What do you do when your childhood bully friends you on Facebook?

Feministe friend Eve Sturges’s latest in Rookie is a wonderful look at the trauma childhood bullies inflict, the strength that comes from being an adult who finally stands up for that kid who suffered, and the realization that most kids evolve and grow and change — even the ones who act terribly toward us. Read it, read it, read it.

57 comments for “What do you do when your childhood bully friends you on Facebook?

  1. October 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I was bullied mainly in middle school. As the first chair snare drum in band, I was mocked for being a goody two-shoes who followed the rules. The rest of the percussion section was destructive, hyperactive, and were constant behavior problems. This pretty much fits the stereotype of all drummers.

    One day, when the band directors was working on a tricky part of a song with the woodwinds, she left us alone to our own devices. Other drummers and percussionists, mostly out of boredom, destroyed a cymbal by beating it to death with drumsticks. Shards of metal flew across the room as a large ugly gash in the center grew even larger.

    I would rather not share what was said about me. I wasn’t beaten up, but how I was treated was a cumulative effect, much like death by a thousand cuts. And I was made the butt of all the jokes. Sometimes I resent how I went behind them like their mother and made sure everyone had the right music. During competition, especially, I wanted to win enough that I was willing to serve these imbeciles who never appreciated what I did for them and never will.

    I’m not sure if I’m as forgiving as the writer of this piece. Facebook has allowed me to know many those who bullied me. They haven’t exactly reached their full potential. Several are college dropouts. Several more work at places like gas stations or grocery stores. They’re aimless and haven’t yet reached full adulthood. I suppose I should feel sympathetic, but I don’t. Maybe someday, but not right now.

  2. mk
    October 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I had a couple of mortal enemies in early elementary school, but the real fun came in sixth grade when the popular girls could no longer tolerate my tomboyish ways. I came home from school crying a lot. The height of my misery came when they invented a “game” that involved all of them pairing off at recess and sprinting away from me as I haplessly tried to tag along. (They named the game after me, and I’m sorry to say that I later played it with someone else as the victim. As a teenager I wrote a theater piece about the whole thing, but I don’t think I’ve really forgiven myself.)

    A year later, without any noticeable effort on my part, those same girls suddenly decided I was cool enough to pass notes to in pre-algebra, and they more or less demanded I buy an Adidas jacket so we could all match. I never got one, less because I had any self-respect and more because I knew my parents would never buy it for me.

    I have no idea where any of those girls are today, and I would be shocked if any of them tried to find me on Facebook (or anywhere else, for that matter). I don’t know if they know that it was hard being young and queer, in every sense of the word. I don’t know if they’ve ever considered the part they played in my childhood sadness and lonesomeness.

    I do know that it’s no accident that I work with teenagers today, and that my greatest aspiration is to occasionally play some small part in lessening the despair that all too often accompanies that age.

  3. Sid
    October 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    It was a beautiful piece, and a great look at how deep and far we carry our childhood emotional trauma. I think I can look back to my own elementary school torturer and say with some confidence he plays a not insignificant part in my modern adult shyness and social aversion. He, too would often make fun of my lunches, or my clothes, or my immigrant parent indoctrination. Like Eve, I knew him outside the classroom setting as well; we played soccer together for many seasons with his father as coach. I remember seeing him years after the fact, when we were both late in high school, at a video rental store, where he apologized for his bullying. While I told him bygones were bygones, mostly to avoid an awkward face-to-face encounter, I hadn’t fully forgiven him then because I still harbored some lingering resentment. But I’m so glad he talked to me before he died a few years after that. When I got news of his suicide, I felt absolutely no catharsis, only terrible sadness at having lost a part of my youth.

    • Little Raven
      October 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      That’s extremely touching, Sid. Thanks for posting it.

  4. olympia
    October 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    It’s weird how long the bullies of our youth can stay with us. Recently, my 64-year-old father received an invitation to a class reunion from a man who’d been mean to him when they were in high school, and my father took the opportunity to write the man a long, angry letter detailing the man’s misdeeds to him. Now, granted my father was on a bender at the time, but it’s not like the alcohol created his feelings of resentment, just made them easier to access.

    I myself received a Facebook friend invite not long ago from someone who bullied me in junior high, and what do you know, I accepted it. In part because a friend invite means rather little to me, but mostly it’s just because I don’t have it in me to be angry at her. Although, I do wonder how she’d react if I said, “You know how you used to call me a lesbian? Turns out you had a point!”

  5. Coraline
    October 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I am just not as big a person as Eve.

    I was bullied in middle school and junior high. Fortunately I was able to go to a different high school from everyone else in my junior high and was able to start fresh.

    Every now and then I get a friend request on Facebook (why?) from one of the mob who participated in my bullying. My M.O. is to simply decline the request and block them.

    They simply don’t deserve any more of my time then that.

    • rox
      October 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Personally I don’t think you should have to be and the social pressure to be the “bigger person” further harms people who really shouldn’t be pressured to be a good person about being abused MORE THAN the abuser is even pressured to be accountable for it in a meaningful way that acknolwedges the extent of the damage and that “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix it.

      I’m a very fogriving person, even toward abusers, but there are some things I still carry injuries from and the idea that my community thinks I would be a better or worse person based on how nice I am about being abused grosses me out.

      If we’re going to shame anyone it should be the people who destroy people around them and then expect “I’m sorry” to make everything better. Otherwise survivors worth or status should not bear any relation to how nice they are to people who have abused them.

      • rox
        October 27, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        I should add putting people who forgive abusers on a pedestal sets the stage for expecting that of survivors, and I don’t like it as a social trend.

      • RP
        October 31, 2013 at 9:30 am

        All of my love for Rox’s comments.

        Coraline, I’ve never been messaged or gotten a friend request from a childhood bully but I like your M.O.

