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The Big, Bad Bully

One topic that is somewhat difficult yet therapeutic for me to discuss is bullying. Nearly 30% of America's youth is either a target for bullies, bullying others, or both at one point or another. Of that 30%, in a survey among 6th to 10th grade students, 13% did the bullying, 11% were the target, and another 6% were involved with both bullying and being bullied. (via I myself, unsurprisingly to most, was a target for bullying while I was growing up. Its effects on me were both profound and long-lasting -- it is also the alleged cause of my onset of Borderline Personality Disorder, or at least one of the triggers. I still struggle, to this day, to effectively manage my negative self-talk and keep it in check. Occasionally, I even have "flash backs" to the worst moments I've endured.

Something I've never been able to understand is why anyone would ever feel the need to bully someone to the point of depression. Most kids that are bullied are often already insecure, anxious, and have low self-esteem. How does it make any sense to pick on someone that is weaker than yourself? Two reasons for bullying behavior are becoming more known: a lack of a nurturing, supportive environment and the desire for power or supremacy over others. It's no big secret that growing up in a broken, abusive, or overly permissive home can really mess someone up in the long term; many bullies come from this type of environment. As for the desire for power over others, I believe that a lot of that also has to do with the environment the child is raised in. I can see how they might make the jump to becoming a bully amongst their peers when they are the middle or youngest child, always fighting for attention, the amount of food they want on their plate, or better presents than others during holidays. I can also see how they might fall into that pattern of behavior when there is so much violence in nearly everything we see on TV and in the media in general. It seems that there is always some kind of power struggle occurring.

As I said, being the target of bullies often has long-lasting effects. I remember one phrase in particular that was spoken to me with near-daily frequency, "the world would be better off if you were dead." I still have trouble getting that phrase out of my head, especially when my depression is raging and I just don't have the emotional energy to fight my demons off. In addition to being told every day how utterly undeserving of love I was (that's one of the many things I took that phrase to mean), I was also pushed off the merry-go-round, spit on, and of course, picked dead last for any "team" activities on the playground or in gym. Eventually, I tried to keep my head down and just isolate myself from everyone else. Even that didn't work: when I would hide, one of them, most frequently Corey Haataja, would find me and continue on with the bullying. Whether I told the teachers what was going on or not, whether I stood up for myself or not, whether I faked sick to get out of school or not... the bullying didn't stop.

It didn't even stop after I attempted to take my own life sitting at my desk with my head down and a piece of green yarn wrapped tight around my neck. No, as soon as I returned back to school from the hospital (I was put into the youth psychiatric ward for about 10 days, if I remember right) the bullying picked right back up again, even worse than before. Now they had even more ammunition against me -- I couldn't even kill myself right.

To some degree, I learned how to block it out over the years, although I wasn't able to really pick and choose when and what I was blocking out. I still tried to get one up on the bullies by making the teachers aware of the way they bothered me, but they were smarter than me in social situations. They knew exactly how to talk their way out of it and make it seem as though they did nothing wrong, as if they were providing me with constructive criticism by commenting on my weight. Even after being transferred into some special education classes to both get me away from the bullies and allow me to study English and math at my own pace... just more ammunition. It continued right up until a week or so before high school graduation. One of the last incidents I can remember was during Economics in a temporary classroom where the old band room used to be. Jesse Collins and Clint Maki thought it'd be funny to take a flagpole used for color guard and poke it at my crotch, saying that I liked corndogs in it. Where they got that idea, I haven't a clue, but I was not having it. There was absolutely no way I was going to take that kind of blatant harassment sitting down, so I grabbed the flagpole from Jesse, launched it like a javelin (but with much less oomph) towards the floor beside him, stood up and shouted, "shut the f**k up or I'm gonna kick your *ss!!" Well, apparently, the teacher either didn't hear or didn't care what they were saying and doing to me, but she (the substitute teacher, Mrs. Bertagnoli) sure did hear and see what I did. As had become custom for the times I stood up for myself, I was kicked out of class and sent to the principal's office.

