I was scared to write about bullying because it hits a little too close to home. My personal journey with bullying has resulted in developing the ugliest sides of my personality. However, I think that now, more than ever, it’s important to share these experiences in hopes that they will not be repeated by someone else.
I grew up in a household where the main method of dealing with emotions was shoving them deep down inside. In times of conflict, aggression was the M.O. This was a common theme across my entire family—not just with my immediate relatives. I had no siblings growing up, but I did have older cousins. The average age gap was anywhere from 14 to 18 years. Most of them lived far away, so I didn’t see them often, but, honestly, I hated every visit. To be frank: All of my older cousins were assholes. Being the youngest meant that I was the easiest to pick on. They’d tease me or embarrass me until I got upset.
What hurts the most is that they’d continue on, even if I was crying. I can still hear the laughter. They were my first bullies.
By the time I was in middle school, I was a repressed ball of hostile energy. That time is, in my opinion, already one of the worst stages in anyone’s life. There’s a combination of newly developing hormones and the transitional period between childhood and adolescence. Plus, any trauma that might have built up over the 12 years prior would finally be making its way out.
So now that I’ve set the stage, enter 12-year-old me. In my hometown, there were five public elementary schools that were all funneled into one middle school. I had one best friend at the time. My expectations of our middle-school life together were very “us against the world”-esque.
I thought we’d be fighting all of the trials and tribulations of pre-teenhood together—that is, until I realized that out of the six classes each of us had, we only shared one.
I’m not a huge fan of change, and it was a little difficult to make friends. My best friend had a different experience—the complete opposite one, actually. She was well-liked and everyone gravitated toward her. Especially the popular kids. Instead of being happy for her, I grew bitter and jealous.
I know it’s not an excuse, but remember how my family didn’t know how to process feelings healthily, and, in turn, I didn’t learn how to process my feelings healthily? Well, that shit blew up in my face.
One day, something came over me. It happened so quickly. I just remember seeing a lot of faces and hearing a lot of conversations, but none of them were directed at me. So, in a fit of rage, I stood up, walked toward the group of popular kids, and then…I shoved my best friend and she fell to the floor. Moments later, I was walking away. Seconds after that, I was crying in a corner.
Miraculously, I patched things up with my best friend, but the dynamic was changed forever after that day. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was a mistake. I knew that I had hurt someone I cared about, and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever apologized for the damage I caused.
Eventually, other classmates would make sure that I dealt with the repercussions of that day.
I’m on the cusp of millennials and Gen Z, so I was born in a time when modern social technology didn’t exist. But back in middle school, when I was at the most crucial developing stage of my life, instant messaging, unlimited texting, and cell-phone data plans started becoming popular.
We had new methods of communicating, beyond note passing and phone calls. New ways to stay in touch. New ways to hurt others.
AIM. You might be picturing the sparkling icons and dramatic away messages even as you read this. AIM was such a convenient way to stay connected with friends after leaving school and going home, especially since not everyone (including me) had a cell phone. The great thing about AIM was that you could also do group chats. Well, that was great.
I remember when the invite came. It was from someone in a grade eight (I was in grade seven, for reference). She was popular. A dozen or so kids were in this chat—I didn’t know a majority of them personally, but they were all considered popular by middle-school standards. The same popular kids who witnessed me push down my best friend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely didn’t see the ambush coming.
Led by the girl who invited me to the chat, message after message was about me. I know people joke that middle-school kids are the worst kind of kids, but I sincerely believe it. They have no filter, no remorse, no compassion. It’s amazing how much damage a few words can do to you and your self-esteem. I read every message directed at me that came through. You’ll probably wonder why I didn’t just exit the chat. I didn’t because I thought that I deserved it.
In 2011, Emily Osment starred in a movie where her character was a victim of online harassment. I watched how she was sucked into drama that only existed on the internet. I felt frustrated with her character—she should’ve just gotten off of the internet. But I could also relate.
Looking back now, I realize that I was a victim of cyberbullying.
Things took a turn for the worse after multiple incidents occurred like that one fateful day on the internet. I allowed for it to go on for months because, like I said, I felt that I deserved it. So instead of dealing with the situation properly, I just decided that I needed new friends—and I found them. I just wasn’t a good friend to them.
By this time, my repressed feelings about the cyberbullying were getting so difficult to conceal. My aggression began to turn physical and violent. No one was ever seriously injured, but I never should have laid a hand on anyone in the first place. I spent the rest of the seventh grade with a hoodie on and crying nonstop. I was a monster who hurt people because I didn’t know how to process my emotions. I did irreversible things that still sometimes make me shudder when I think about them.
I finally became what I feared most: a bully.
I’ve spent many years since then trying to self-correct—to grow, learn, and move on from that traumatic stage in my life. But I think that the most important takeaway I had was that, though my actions were inexcusable, they were the result of behaviors I picked up and actions that were done to me.
I chose to victimize myself and blame it on the world, when I should’ve stopped the cycle right then and there.
I am now 24-years-old. Every friend I have ever hurt when I was a bully is still my friend today. Crazy, right? Although, to be fair, our friendships probably weren’t as solid back then as they are now. Each one has since told me that they are so proud of the person I’ve become and that I need to stop lamenting about the past. All has been forgiven.
I know they’re genuine. I know they love me, and I truly love them for showing me the compassion and forgiveness I needed to change.
But sometimes, even after all the years of self-reflection, counseling, therapy, medication, and habit changing, I only see the bully in me. How someone as twisted and horrid as that version of me could ever be worthy of redemption is beyond me.
Then I catch myself. My bullies are gone. My friends’ bullies are gone. But still alive and well is my own personal bully—myself.