  6. TimmyTwinkles
    October 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    My biggest regret from middle school is not standing up for kids around me being bullied. Sure, I never bullied anyone myself, but I stood by and watched it happen. That’s a lesson I want to impart strongly to my future children. It’s a cliche but it’s absolutely true: if you stand by and do nothing you are complicit.

  7. Matt
    October 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I understand if mods don’t wanna let this through moderation.

    Trigger warning: depression, suicidal ideation/action, failed school shooting(this one is not related to my personal actions):

    I hate these articles. Because every time one comes out the pressure is on to forgive things that were done to me. Well I abortively tried to kill myself one by going to sleep in the cold, it was REALLY COLD, like -10 or something, and I had a brief obsession with staying up late and staring at kitchen knives. As for why, I’m still not comfortable talking about that even in an anonymous internet post where I talk about almost killing myself. Even though its a pretty common set of reasons.

    All I can say is fuck adults. “Work it out for yourself.” Are you sure you want that ignorant adults? Because I knew someone who tried to work it out for himself. Although I didn’t know what he was going to do until after it happened. Luckily for his school someone saw the bulge in his pants.

    He killed himself before the legal system or the news got into it. Something I don’t think he would regret if he knew how not killing himself would turn out. It was the best decision he could have made. I’m not sure any amount of CBT can make up for getting a swirly in a toilet that still had urine and feces in it. As a huge germophobe I am comfortable saying that I would have killed someone who did that to me when I was 14. Nowadays I would probably just kill myself, better than being “poop face” for all time AND dying in prison.

    Its great that a lot of bullies grow up to be nice respectable people who are ashamed of what they’ve done. But I know, or should I say KNEW, too many kids who wouldn’t have been around by the time the bully was changed enough to apologize. In fact I knew one self aware kid who considered that a plus. “And I won’t be around long enough for him(don’t wanna use real names in this post) to get to get his free “I apologized” pass from everyone we both know. Gotta tally up those silver linings, you know? Aside from the one slipping through my esophagus.”

    Pro tip for bullied people:
    If you post actively on a forum with a lot of nerdy socially awkward teenage bullying victims that isn’t explicitly noted as a support site, later in life you’ll probably realize it wasn’t a healthy place to interact. And you might get burnt out on appreciating “gallows humor” for the rest of your life.

    • karak
      October 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      To me, this isn’t about “forgiving” Susie, it’s about coming to terms with the bullying she suffered and processing it in a meaningful way so that it doesn’t have the same power in her “now” moment.

      About ten years ago my mother was nearly beaten to death by our neighbor in an unprovoked attack, and I was so traumatized by the event and the aftermath that I felt this need to tell the story over and over again. My friend asked me to talk to an activist group about what happened to my mother and the failures of the justice system, and I after I gave my talk I felt this sudden weight off me.

      It didn’t fix my nightmares, it didn’t change my fear of confrontation and strangers, or the months and years my mom spent injured, but suddenly that moment because part of my lived, experienced past instead of something I was in the midst of. It no longer dominated my current self. It certainly formed it and shaped it, and I would be lying if I said I’m never angry or emotional about what happened, but there’s something different.

      I have not and will never forgive or the motherfucker who hurt her so badly. But I no longer live at the mercy of my anger. I control it.

      That’s a point that some see as “healthy”. I know that *I*, personally, feel better, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to process their trauma like I did.

  8. Sechmeth
    October 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    I got bullied in school, a lot. I was too clever, a girl, and not pretty enough.
    One guy befriends me on facebook this year and actually writes me how sorry he is for bullying me, and being mean to me.
    The fun bit? I never ever was thinking that he was bullying me, he was actually the nicest guy in my whole school, lol. Guess he was not mean enough, in comparison to the others.
    Still, it takes ovaries for a guy to say sorry, and then to his victim. I am proud of him, even if he is still an idiotic douchebro. (calls his dates “pearls”, ugh)

  9. Attackfish
    October 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    I was bulled very badly in third grade by most of the school, and I ended up switching schools because of it. My new elementary school and my old one matriculated into the same middle school, and I was terrified to start sixth grade and see all of those people again. Now the bullying of me had been led by three girls. By the time I got to middle school, one of them had developed severe depression and was barely a blip on the social scene, one was beautiful and popular and had moved onto other targets, but one, one had through her own growth and the help of a mother who understood just how and why her daughter’s previous behavior was wrong, had grown int a kind and courageous young woman. She apologized to me and sought my friendship. We became good friends, in spite of having little in common. She was one of the few people to listen to me and believe me when I talked about my first stalker. She felt very guilty for what she had done to me, a guilt that grew as we got to know each other and became friends, and grew further wit the realization that she had driven me into my stalker’s reach in the first place. When I moved, I told her that if she wanted absolution, if she wanted the slate to be wiped clean, she would help another friend of mine, who had entered into an abusive friendship with my stalker, just as I had. I told her that when my friend was willing to leave my stalker, who would later become our stalker, I wanted her to help my friend leave and lend her the social protection and support she would desperately need. I told her to extend a hand to her, and help her back up, and if she did this, she would have any forgiveness I could give. She did this, and with this, grew from a child bully into an amazing human being. This is why I get so angry at adults who allow children to bully other children. When this girl bullied, her mother stopped her and taught her better. Neither of the other girls’ mothers bothered. Look what a difference it made.

    • Matt
      October 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      This is a much more interesting story than the one told in the original article. Adults are always whining about how hard controlling bullying is. Its good to know one adult accepted her responsibility to do something that no child would be in a position to do for themselves.

  10. EG
    October 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Eh, I’m no longer particularly angry at the kids who were mean to me in high school–found a batch of old photos a few years back and realized how young they were. But I have no interest in being in touch, either. Not because I’m still hurt or even angry, but because I…don’t see anything tempting there. What’re we gonna do, sit around and reminisce about some of the worst years of my life? It’s not like I have any reason to think we have anything in common.

