. Mum taught at the school after the end of the war. Possibly the fact that I was an adopted child but truthfully I do not know. I don’t really care about them or whatever happened to them. I suspect that my secondary school Principal did not want education department officials snooping around, he had his own secrets to hide. I am by nature a very caring person who likes to know how people get on in life. What would I say to any of them? Nothing.

I never could understand why they did it. Out of jealousy? Possibly.
All I can say to the bullies now is "look where you are now & where I am, I won the battle"

I've been in touch with the bullies from my past and they don't even recognise the pain they caused.  I've forgiven these people because they made me who I am now. But they caused real pain to a real human being at the time.  I think children are only a few steps away from Lord of the Flies.

If I could say anything to the worst bullies...after one experience twenty years ago where I faced the really WORST bully I've ever met (as an adult)'d be:  "Wait for equal terms, sport."  Bullies at any age don't like equal terms or a fair contest.  That's a bully's weak spot.  They're also too dependent on advantages.

They still occur in the real world, they still occur in the adult world.  It's not a perfect world and there are still bullies in politics and in other places.  And they still have to be dealt with, because they don't stop bullying. Some do. When they meet something worse than themselves and develop some empathy out of the experience.

I often think about those people. I wonder what I would say to them, or if they would even remember me. I will never understand why I was their target or why they were inclined to be intolerant of people, who were not to their standards.

I don't blame them for who I am. I am ultimately responsible for that but I do know that they shaped me in such a way that my life is different than how it might have been, had I not been bullied so badly.

I try to look at it as a good thing.I would not be who I am, had I not had the experiences I have had.

I don't know what I would say to them if I ever saw them again but I have an interesting story for you. I was working as a midwife in the postnatal ward one night and we had a new admission from the birthing suite. I knew as soon as I saw her, who she was and she knew me too.

I welcomed her, as I would any woman and helped to make her comfortable in the ward. Halfway through the shift, she asked me if I remembered her. I answered, yes, very well. I knew who she was.  She stated my unmarried name and I said, yes, that was me.

She stayed with us for three days and each shift I looked after her, she hardly said a word to me. I had decided that I would treat her the same way I treated all new mothers, despite the fact that the last time I had seen her she was spitting on me and had me cornered in the bottom of the playground while more of her friends kicked me and pinched my belly.

At the end of her time on the ward, she came up to me with a thank you note and she said; "You were so kind to me and my baby and when you had every right to be awful. You looked after me and I know you remember being teased and bullied by me". I said, yes, I remembered (my heart was beating in my throat, that fear, so strong, that feeling like I was just a little girl again, terrible) but that we were both adults now and it was my job to look after her as a new Mum, that I was not going to let our past interfere with that.

She thanked me again (but never apologised) and that was that.

I think of that encounter  often. I guess I can forgive them but I will never forget.

(Names of the contributors have been changed or shortened but these are real people's stories.)

On 15 March 2011, I spoke on Channel 7 on The Morning Show about What to Do if Your Child is the Bully. Watch the segment here. "When the Bully is Your Baby"

image Louisa Stokes

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