You may think that someone who is bullying is just plain mean. Or gets enjoyment from embarrassing and hurting others by bullying, and has no feelings of remorse for their actions. Surprisingly, all those listed reasons usually are not the case. Those who harass are often harboring their own feelings of hurt, shame, and lack of control over their lives, and it’s these feelings that drive them to torment others; it’s how they react to feel in control of their own lives. Fortunately, if compassion and understanding are given to them, it can drastically alter their negative behavior. ‘Why you bully me’ is a story about a girl who eventually learns that bullying is not right, stops intimidating and finds compassion, love, and forgiveness. We share this story because life is about perspective, not excuses, and you have a choice in who you want to be and how you want to treat people.
We’d like to introduce you to Anna. Anna is a woman who as a child and teen bullied a handful of peers, but due to someone helping her, she stopped bullying and found compassion and love.
My bullying started in the 5th grade with one particular girl. For privacy purposes, I’ll call her Sherri. Sherri wasn’t exactly a part of the “popular group” like I was. She wore second-hand clothes that never matched, brought her lunch in a brown sack instead of a “cool” lunchbox, wore oversized glasses, her shoes were never tied, and she was always tripping over things. She was the perfect target for me to bully, especially because she didn’t really have any friends. I saw her as alone and weak, and I lashed my bully-rage on her nearly every day.
I did horrible things to her. I once made her lick the classroom floor and eat chewed gum found under my desk. I teased and taunted her, making up songs about how awful her clothes and hair were. It was not unusual for me to pull her hair, make her give me her lunch, or force her to let me copy her homework. She never resisted, so I never gave up.
Several of my friends also bullied Sherri. It was like a vicious fun game for us to bond over. The strange thing was that when I saw my friends bully Sherri, I felt bad for her. I never joined my friends in bullying Sherri with all of us together because, I guess, that’s what actually felt wrong of me to do. However, when I bullied her all on my own, it didn’t feel wrong in the moment.
So you may ask, why did I bully Sherri? At the time, I never thought about why I did it – I just did it. But looking back, there was a reason. My reason was that I was hurting in my life outside of the walls of school. Now I’m not saying I was justified in my bullying. Just because I was hurting did NOT mean I had the right to hurt someone else. Sadly, I didn’t realize this until years after I had started bullying Sherri.
In my homelife, my parents announced their divorce just two days before I began 5th grade. They had been fighting for years, which they did right in front of me, and even though I hated them fighting, I didn’t want them to get divorced. Them splitting up hurt me – this was the first reason that I chose to hurt others through bullying; I hurt, so I felt others should also. When my dad moved out, my mom relied on one of my older cousins to be at my house when I got home from school, made me dinner, ensure I did my homework, and so on. However, it wasn’t too long before my cousin started abusing me. More hurt I felt. As time went by, my mom began to stay away from our house more and more, claiming she had to take a night job in addition to her day job (I later learned her “night job” was really going out with endless men). Countless people began filtering through my home to help out with me and my brother. Though most were kind, I hated that my mom was never home; I felt abandoned because I only saw her for a few minutes each morning before school. You might wonder where my dad was. Well, he lost his job shortly after leaving my mom, and he could only find what he called a “decent” job out of state, so I rarely saw him. Needless to say, I felt abandoned by him also.
I didn’t have any control over my life at home. I was hurting for a variety of reasons, and I felt ashamed for the abuse I was enduring and for not having a “normal” family life like all my friends seemed to have. And well, as you know, I dealt with this by bullying others. But I didn’t get up each morning with plans to bully anyone. Actually, I never thought about bullying anyone until I was doing it. It was so surreal because to everyone other than my bullying targets, I was very nice, generous, and well-liked. But suddenly I would see someone, like Sherri, and it was as if I stepped outside my body and some horrible person took control over my behavior, and that person had no problem with inflicting hurt on others. Bullying made me feel in control of myself and my life. Shamefully, over my childhood and teen years, Sherri wasn’t the only one I bullied. I craved not feeling hurt in my life, so I pushed that hurt onto others.
By the time 10th grade rolled around, I was still bullying Sherri and a few other kids. My homelife was still an utter mess filled with random, and oftentimes, scary people coming and going out of my home. My mom had become dependent on alcohol, my brother kept running away from home, and I hadn’t seen my dad in over two years. But one day, one of my really good friends stopped me as I was headed toward Sherri to bully her into giving me her homework to copy. My friend – I’ll call her Carla – intervened and offered to let me copy her homework. And before I could say yes or no, Carla started talking about an upcoming party another friend was having and asking me questions about me going or not, all while she was pulling out her homework, giving me paper and a pencil, and guiding me to a table where I could copy her work. Carla distracted me, intentionally, and it saved Sherri from my wrath that day.