  11. Li
    October 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I’m still pissed at one of my bullies. I can still vividly remember him hitting me in the face with a cricket bat, how ashamed and stupid he made me feel. I still can’t really have birthday parties because of the year my parents asked me if I wanted to have one and I ended up crying because I didn’t have any one I actually wanted to invite.

    I’m less angry about the kid who sexually assaulted me to check if I was aroused by being touched by another boy, but it took me until I was 24 to even name that as assault so the damage is still raw.

    I think Eve is tougher than I am. If any of my bullies friended me I don’t know what I’d do, but I wouldn’t be able to talk back to them about what happened.

  12. October 23, 2013 at 5:18 am

    I have forgiven the majority of those who bullied me in 6th grade. It wasn’t easy, that same year I was being sexually abused outside of school, my father went from being a scary alcoholic to someone dying of cancer, and so the bullying made my life just that much worse. I became afraid of people, afraid of saying anything that would call attention to my very existence, so to this day I am living with the wreckage it made of any social skills I may have/have had. But I forgave them. When an ex-classmate sent me a message on MySpace ages ago to apologize for the bullying, I was shocked, but he was never anywhere as bad as the others.

    But there was one bully I don’t think I can ever forgive. She hurt me, she humiliated me, when we were in high school she no longer actively bullied me but she did look down at me, etc. I think I find it impossible to forgive her because she doesn’t seem to have any idea or acceptance that she’s ever done anything wrong in her life. Since high school, probably earlier, her identity has been wrapped up in being an evangelical Christian. The image she presents to others is that of a (pardon the jargon) a born-again, spirit-filled, sanctified Christian girl (word choice is jargon) who loves God. What she really is is a hateful, nasty, spiteful person who thinks very highly of herself. And since high school watching her act this way has been a bitter bill to swallow. So I guess I find it impossible to forgive someone who doesn’t believe she’s ever done anything wrong…

  13. emily
    October 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

    My mother is good friends with a woman who is good friends with my middle school bully’s mom. And so my mom’s friend tells my mom about the goings on with Bully, who then tells me. Eventually, I told her, I just don’t care. She was a bully and I’m glad things are so difficult in her life.

    Bully actually also went to college with me. It was a big school, so I didn’t see her I think at all. Except at graduation. She was in my smallish division of the big school (maybe 200-300 kids in that division), so she started talking to me and being nice as we were lining up to get ready for the ceremony. It wasn’t all planned out, so who we were standing next to in line we would end up sitting next to at the ceremony. So I excused myself to go stand next to anyone else but her.

    I know I didn’t have to so bad compared to other people. She said some nasty things to me, only threatened to beat me up, and that was pretty much the end of it. Other kids did worse to me, but those were isolated incidents. Her thing was almost every day for at least a year.

    If I still have this resentment to her to the point of I don’t want to talk to her and I don’t want to hear about what’s going on in her life, I wonder about other people who faced worse than I did and how they react when their bullies friend them on facebook or otherwise reach out. All these “I forgive my bully” stories, sure, fine, if that works for you. But I wonder, like what Matt wrote, if it places pressure or anyone else who aren’t ready to forgive. Coraline here wrote that she’s not as big as Eve, and Li wrote that he’s not as tough as Eve, and I’m just thinking, it’s not right, after being a victim of bullying, that it even crossed their minds that someone might think of them as small or weak because they don’t want to forgive or face their bullies.

    • EG
      October 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

      But I wonder, like what Matt wrote, if it places pressure or anyone else who aren’t ready to forgive. Coraline here wrote that she’s not as big as Eve, and Li wrote that he’s not as tough as Eve, and I’m just thinking, it’s not right, after being a victim of bullying, that it even crossed their minds that someone might think of them as small or weak because they don’t want to forgive or face their bullies.

      I agree. And not just people who “aren’t ready” to forgive, but also people who have decided not to forgive, who have decided that forgiveness is not appropriate or right for them. Not forgiving is just as legitimate and healthy a choice as forgiving, but forgiveness, in our Christian-dominated culture, gets held up as somehow the inherently “correct” or “better” choice.

      • Attackfish
        October 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        I agree. The one bully I forgave needed to be worthy of my forgiveness before it happened. I feel bad for and have in many ways forgiven another bully of mine (or more accurately decided she has enough of her own crap) but was bullied by a lot of people and most of them I will never forgive and have no interest in forgiving. I have accepted that it happened, and am working on putting it in perspective and dealing with it for my own mental health, but for me, that does not include forgiveness.

        I tend to hear two arguments for forgiveness, one, it’s goof for the victim and helps us move past it, which is only true for some people and is far from universal, and shouldn’t be mandatory, and two, that withholding forgiveness is mean, forgiving is the morally right thing to do. Excuse me if I don’t care about being nice to people who hurt me that badly and feel that letting them back into my life by forgiving them (which is often what is really meant, I’ve found) is a dangerous, self destructive choice.

    • Coraline
      October 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      But I wonder, like what Matt wrote, if it places pressure or anyone else who aren’t ready to forgive. Coraline here wrote that she’s not as big as Eve, and Li wrote that he’s not as tough as Eve, and I’m just thinking, it’s not right, after being a victim of bullying, that it even crossed their minds that someone might think of them as small or weak because they don’t want to forgive or face their bullies.

      For me… it comes from a lifetime of being told to “be the bigger person” in the face of bullying. Because it is totally easy for the adults to tell the bullying victim to just buck up, and a lot harder for them to figure out how to deal with the bully. So its the easy road pretty much all the time. :/

      Honestly, at this point I embrace and revel in the fact that I am not a “bigger person”. Forgive and forget? Eff that. The people who bullied me don’t deserve a second of my real-life time. I don’t care if they want to apologize… I am not interested in hearing it and am certainly not going to grant absolution. If it’s “mean” for me to withhold forgiveness… good.