It's not very often I will request anything important of my readers, but please indulge me here. Ask your children what is going on at school. Discuss their interactions with other children. Explain to them why it is never okay to bully or be bullied. Hug and kiss and love your children; set some time aside for them every day even. Make sure they know, without a doubt, that they are loved and need not listen to the negative words of others and take them within themselves, nor do they need to prove to anyone else that they are better or stronger. Tell them again and again and again, even after they beg you to stop.

Above all else, don't let the school punish your children for standing up for themselves. If you find that your child is the target of bullying behavior, find out all you can about it and let their school know what is going on and that you are working to fix it. If you find that your child is doing the bullying,  it's even more important that the school knows what is going on so they can monitor and discipline your child accordingly.

Thanks, as always, for reading... but especially today. Whether you were bullied, the bully, or otherwise (or even not at all) I hope you learned something about it today and realize its importance.


Anonymous said...

I hate to hear of anyone getting bullied! It sickens me. I'm extremely sorry you endured what you did. I was luckily not the target of bullies but I didn't bully either. I never understood that type of behavior or why people justify it as "kids just being kids." When Jordan was in 5th grade, there were a couple of girls that picked on most of the other kids. Telling them they smelled, they were fat, their shoes were ugly on and on. There was a boy in Jordan's class who went back and forth between his mom and grandma's house, (mom couldn't get her stuff together). The school told him he had to have his mom put money in his lunch account, they couldn't keep giving him free PB sandwiches. He said his mom hadn't gotten paid. These little bitches laughed in front of everyone and said "he can't even afford lunch". When Jordan told me this, I was fuming! That was the freaking last straw! I marched into the classroom, slammed a notebook on the teachers desk and went off! I told her this bullying was going to stop today. She tried to get me to go out in the hall but I said "No, these kids tease others in front of other kids so let's just talk about them here in front of everyone!" Finally, we went out into the hall and I told her this had to STOP! She of course said "kids are like this" and I said I wasn't like that, so it's not impossible! I walked back into the classroom, gave Jordan a notebook and told her, in front of the class, that I wanted her to write down every time they picked on someone. Later that afternoon, these girls were in the office crying because they didn't like how I and the other kids were looking at them. I think it's up to all parents to not put up with it. If possible, stop the bullies at an early age because if it's allowed, it only gets uglier and meaner! I felt angry because as a Mom, I try to do my best at instilling confidence in my daughters and to have these little brats come in and try to destroy that in a blink of an eye, was infuriating. After my outburst, kids came up to me and said that I was their hero. Actually sad isn't it? Some kids said their parents were going to be so happy when they tell them what happened because they were sick of these girls too. Some kids even came up to Jordan and told her they were never going to do anything bad to her because "you're mom is scary!" Well, if that stops it so be it, I'm scary. I think it is imperative for all adults to be involved in this and say "NO, this is not going to continue", even if it's not you're child, stick up for someone who needs help. Luckily, both of my girls verbally stick up for people who are teased. I've always taught them that someone loves that person ! That is some ones child, sister, brother, cousin, and it would hurt the family to know they are picked on. These girls that were doing the teasing did have at least one troubled parent and one parent who had no control of them. Their parents knew this was going on but didn't stop it.So those of us who know better, CANNOT tolerate this type of behavior to go on. Stop it anyway possible and show these kids that they are worth something,that they are better than that, they don't deserve it, and they absolutely do not have to tolerate it.

La Jenno said...

@My cuz -- Thank you so very much for sharing your story. I'm thankful that you never had to go through bullying in any form, but it is sad that you now have to deal with it as a parent. However, it's good that at SOMEONE stood up to those girls, even if it took an angry parent to do it. I really think that there should be mandates on programs to curb bullying, teaching the ways in which to counter a bully attack and other ways to blow off steam besides becoming a bully.

Hats off to you, cuz.... You've got the kind of chutzpah and wherewithall that all parents need. <3

La Jenno said...

