Where Do Bullies Come From?

No Bullies

I don’t write about my experiences with bullying very often. Maybe I have internalized society’s beliefs that I should have stood up for myself in middle and high school, especially when my peers were doing the bullying. Maybe the shame is more significant because this time, the abusers were my age. Maybe the messages about “asking for it” are still driving my interpretation of the situation.  Sometimes it is even hard for me to believe that I could be subjected to so much cruelty by so many heartless people. I felt as though I was a magnet for abuse.

To be fair, I believe that everyone experiences some bullying. Everyone is called names. Everyone has at least one friend who talks behind their back, whether they know it or not. Most experience boundary invasions from pushing, shoving and other physical experiences that seem harmless to school children. I certainly experienced this.

Many bullies stop there. Why? The subject stands up for themselves. They say “no”. They get angry. They stop speaking to the “friend” who is not treating them well. They tell their parents or teachers who get involved. These are all perfectly acceptable answers to bullying. And most of the time, the bully moves on. It is too much trouble to target that kid.

I am sure my bullying started with name-calling, pushing and shoving. But there was a problem. I had been “trained” by my family to respond differently to abusive behavior. I had been taught that “no” was not a word I could utter unless I was willing to be severely beaten. I had been taught that expressing my anger would result in retaliation that might even accidentally cause my death. I had been told to keep my mouth shut. Asking for help was out of the question. And anyone who has ever read a parenting magazine knows that our relationship with our parents guides our relationships with others as we grow older.

So I quickly became the subject of more sinister treatment. It grew over time. Those who I considered my closest friends betrayed me on a regular basis. I would confide in them only to find out they had shared my deepest secrets with others. Or they would randomly stop talking to me for periods of time with no real explanation as to what I did wrong. I was always walking on eggshells with my friends because I didn’t want to make them mad. It was a continuation of the chaos at home with no predictability or logical behavior. A healthy kid would have kicked that person to the curb, but I didn’t know how to do that.

It didn’t take long before the sexual boundaries were crossed. I had a couple of male friends who knew about my familial abuse for one reason or another. They threatened that they would tell everyone my secret if I did not fulfill their own sexual requests. In one extreme case, a teenage boy, one of my closest “friends”, started selling me at the school. Looking back on it, it probably would have been perfect if they had divulged my family abuse. But by my teenage years, I had taken on the shame of my abuse. And nothing seemed worse that revealing it to the world. In my darker moments, I often wonder why nobody with a heart found out about my abuse.

It wasn’t just boys who were taking advantage of me. During my junior and senior year of high school, I had a “girlfriend” who was a trafficker. She would arrange for groups of kids and adults to go out together. She would arrange parties in the woods or at the beaches, but she always made sure there were private places for people to disappear. Somehow, I would always find myself alone with an adult man. And it always seemed like he knew about it ahead of time.

Had I been raised in a healthy family, I would have called the police or at least rejected her invitations. But my brilliant childhood defense mechanism stopped such a logical response. By the next morning, I completely forgot about the night before. I never consciously remembered that I was being raped, so I never knew to stay away from those who were arranging it.

And so the abuse continued. And so did the memory loss. Even in to adulthood, I remained connected to some of these abusive people (although mainly at a distance). It scares me to know that many of these abusers have children of their own. It scares me to know that they may never have learned that this behavior is abusive and illegal. It scares me to know they may be handing down these disgusting beliefs to the next generation.

When someone is a bully or is being bullied, it is not by accident. They have learned this behavior. Either they learned to be a bully from their family’s behavior or they learned not to stand up for themselves from their interaction with their family. We have to reach out to these kids and teach them right from wrong. We need to ask the bullies why they are choosing to treat others in that way. We need to ask the victims why they don’t stop it. We must teach children and teenagers that they can always say “no” to their bullies and their family. And if something seems wrong, it is.

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10 thoughts on “Where Do Bullies Come From?

  1. This is so eloquently written, and you speak the truth. I also never learned to stand up for myself because I was beaten at home, and I was scared of everyone, so I also became a target of abuse in school and even at work. You speak such truth – and this is a message that needs to be out there and addressed. Everyone needs to learn to stand up for themselves and to be able to say “no.” And I love your last line – you’re absolutely right – if something seems wrong, it is. So I thank you, and my heart goes out to you. This is beautifully written – thank you. <3

    • Thank you so much Lynn! I am so glad it spoke to you. At the same time, I am sorry you could relate. I do believe this is a common problem but on a continuum. Some have it worse than others, but that word “no” is hard for most.

  2. YOU are an inspiration to me. You speak truth right from the heart, which in turn touches and speaks to the truth in mine. THANKYOU for your writings. Funnily enough I have been looking at similar things in my own life of being bullied from a young age. Recently I broke down and seemed to be speaking from my 8 year self saying “I couldnt stop it” over and over. I have a lot of grief about the fact I was not able to stop anything. Do anything. I was just paralyzed. I just kinda went along with it. Their wishes… I realise I had absolutely no clue how to stand up for myself. I had no sense of solidity. Of safety. Or even that I was allowed to do that. Realising this more and more deeply really changes things in the present. One step at a time. I’m discovering how to listen to my own heart, my own feelings, intuition, images that come and moment to moment I learn to care for myself and open myself up to healthier habits and relationships. Some moments are really tough and some are pure joy but I’m living in the truth no matter what. And there is nothing else than that. I had lived from this insecure and frightened place since then until the last few years, when I decided I had enough and mustered enough COURAGE to start to delve deeper and began the journey of coming back to my heart. Wow i didnt think I’d write that :) you really touched me deeply. For me exploring and sharing these things IS the way to healing. peace.

    • Thank you so much! Your encouragement is priceless. And I am so glad for the work you are doing. Yes … freezing is a normal defense mechanism to repeated childhood abuse. I’ll tell you again because we survivors can never hear it enough. It was NOT your fault … none of it!!!

  3. Thank you for spreading this message. And putting into words something that is hard to understand, explain, or think about logically, etc. I’m sure many survivors hide from these demons. Thank you for being so open. It’s so helpful.

  4. I am so very, very sorry you saw so much of the darkest parts of human nature from every possible source: from relatives, from other young people, from non-related adults. It must have seemed there was no good in the world at all. It is also horrifying to think about the kinds of relationships your parents trained you to be able to have. Take care.

  5. Pingback: Fight Flight or Freeze | Beating Trauma

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