      • Jennifer
        October 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

        Because it is totally easy for the adults to tell the bullying victim to just buck up, and a lot harder for them to figure out how to deal with the bully. So its the easy road pretty much all the time. :/

        Totally agree.

  14. October 23, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I have been friended by a few of the people who bullied me and I had accepted, mainly out of morbid curiosity, only to eventually unfriend them out of boredom.

    I have no love lost for the people who tormented me, and none for some of the parents who did nothing when confronted with their children’s behaviour (one who went so far as to tell my mother that it was not her fault that my mom raised me to be a “fucking wimp” ). I don’t feel obligated to forgive them, nor to forget what was done to me.

    My oldest daughter is having a hard time with kids at school and it angers me so much that years later I still don’t know how to deal with bullies, other than to tell her that she is not obligated to make people like her and that she doesn’t have to associate with people who treat her like shit. And talking to her teachers. It’s so frustrating, because I don’t want her to go though what I went through and I don’t know how to stop it.

    • Bonnie
      October 23, 2013 at 11:34 am

      I have learned how to deal with bullies as an adult but somehow am unable to translate that to helping my own daughter. She is just starting to be excluded in her group of friends and with some of her cousins on my ex-husband’s side. I have nothing useful to tell her beyond discussing whether these girls are worthy of her friendship, introducing her into new groups of friends away from school, and telling my story of finding lifelong friends in my twenties.

      It’s heartbreaking that I am helpless to prevent the worst parts of my childhood from happening to her.

      • Attackfish
        October 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm

        The only thing you can do is support her, and if you can, talk to the parents of her bullies. It’s horrible how powerless a bully victim and their allies are unless they have some authority over the bullies themselves.

      • ldouglas
        October 24, 2013 at 10:43 am

        I think part of the problem is that many adults see children’s social dynamics as beneath them- they seem to think they can change them by fiat. There’s nothing that makes life worse for a bullying victim than a teacher or parent getting involved in the wrong way, and many adults don’t seem to want to consider that they’re opinions/preferences may not matter that much to a bunch of 11-year-olds.

      • October 25, 2013 at 8:15 am

        In my own case, ldouglas, I recall all too much how getting teachers involved did not help. As for my parents, I hid a lot of the bullying that I was going through from them. Why? To this day I still do not know, as I consider my parents pretty awesome people. Maybe I was afraid of worrying them?

        But now, as a parent, I get stuck between intervening because I don’t want to brush off what may be happening to my kid, and not intervening for fear of making things worse for her.

  15. pheenobarbidoll
    October 23, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Thankfully I was never bullied. In hs I was part of the “stoner” group and the popular prone to bullying girls were afraid of us. So I used that to confront bullies when I witnessed it. Generally, after stepping in they’d leave their target alone for fear of an ass whipping. It’s funny to me, how we were viewed as criminals but were far more tolerant of differences than the ” good” kids. I’ve been friended by some of those bullies, and while some have grown up, others are just as shallow as ever. If I see them acting in the same crappy ways and I know I have a friend on my list who had been their target once upon a time, I get rid of the jerk. I’m not going to expose their victim to more crap as an adult. I raised my daughter this way, and she was never bullied, never a bully and shielded bully victims whenever she witnessed it. The school would punish HER for calling a bully out. And then I’d go up there and back my daughter. More kids might stand up for others if idiots in school administration would stop punishing them for it. Not everyone has a parent that will back them for doing the right thing once that right thing gets them in trouble at school. What can the kids do when the system not only protects bullies but punishes those who stand up to it?

  16. gratuitous
    October 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I’ll say right off the bat that these threads are interesting to me. I wasn’t exactly bullied all those years ago (late 1960s, early 1970s), but I was certainly in line for my fair share – and then some – of being picked on. I came to hate being characterized as “sensitive,” but I have a better understanding now of what the adults were trying to say then.

    It’s been a long time, 40 years or more, and seeing what other people have tried or done to come to terms with really damaging behavior (far worse than anything I endured) is instructive. I have tried myself on occasion to resolve those long-ago conflicts; in other cases, I’ve just let them go. In still others, I’ve held onto the grudge. I don’t know that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution that applies to every person or even to every situation one person may have experienced.

    I do know that when I’ve let the past go, even without a face-to-face apology or forgiveness, I’ve felt the release of a burden detailed in Eve’s column. I rather like that feeling, and am reminded of the saying about holding a grudge is like swallowing a little poison day by day in hopes that your enemy will drop dead. But I’ve not done that in every case, and I have blocked one Facebook person that I don’t think I’ll ever un-block. Luckily, that person lives hundreds of miles away, and the possibility of a chance encounter is extremely remote.

    Life is a messy proposition, and not everything works out. Where possible, I just try to free myself from the shackles I’ve forged. And maybe that’s as good as I can do.

  17. All Cats Are Beautiful
    October 23, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    There was one boy in my elementary school who bullied me for many years, but I don’t really hold a grudge against him anymore. (The adults around us who didn’t stop him and told me I was overreacting and he was just being cute, on the other hand, can fuck right off.) Few years later a friend’s mom told me that his parents apparently abused him really badly since early childhood, and that child protective services finally took him away from them.

    While this didn’t change how hurt I still felt from how my bully treated me, it reminded me that we had more in common than I realized back in elementary school. We were both just vulnerable children back then and just like me, he would have deserved to be raised by decent human beings who always treat him with respect and teach him how to treat others around him with respect. There’s nothing he could have done to me back then that could change that.

    I hope he’s doing ok but have no intentions to find him on facebook, mainly because I don’t particularly like to be reminded of my childhood. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he felt the same way.