I forgot to mention in my post that at any point during it all, I still would have been willing to forgive, although I would never have forgotten. Most everyone ends up liking me once they get to know me, and when they don't it's usually due to their own abrasive personality.

Tom Goette said...

Wow! This is a great article and one that teachers and parents everywhere should read and learn from. I had my share of bullying growing up and you are right, the damage that is done can last a lifetime. I'm glad you have managed to cope so well and wonder if it helped in any way to make you a stronger and more resolute person. They say what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. And I would add to that, a better writer. Great job!

ladytruth said...

I did a paper on bullying, the effects and possible solutions last year and was completely shocked at what I read. The school where I did my practical training was very aware of the problem, though, and the way they went about including the parents in the anti-bullying campaign was admirable.

It must be very, very hard for you, but believe me: those idiots are probably in jail or on the streets bumming their lives away and not even worth a second thought. Can you tell that I hate bullies?

Thanks for following my blog and for sharing such a personal experience :)

La Jenno said...

@Tom -- I'm nothing short of fortunate for having a supportive, persistent, and stubborn family. They refused to just let me go down without a hard fight. Some good did come of it, however - I do believe, absolutely, that it made me a stronger, more empathic, more accepting person. I hope that you also have found the turn-around in your experiences. Thank you so much for your comment -- I feel accomplished now that I've officially written an "article," too! ;)

La Jenno said...

@ladytruth -- I wholeheartedly believe that mandates should be in place to help stop bullying in its tracks in schools and communities - or at least to cut back on it being "just a part of growing up." I'm appalled at the proportion of people (between 60 and 80% of adults!) that believe it is actually NORMAL behavior. TO me, it is willful ignorance to tolerate bullying behaviors.

While it is difficult sometimes to try to get the past behind me, I still hold no ill will towards my former tormentors. They can no longer hurt me, and I know now that I turned out to be the better person. I honestly wish them well, although I know that their actual success with anything other than manipulation is rather unlikely.

I'm more than happy to share my experiences; I hope they can help anyone that chooses to read them. You're welcome for the follow and thank you for sharing your role in helping others, too. :)

JW said...

So sad. Way to turn it into a plea for better parenting; I totally agree. I was never bullied, but feel terrible for those who have been a victim of it. I was always the one at school who stood up for those who were being picked upon. Higher Power help the child who bullies my children.

La Jenno said...

@JW -- Be ever so grateful that you were never bullied. It has a certain way of alienating one like nothing else can... on behalf of anyone that's ever been beaten down, talked smack about, or just plain unappreciated for their uniqueness... thanks for standing up for us. I sincerely hope your children never have to experience this for themselves but can still have a sense of empathy about it and grow up all considerate and nice like their daddy. :)

Shell said...

This post is very timely right now for me. First, I'm sorry you had to go through such a rough time and such horrible bullying. And thank you for sharing your story.

My son is currently being bullied at school and I'm thankful that he's told me about it right away and we've addressed it with his teacher and the guidance counselor. I just can't understand why kids have to be so mean to other kids. What makes them feel the need to insult other kids, just to make themselves feel better?

School's today pride themselves on a zero tolerance for bullying, however it really still is so prevalent. It's up to the parents to be the advocates for our own kids. It bothers me that my son's teacher was not aware of what was going on right in her classroom.

The hard part will be getting the bullying to stop without making it worse now that there's been teacher intervention.

Thanks you again for sharing your experiences. It's a very important topic!

Jenno said...

@Shell -- I'm sorry to hear that your son is being bullied. It can be damaging not only to one's psyche but also very stressful physically. I sincerely hope that there is a way that all involved can overcome the situation and find a happy outcome. Thanks for commenting; I'm happy to share my story as I hope it helps others to not be affected the same way I have been. Here's wishing you many blessings.

About La Jenno

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Vincennes, Indiana, United States
26 years old. Daring. Disenchanted. Different. Trying to live in a friendlier yet more honest world. There is sometimes no larger dilemma.

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