As the weeks went past, Carla began to take a different route to her classes so she could walk with me to mine (looking back, I think part of her plan was to be present and to step in if my sights fell on Sherri). She would take me off campus for lunch and always let me choose where to eat. After school, we’d go to her house where she’d help me with my homework. Soon, I became a regular at her place. Her mom and dad seemed happy to have me around, and I began eating dinner there every night and helping them clean up afterward. I actually began to like doing the dishes! It felt so satisfying to clean up a mess and see a clean kitchen and dining table (at my house, it was always dirty and a mess). With my mom always being drunk and my brother always being with his friends, Carla’s parents invited me to stay with them many nights a week.
One night at their home, I woke up in the middle of the night and was feeling super hungry. I didn’t want to be rude and sneak into their kitchen to find a snack, so instead, I just got a glass of water hoping it would satisfy my hunger pains. As I was sitting in the dining room drinking my water, Carla’s mom came in. I immediately started apologizing for helping myself to water and was sorry if I had woken her. She was so nice, though. She said I was welcome to anything they had and that she would have woken up regardless as to who was in the kitchen, saying as a mom, it was part of her job to make sure anyone who was up in the middle of the night was okay. Right at that moment, I started crying – crying so hard that I could barely breathe – and before I knew it, Carla’s mom had me wrapped in her arms.
For several minutes, I just cried. When I gained some kind of composure, she still held onto me until I was ready to part. I felt like she held me for hours, though it was just minutes. Once I sat back down, she asked if I was hungry, which I confirmed, so she went to the fridge for ice cream. She made us both a bowl of homemade ice cream covered in chocolate sauce and said ice cream always made her feel a little better when she was sad. As we ate, she began talking to me letting me guide the conversation. For the first time, I felt truly safe in talking about my homelife and my feelings, and I let it all out. Carla’s mom was amazing. She didn’t judge me or my family. She didn’t tell me what I should do. Instead, she listened, provided her perspective that included sharing things from her teen years that I could relate to, and offered support in a way I didn’t know existed. I went to sleep that night and had the best night’s sleep of my life.
The next morning as Carla and I drove to school, Carla admitted to hearing some of my conversation with her mom but that she didn’t want to intrude so she went back to bed. At first, I felt a little ashamed but quickly dismissed that feeling because without Carla’s friendship, I wouldn’t have felt as happy as I was feeling that day. When we pulled into the parking lot, I saw Sherri practically running to the school’s door and she tripped. Usually, I would have laughed and then made fun of Sherri the rest of the day, but today I didn’t feel that sudden urge to do that. Carla made a comment about she felt sorry for Sherri because her mom had passed away recently and Sherri was taking it really hard. I asked Carla how she knew that, and Carla said she was friends with a girl who was friends with Sherri, and that friend told her the other day in class when Sherri started tearing up and had to excuse herself from the classroom. It hit me hard that Sherri was just like everyone else with feelings, dealing with the sometimes harshness of life, and I felt extreme remorse for how I had treated her all these years. That was the day I stopped bullying.
You may wonder if I ever apologized to Sherri or to others I had bullied, and the answer is yes. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it right away. I was still just a kid and really didn’t have confidence in myself to step up and try to make things right. However, whenever I saw one of my friends who bullied Sherri make their way toward the girl, I stopped them in a similar way that Carla did for me. I distracted them, and more often than not, it worked.
Right before my senior year began, I saw Sherri at the local mall. I was alone and she appeared to be alone. Hoping not to startle her as she looked at a necklace that caught her eye, I walked up to her and prayed she didn’t run away. She didn’t. Instead, she looked right through me as if I wasn’t there, which I deserved. Through stumbled words, I said hello and that I understood if she didn’t want to stay and listen to what I had to say. She stayed. I looked her right in her eyes and told her how sorry I was for all the things I had done to her. I didn’t try to justify my actions because, honestly, there was no justification. But I apologized, completely heartfelt, and those words had more meaning to them than any other words I’ve ever spoken. She didn’t say anything at first and I was racking my brain trying to think of what to say or do next. As I began to say again how very sorry I was, she smiled a little and said she accepted my apology. That was the day I began to feel like a real human being with an understanding that we’re all the same and we can choose how we behave in this life. It’s those decisions who make us who we are, and it’s far more enjoyable and rewarding to go through life with compassion, understanding, and love than to go through life with anger, judgment, and hate.
To this day, I’m forever grateful to my friend Carla (yes, we’re still great friends!) and her mom. They took action to stop me from bullying, all while giving me the compassion and understanding I wasn’t giving to Sherri, which couldn’t have been easy for them to do given they knew how horribly I treated Sherri and a few others. But day-by-day, they changed my life for the better.
I hope my story helps you gain a new perspective to understand that someone who is bullying others isn’t just someone doing it for kicks or to be mean for the sake of being mean. There are likely circumstances in that person’s life that are propelling them to that bullying behavior. If you know someone who is bullying, take action. It can all start with a few nice words from you to help get them on the path of compassion.