    Apart from that, there was another guy that bullied me whom I’ll certainly never forgive. We were already in high school, but he made me feel way worse than any of my schoolmates could have ever done back in elementary. At that time, facebook was already a thing (although a fairly new one where I live) and it was pretty common to just add all of your classmates, even if you weren’t exactly friends in real life. So one day this guy from my school just posts about a dozen of really vile, homophobic and transphobic messages (some of them directed to friends of mine) on my facebook wall for everyone to see.

    I was terrified when I found out. I somehow always thought I was too unremarkable for anyone at high school to single me out and pick on me like that. I was farly new to facebook and hardly ever used it for something other than writing private messages and didn’t post any pictures or status updates or anything else publicly. This classmate of mine just looked at my friend list and ruled that some of my friends presented too queer for his taste, and this must mean I’m also queer, so I totally deserved to be humiliated like that. It took me a long time to stop blaming myself for not being careful enough in what I chose to let people know about me through social networks.
    I felt really horrible and skipped school for more than a week. If my sibling who at that time went to the same school had found out about it and told my parents, I’m sure they would have kicked me out of the house.

    • Attackfish
      October 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      (The adults around us who didn’t stop him and told me I was overreacting and he was just being cute, on the other hand, can fuck right off.)

      This, this exactly. Whenever I hear an adult talk about how hard it is to stop bullying, I see red. Yeah, it’s hard to do your job and keep children safe. Fuck you.

  18. Sharon M
    October 24, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Good for her. Me? Forgiveness is over rated, and I get angry when people urge you to forgive and forget.

    • rox
      October 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      I hear you. In fact, I have some abusers in my life I’m not even angry at because they were abused themselves and were acting out their PTSD/childhood abuse and neglect and I don’t think can fully be held accountable for how messed up they were. When people create this narrative of “Oh you need to forgive to be healed, or to be a bigger person or else you are bad, undeveloped, less human, not as advanced” it’s just repulsive.

      These same people want me to me more loving to RAPISTS and have the audacity to call non-forgivers inferior? If you think it’s easy to forgive abuse than you d$%#n well should be able to forgive people who have less than enthusastic feelings about ex-abusers being celebrated in their friend groups and communities.

      • rox
        October 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm

        What’s more I actually think communities and friend groups should be held more accountable for celebrating the forgiveness and inclusiveness of ex abusers without a true accountability process for acknowledging what that person has proved themselves capable of and that it really shouldn’t ever be “just the same” as if they hadn’t done such things.

  19. October 24, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Mods, if this comment is inappropriate for this thread in any way, I apologize and won’t mind if it’s deleted.

    [Content note: bullying, body-shaming, fat-shaming, self-harm, fat-shaming]

    I was both a victim of bullying and, at one point in my early childhood, a bully myself. The bullying I have faced has mostly been in the form of being body-shamed. My father, my tae kwon do instructor, and some of my peers used to shame me for having slightly more fat than my peers. Their bullying has hurt me so much that these days I have an eating disorder in the form of intentionally depriving myself of food and drink. I don’t completely avoid food and drink, but I consume way less than a healthier person would.

    • October 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

      My comment got published early on accident… =S

      About me being a bully at some point in my childhood (around age 9): It started when I was trying to become friends with her and my uncles told me right in front of her that I was trying to become her boyfriend (I didn’t realize I was female at the time). I got very embarrassed and upset, and so I ran away from her and decided that I had no choice but to pretend that I didn’t like her. So I would sometimes join my friends to ostracize and ridicule her. Deep down in my heart, I didn’t hate her and I wanted to be her friend, but apparently the fear of being judged was too strong for me.

      I never engaged in severe bullying, but given that she lived with very abusive parents and had no friends (I didn’t know this when I was in my bullying phase), I’m sure that the things I did made her feel more alienated and despised. I felt like I would become more masculine and tough if I called her mean names and openly shunned her whenever she approached me. (As you can probably guess, this was partially motivated by my attempt to repress my feelings of identifying as female.) I tried to escalate my bullying once by throwing a water balloon at her for no reason, but I decided to not throw it at her because I felt too guilty. My motivations don’t really matter at the end of the day, though – what I did most likely had an adverse effect on her self-esteem.

      It’s been 10 years, and even while I’m writing this I feel like I’m a horrible person even though I was a child when all of it happened. I would do almost anything to see her again and apologize, if she was open to meeting me again. Perhaps I’ll see if I can find her again somehow. I hope she is somewhere safe and away from abusive environments.

      (this is the part of my comment that I fear may be inappropriate for this thread)

      • PM
        October 26, 2013 at 11:42 pm

        You know, it’s funny. I was bullied on and off through elementary school, junior high, and high school. Verbal stuff, threats of violence, and actual violence. I remember many of their names, and many of the incidents, but not all of them. And they don’t bother me anymore. However, sometimes I think about the time that I lunged at a kid in the hallways of our high school during passing period. The only reason to do so was to scare him, to make him flinch, just because I was bigger. Because I could. It is one of the few moments of extreme regret that I carry from my time in school, and I remember it more vividly than I do any incidents where I was on the receiving end. I hope that dude’s doing OK. I wish I could take that moment back.

      • October 28, 2013 at 3:12 am

        I relate to this quite a bit.

        There was a kid–let’s call him Bob–who was a few years older than me and who had at one point been a sort of friend. I am not sure how it started, but an adult’s gradually escalating teasing-into-abuse eventually meant we turned on each other. He always had far more power and was quite terrible to me, but I still feel ashamed of my conduct, and I wish I could take back what I said to him.

