Bullying is all over the news. The Internet makes it easier for young people to pick on others. We usually assume that those who bully are mean spirited people who live to hurt those who can’t defend themselves. I thought this until I went to my high school reunion and had a talk with Evie, one of the toughest bullies I went to school with. As I remembered the time she bullied me, I didn’t want to speak to her, even though we’re now adults and it happened in junior high school. During the evening I avoided her.
Why? In 7th grade, Steph, a girl in our class, got jealous that a boy she liked, liked me. She tried to sabotage us but it didn’t work. To hurt me, she told Evie that I was talking badly about her behind her back, which wasn’t true. I was too much of a people pleaser to do that! But Evie didn’t know that, and got angry. At the end of a class, she came up to me while I was still sitting, grabbed me behind my neck, and asked me why I was bad mouthing her. I told her I’d said nothing. She threatened to hurt me if I didn’t stop.
When she finally let go I was shaking. How can I convince someone I’d stop doing something I’d never done?! As I walked out of the room, I realized that the chain that I wore around my neck was gone. Evie must have broken it when she grabbed my neck. The chain, which had a little star pendant, was given to me by my grandma before she died. It meant a lot to me! I searched where I’d been but never did find it. Eventually I talked to one of the very popular girls and told her what happened from Steph’s lies. She talked to Evie on my behalf and the bullying stopped.
So there was Evie, as an adult, trying to be friendly. Even though many years had passed, I still remembered her as the one who made me lose the chain from my grandma. I told an old friend about it and she couldn’t believe that I still carried a grudge. Back then I never thought about forgiveness. And years later I hadn’t let it go. In that moment I forgave Evie and went over to her. She was pleased. We made some idle talk and then I asked if I could be honest with her. “Sure,” she said.
So I told her about my memory of her bullying me. She was shocked, since she didn’t remember it but apologized anyway. I laughed at how absurd I’d been to see Evie as the 13 year old girl she was when she bullied me. We began to talk about how much people were afraid of her back then. Then she told me why she bullied people in school. Evie was scared, because she was bullied in elementary school. Being a bully meant that kids wouldn’t bully her!
I sat there, mouth open, as Evie shared that she went to sleep away camp the summer before entering junior high and got friendly with a girl who told her that she either could be bullied, or become a bully. Since Evie hated being bullied, she took the advice and began to act very tough. When the other girls did what she said and seemed scared of her, Evie felt empowered. So when she began in her new school, she decided to bring her summer lessons with her and became known as a bully. It made her feel safer.
Evie went on to become a lawyer, got married and had kids. To anyone who meets her she looks like a far cry from someone who was a bully. That night I got a new perspective about why some kids pick on others. Often it’s because they want to avoid being the target of someone else. Sometimes kids get pushed to join in the activities of groups of kids that bully others—join the bullying or get bullied.
Some adults bring those habits into the workplace or bully friends. Most of the people who do this that I’ve talked to say they do it to protect themselves.
Fear motivates it. Some recovering DoorMats go in the other direction when they’ve had enough of people taking advantage of them, which can be like an adult form of bullying. As you begin to feel more empowered, don’t pick up new habits of taking advantage of other people. Not treating people with respect and courtesy isn’t nice in kids or adults. Evie and I are now friends. Her insight into why people bully others was very enlightening. Fight fear by doing right by others, and yourself.
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