What makes a bully?

What makes a bully?

1000 Voices Speak are focusing on this subject this month and I wanted to be one voice among the many, to shout out and add to the cacophony, because where many speak, maybe some one will hear.

But – what makes a bully?

I don’t recall being a bully myself. I don’t believe I have ever actively tried to make someone unhappy or repeatedly degraded, nor have I verbally abused someone with the intent of seeing them suffer.

But I have been told I was a bully.

Is it possible to be a bully without knowing?

Boarding school was a place ripe for sly swipes, bickering and rows. A house full of girls, often unhappy at missing home, or tired from the pressure of school, looking for an outlet.

Was this bullying, or children being children?

Where is that line drawn?

I was told, not so long ago, that one of the girls from our school felt bullied. She was seriously unhappy at constant verbal abuse – maybe more, I don’t know. Because I don’t know her, not really. Her sister was my age, she was just a face and a name in a higher year.

She boarded for a week or two – I assume her parents were away. She says that during that time, a number of the girls in the house persuaded her that one of the boys liked her. This group encouraged her to get dressed up in some idea of a sexy outfit, and had her wait for the boy in question to come meet her. Whereon, so I am told, he completely rejected her, causing her immense humiliation and pain.

This girl remembers the years of bullying she suffered at school, during the day from her peers, both day and boarders, and during that two week period she boarded for. She hated school, dreaded going in each day and I can only imagine the scars it has left on her confidence and happiness.

She remembers it so well that it remains with her now, over twenty years later. Day after day of fear and pain – and that one incident in particular. To cause someone so much pain that it is fresh in their minds for so long – how horrifying. How low and mean and cruel are children.

How low and mean and cruel am I? Because apparently I was one of those girls, and the boy was my brother. I was an instigator and a part of her humiliation. So she says.

I don’t doubt her. I am sure the memories are much clearer and fresher in her mind than in mine. I had my own reasons to dislike boarding school and my own reasons to try and forget it.

But I don’t recall this incident. I don’t remember this girl ever boarding – but that’s not surprising. Short term boarders came and went. I am surprised that my brother would come to the boarding house on my say so. We were not close, we didn’t pass the time of day together (that’s a whole other story).

I am not making excuses, honestly. I am not trying to justify my actions or explain them as pranks. How can I? I don’t remember this ever happening.

I didn’t even know I should bear the guilt of being a bully until 2 years ago. But now I do know that somehow I added to the crappy life experience one person had at school. I made a single girl’s life even worse than it already was, so much so that she remembers it even now, twenty plus years later.

I’m sorry.

I want to apologise.

To that girl, to the years of her life that were affected. To the relationships she didn’t have, because she couldn’t trust. To the friendships she never made, because she couldn’t share confidences. To the children she raised, for the added nervousness she showed when they started school. To her mother, who had to hold her while she cried, each night of school.

Bullying is something many people pass off as ‘children being children’, or joking about, or pranking. We need to be able to recognise the difference, so that we can teach our children to know when their funny is just not fun to someone else, when their prank is causing pain.

I didn’t consider myself capable of being a bully. Do you?

1000 Speak for Compassion

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What makes a bully? — 9 Comments

  1. It may have been children being children. It may have been more. It may not have happened. She might have mixed you up. She might be spot on.

    But here’s the thing – once you’re an adult you HAVE to take responsibility. Yes, bullying leaves deep scars and can alter the way a person faces life, and I don’t say this to let bullies off the hook, but the victim bears some responsibility for turning things around, too.

    I don’t see you as a bully, but then I doubt you see me as one, either, and I know that I can be vicious and cruel and belittling and ENJOY it. I know I have that potential in me, and I’ve used it in the past.

    I’m pleased you apologised – it shows that you take her hurt seriously, and I hope that she reads this…but it sounds like she was the target of a sustained campaign of bullying, and it’s not your responsibility to own ALL of the bullying she suffered.