  20. October 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I have to admit that I feel much more guilt from taking revenge on people who I bullied than I do any sort of low self-esteem/anger issues towards the people who bullied me. Ultimately standing up to bullies worked for me not getting bullied, but I can barely remember any of the bullying, yet some of the things I did in response, like getting this kid who bullied me expelled and arrested for something he didn’t do and this other time where this guy who used to pick on me got beaten to a bloody mess by two of our schoolmates (in an unrelated incident) and I just watched.

    • SkyTracer
      October 25, 2013 at 12:23 am

      Holy shit.

      If I admit that I’m narcissistic enough to think my comments from the Sagging Pants thread might have played a part in your decision to make that disturbing-as-fuck comment, then will I get to keep my fingers?

      • October 25, 2013 at 1:27 am

        Holy shit.

        If I admit that I’m narcissistic enough to think my comments from the Sagging Pants thread might have played a part in your decision to make that disturbing-as-fuck comment, then will I get to keep my fingers?

        Believe me, these guys were vile anti-semitic pieces of shit, not in the same universe as someone who vaguely criticized me on an internet forum. Plus I was 13 or 14 at the time and now at 44 I still cringe at the sight of that guy getting the shit kicked out of him even though he tormented me with Jew bashing for a year in the bus. I don’t know why those 2 guys beat him up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he said something racist to them. I just remember hearing that they were going to beat him up that day at school so I went along to watch and I was just horrified. Put me off violence forever.

      • SkyTracer
        October 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

        Ah, okay. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Never mind me then.

  21. 30ish
    October 27, 2013 at 4:39 am

    To me that decisive moment in the story isn’t the reply and apology from the childhood bully, but the moment Eve decides that her way of dealing with it will be to write the message and not accept the friend request. She does what she thinks is right and that is empowering. Other former victims of bullying might have just denied the request or accepted it for whatever reasons, which would be just as good a way of dealing as long it’s their way. I would probably be in the group of those just denying the request and avoiding any further interaction – which is fine. I would think “now that I’m an adult I can choose whether this person will be in my life or not, when as a child I couldn’t, so guess what, I’m making the choice of not being confronted with my bully in any shape or form”.

  22. BFing Sarah
    October 27, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    I have chills after reading this. What a wonderful piece. Thank you, Eve. Those childhood taunts really linger, even after decades of friendship and good times. I was so sensitive to taunting that I still was worried in college that I would be “exposed” as a “fraud” (a fraud what, I wonder??) and that I would no longer be “popular” or well-liked once they knew who I “really was.” It shocks me how much the things that were said when I was in fourth grade (me, too!) impacted me years later. It wasn’t until grad school that I really left it behind and embraced myself.

  23. ldouglas
    October 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Trigger warning- I don’t get this at all and I probably am going to be very insensitive to people who experiences bullying, so I’d advise not reading if this topic already feels close to home.

    I find a lot of this incomprehensible. I had what I think is a pretty normal childhood; I wasn’t the coolest or the least cool kid in elementary/middle school. I definitely remember getting pushed around a couple times, and I remember pushing another kid down on the playground once. In high school I was fairly popular, I guess; I always seemed to have a lot of friends, though there were plenty of other people I didn’t particular like. But what I remember mostly is how distant it all seems; how childish the feuds were, how immature the relationships, and how long ago it all feels.

    I mean, what definition of bullying are we using here? Being physically assaulted/emotionally taunted? Or just not invited to hang out with the cool kids? I guess I just really don’t understand how stuff that happened so long ago- unless it was profoundly traumatic, like prolonged abuse or sexual violence- can matter so much, a decade or more later.

    • moviemaedchen
      October 28, 2013 at 5:40 am

      [Note for description of bullying, violence, suicidal ideation]

      I don’t have the spoons to dive deeply into this at the moment, which is why I’ve mostly sat this one out, but I do want to point something out that I hope will help you understand where people may be coming from. (I mean I genuinely hope that – I’m not being snarky here. But this is a button for me, so if some of that ‘ow’ creeps in here I’m sorry – it’s not directed at you.)

      Different things can be more or less traumatic for different people. Event X, that person A experiences as only painful to a small degree and is quickly forgotten, can be legitimately traumatic to person B, because A has not lived the life that B did (and vice-versa). Saying that only certain types of experience can ever be ‘traumatic enough’ for people to still be legitimately hurt years later is establishing a validity prism for their feelings and leads to emotionally auditing other people. Which, no. People get to feel whatever they feel and be legitimately hurt by whatever they feel hurts them, even if to other people similar events are now easy to brush off. People have different backgrounds and tolerances for hurt, and react differently to things.

      Also there are different ways in which people can remain affected by bullying experiences endured as a child that don’t necessarily map neatly onto a ‘profoundly traumatized’/’perfectly ok now’ binary. (Again, people’s experiences may differ – there is a range of possibilities. I speak of my own experience.) As an example from my own life: I was viciously bullied in school. Some of it was physical violence – being hit, or having the prongs from an electric dog collar (not turned on, but still) jabbed into my neck, or the like. Some of it was non-physical – what a lot of people would call ‘ordinary teasing’ before saying to just get over it – being taunted, having my possessions stolen, someone pretending to give me something or pick me for a team or say they wanted to be friends, and then laughing in my face when I thought they were being genuine, and so on.

      Here’s the thing though. While many (not all) of the memories of specific incidents that are clearest in my mind are of physical violence, on the whole those were the simplest for me to get over. They were specific events, and they live clearly in the past for me. I don’t assume that acquaintances are going to turn on me and hit me, and thinking about those episodes is only mildly uncomfortable. What I still struggle with, what the most lasting impact of the bullying has been for me, are: a lack of trust in other people, especially people being nice to me; low self-worth and difficulty believing that I am worthy of decent treatment by people; and difficulty recognizing and expressing my emotions.

      The non-physical and more constant forms of bullying formed a pattern that was so much a part of my daily life that trying to pick out individual incidents that weren’t in other ways memorable is sort of like asking what I had for breakfast those days. Was it bacon or toast? Name-calling or having my lunch ruined? I’m sure it was something on the list, but it was so everyday for me that it doesn’t stand out in my mind. Eat breakfast, go to school, be humiliated and hurt by someone – and probably be told to stop reacting. (I was told repeatedly by school authorities to ‘just ignore it’ when the bullying was something other than being literally physically assaulted, and that my reactions were the only things driving the bullies to hurt me. Trust me, I tried so hard to find the magic key to Not Feeling Hurt when people deliberately tried to hurt me, and it never worked. Because their aim was to hurt, and they’d do whatever that took.) And repeatedly being the target of deliberate attacks, no matter how ‘small’ those attacks might look like from the outside, can have a profound impact.

      It teaches you that you are an object for others’ amusement. It teaches you that you are not worthy of fundamentally decent treatment. It teaches you that other people find you hateful, and if they are being nice to you now it’s only part of a trap to hurt you later. Receiving those messages again and again? Made it very easy to think that I must be inherently fucked up, because they didn’t do this to everyone – so there was something wrong with me. And being told that it was in essence my fault, for being able to be hurt by them? Just told me that having emotions was wrong, much less expressing them. That has directly contributed to hurtful and difficult situations for me in the present, because having and expressing emotions is not only a fundamental part of being human, but of having healthy relationships with others too.

      It was hurtful, deeply hurtful, and impacts me to this day, even though I’m not having obvious flashbacks or would not be a clear candidate for bad PTSD over it. Nevermind the fact that it made it so impossible to concentrate on the material that I re-did the sixth grade because I hadn’t learned anything (very uncharacteristic of bookworm me). I’m rather certain that if I hadn’t moved to another state and entered a school where the kids treated me well, but had had to stay there, I would probably have tried to kill myself at some point. The fact that the bullies’ tools for hurting me were more often nasty names and little gestures of spite like taking my pencil case didn’t make the hurt less, it just made it easier for school officials to ignore (which is why they used mainly those methods). The message behind those gestures was exactly the same message behind the blows: that I was different, and lesser, and deserved to be hurt for their amusement.

      And this was with my mother being a very vocal advocate for me and always supporting me, doing her best to help me believe that what they were doing was wrong. People who don’t have someone at home to support them that way? Can find it harder to cope. Being told that it’s not that bad, just ignore it, it’s not like real abuse, or anything along those lines, only compounds the hurtful messaging (especially but not only when it’s from authority figures), because it denies victims the right to have their own feelings or interpret their own experiences. Indeed (and I am speaking very specifically only of my own experience here), the feelings that such responses raise in me are very similar to the feelings I get when someone starts down the path of denying or reinterpreting my experience of rape. They weren’t there and aren’t me; it’s not for them to judge or declare valid. It simply is what it is.

      tl;dr: It’s impossible to judge from the specifics of an incident of bullying how that incident will affect the victim, because people are genuinely hurt by different things and in different ways. Neither the person deeply affected nor the person who found bullying only mildly unpleasant or childish is wrong in their experiences; they are simply different experiences.

      • October 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

        moviemaedchen, this is the best comment I have seen in the thread so far. Tears are welling up in my eyes right now because what you describe is so much like (though not exactly like) what I’ve been through. I felt completely validated as I read it, and so much of what I’ve needed to hear ever since I was a little kid is all in your comment. Perhaps that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

        Thank you so much for sharing all of that, and I’m very sorry to hear about what you’ve gone through. If my comment is sounding silly to you I apologize, but your comment just means so much to me personally. (Okay, now I’m legitimately crying. In a good way.)

      • moviemaedchen
        October 28, 2013 at 11:40 am

        Oh Ally. You don’t sound silly at all – thank you for your comment. I’m glad that you felt validated by what I said, that I was able to help even a little bit. (And I know what you mean. Hearing about bullying from others helped me, too.) Because you did not deserve to be hurt, whatever they did to you and whatever lay behind their cruelty. I’m sorry you went through what you did.

        Hugs if wanted. And your comment really touched me, so thanks.

      • Matt
        October 28, 2013 at 9:26 am

        I learned a different lesson from adults telling me to get over it. I learned they were not only worse than useless(and boy were they worthless in dealing with abuse) but actively harmful. And people wonder why I have problems with authority.

        Which just goes with your point, same circumstances, different consequences.

      • moviemaedchen
        October 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

        Yes, sometimes that’s a reaction too. (I figure that it took me so long to figure out that they were full of shit because, as a verbal shy kid who was not interested in things everybody else was into, adults were my go-to for social life; they felt ‘safe’.)

        I’m sorry they let you down too – and yes, sometimes they can be absolutely worthless in dealing with abuse and bullying. It’s enraging to me.

      • October 28, 2013 at 11:26 am

        Different things can be more or less traumatic for different people. Event X, that person A experiences as only painful to a small degree and is quickly forgotten, can be legitimately traumatic to person B, because A has not lived the life that B did (and vice-versa). Saying that only certain types of experience can ever be ‘traumatic enough’ for people to still be legitimately hurt years later is establishing a validity prism for their feelings and leads to emotionally auditing other people. Which, no. People get to feel whatever they feel and be legitimately hurt by whatever they feel hurts them, even if to other people similar events are now easy to brush off. People have different backgrounds and tolerances for hurt, and react differently to things.

        Absolutely agree. As I stated earlier, I was bullied pretty badly by a few people in my junior high, but due to it being my first encounter with anti-semitism and the fact that it seemed rather insignificant compared to the anti-semitism my mother’s family was subjected to in Austria less than 40 years previously stories of which had somewhat prepared for that moment or at least made it seem inevitable.