    A challenging post, m’dear, and well writ.
    Considerer recently posted…Building from Bullying – because sticks and stones could break my bones, but names could maybe kill me (#1000Speak)My Profile

  2. Piper, you are very courageous and now that I think of it, I too wonder if I did many such things encouraged by my friends and peers that caused someone a lot of pain! As children, we just miss the social cues and are not that sensitive! Awesome take on the topic!
    Roshni recently posted…Building from bullying #1000SpeakMy Profile

  3. That is a moving story, Piper. We never know the effects of our words and actions. We can only do our best. As adults I think we may be more aware of this, but as children and teenagers, trying to figure out our place in the “pecking order” it can be more difficult. As bullying is gaining more attention, children are being taught about the effects of their actions on others, and to develop empathy and understanding for others’ feelings. It is sad to think that you unintentionally caused someone pain. How many of us have done that and never know?
    Norah Colvin recently posted…Bully for you!My Profile

  4. What you’ve done here is huge – accepting responsibility for what happened, even if you aren’t certain of the memories yourself. Perception is reality and to that girl, this is what happened. I always wonder if things I’ve said or done could be construed as cruel to another – even if not intended, again, perception becomes reality. I love your contribution here – great step toward building.
    Lisa @ The Meaning of Me recently posted…#1000 Speak: Step Into Someone Else’s SkinMy Profile

  5. This is such an important post for so many reasons. Sometimes kids don’t even know that they’re doing could be hurtful–because no one told them. We have to directly teach our kids these important things!

    The other reason I think this post is really important, is your apology. It’s not easy to own things like this or even to be the one to bring it up. Accountability is golden. (*That’s another thing we have to teach our kids directly!) Kudos to you.
    Galit Breen recently posted…How Your Tween’s Private Photo Could Go Viral (And Why Private Accounts Aren’t The Answer)My Profile

  6. A great post, and fabulous timing, as I’ve just had meetings with my eight-year-old son’s school, as he’s been targeted by one boy for more than 12 months who has left him frightened and lacking in confidence. I see this as bullying behaviour. The boy’s mum sees it as “kids being kids”.
    When I was young, my mum probably thought the same about the two girls who made my life a misery in school for four years. They chipped away at my confidence, picking and choosing which days to be nice to me, and which days to exclude me, call me names, humiliate me, etc.
    During counselling for PND it was suggested that this experience has shaped my personality, in that I have a desperate need to fit in, and to be liked.
    No-one should ever brush off that sort of behaviour as “kids being kids”. Because those early relationships teach us what to expect in future. Bullying doesn’t always make us stronger.
    But I doubt the women who bullied me as a child would accept now that they were ever bullies. At least you’re taking responsibility. And you’re very brave to do so.
    Donna recently posted…Five Good Reasons To Laminate Your LifeMy Profile

  7. First off, I think it’s wonderful that you are apologizing, even without being clear on the facts from your memories. It shows compassion for her feelings and her memories. Maybe she remembers it wrong, maybe not. Either way, her pain is real.

    Does this make you a terrible person? Of course not. I think posting about this, talking about it, is important because it helps us all learn to discuss bullying from different perspectives and helps us to recognize it. I’m sure I’ve said mean things without realizing their impact on others. We need to be told. Maybe if she had spoken up more during the time it would have helped. Maybe not. But discussing it now and giving space to the feelings on both sides is a good way to advance the conversation. Thank you for sharing.
    Louise recently posted…Why Don’t You Like Me? – #1000SpeakMy Profile

  8. What an amazing post! Children and adults both often do things, say things or partake in activities that hurt another without realizing. It takes a truly insightful person to accept that their actions may not have been decent. An even stronger to be able to own it and use it for self improvement.
    Thank you for for taking the time to embrace the humbling experiences in life and sharing, giving others confidence to do the same.
    Jill recently posted…Pay it back a bit.My Profile

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