        For me, my thing that I was told to ‘get over’ was my high school girlfriend breaking up with me. I ended up trying to kill myself with pills over her. Looking on it with retrospect and realizing how silly I was and if I’m totally honest I’d have to admit it would have been best if I had just ‘gotten over it,’ if it were as simple as that, but I know that it isn’t. So, if I was ever giving advice to a lovesick teenager that would be the last bit of advice I’d give them, same thing with a bullied teenager.

      • moviemaedchen
        October 28, 2013 at 11:49 am

        Yeah, it can be interesting sometimes to look back at how we reacted to things in the past and see that things might have gone better if we had reacted differently – because we are able to see it through different eyes now. But of course, at the time we weren’t able to look at things that way, so the impact was different.

        I’m sorry you were bullied, and dealt with such anti-semitism; I’m glad you felt at least a little prepared for it, but wish that you needn’t have been in that situation in the first place.

      • TimmyTwinkles
        October 28, 2013 at 11:38 am

        I learned this lesson in rehab. We had a week dedicated to confronting childhood trauma (i didnt get alot out of this week because my addictions are more self-medication due to bi-polar disorder). Though several in my group were dealing with rape and childhood molestation, the one that touched me the most was the guy who confronted his bullies from middle school. The pain, shame, and rage that he had pent-up for over 20 years due to that bullying all came out in the therapy, and I realized that, like movie said, different things can be traumatic for different people. And the trauma he felt from being bullied was every bit as real as what the others in the group were dealing with.

      • moviemaedchen
        October 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

        And the trauma he felt from being bullied was every bit as real as what the others in the group were dealing with.

        This, perfectly said. It’s not that molestation or similar things are made less bad in comparison, it’s that the hurt and trauma that can result from bullying, in whatever degree they do, is as real as the hurt and trauma from things like that.

    • ldouglas
      October 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Thank you, everyone. One of the reasons I come here is to be educated and this really, really helped.

  24. Alara Rogers
    October 31, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I have no interest in forgiving my school bullies. I have no interest in their existence at all. If one of them tried to friend me I’d probably ignore them completely.

    At one point I was angry enough at them to use thinly disguised versions of their real names as villains in my Internet-published fanfics, but… not anymore. Now I just don’t care.

    But I don’t think it makes you a bigger person to be able to forgive. I think it makes you a different person, but not a bigger one. Those who forgive easily might be doormats with low self esteem or they might be so strong they have the ability to push aside their own feelings in favor of doing what they think is right or they might be supremely empathetic or they might be easily fooled. Who knows? Those who don’t forgive might be easily angered or too judgemental to let go of a grudge or shrewd, good judges of character who recognize the person doesn’t deserve forgiveness or someone who was just hurt too badly to ever forgive it. There is no good or bad on this axis, there is no big or small. Forgiving your enemies is not an inherently and unilaterally positive trait.

    I will say this. The strategy of forgiving, or of being in complete ignorance that someone even *is* your enemy, saves you a lot of a certain kind of pain. You can blithely go through life without suffering fear or anger or isolation or grief if you just don’t realize that there are people trying to hurt you, or if you feel like it was nothing and you can easily get over it. But that same strategy ensures that they won’t receive any negative reinforcement for their behavior. Now, if what they’re looking for is negative reinforcement, ie, they want you to be upset in a way that makes them feel bigger and stronger than you, you’re denying them food. You’re hurting them and sparing yourself by being ignorant of what they’re trying to do. But if you got sufficiently angry at them to take action against them, the harm you could cause them might lead them to reconsider their acts in the future. And either way, if you don’t know someone means you harm you are more vulnerable to their attempts to harm you, and if you don’t acknowledge that someone is harming you it runs the risk of you doing damage to other people suffering that same harm, because you may minimize it or advise them to just get over it or it’s not that bad.

    I’m reminded of a special on TV I saw where, using elaborate makeup, a black family and a white family were made to appear of the other race. And I noticed that the black man impersonating a white man encountered a *lot* of “whites being casually racist when they think no blacks are around”, but the white man impersonating a black man believed he wasn’t encountering any racism at all. My feeling about this is that a lifetime of being subjected to racist behavior makes you sensitive to and aware of it. The white man impersonating a black man probably *was* encountering racist microaggressions but couldn’t see them for what they were without a lifetime of being treated in a racist way. And because he couldn’t see them, he was happier. But a real black man in that situation might sooner or later end up in a very dangerous situation if he can’t recognize when people are being racist to him. So the white guy impersonating a black guy gets to be happily ignorant of racist microaggression because long term, it won’t affect him; this is temporary. But the black guy isn’t safe being happily ignorant of racism because racism could literally kill him if he isn’t aware of it.

    That’s how I feel about bullying and forgiveness. Forgiving someone something you know they did to you isn’t quite the same thing as never realizing they did it in the first place, but it’s on a similar spectrum. If they can be no future threat to you, and if forgiving them doesn’t impair your ability to protect yourself from similar threats in the future, then maybe it’s a good strategy. But can you really be sure that’s the case? Not forgiving is safer, but dragging around a grudge causes the grudge holder a certain degree of emotional exertion that can be harmful; is it worth it? These are questions everyone must ask for themselves.

    in fiction I tend to write a lot of genuinely remorseful characters and genuinely forgiving characters, because of the kind of story I like to read. In real life, I cannot know the bully is being genuinely remorseful. And regardless if they are or not, they can never take back what they’ve done. The words “I’m sorry” are meaningless. If you took action to prove your remorse, not just spouting words — maybe participating in anti-bullying initiatives in schools, or something — maybe I might forgive you, but the fact that you can’t change what you’ve done means I can never change how I felt about it then, and since if you were a bully I’ve probably eliminated all contact with you, I know nothing about you except what I knew then and I have little reason to want to. So why should I forgive? or even put it on the table?

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