Why bullying matters

By Lphip003 at en.wikibooks [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Trigger warning for bullying.

A new study states that the effects of bullying have long-lasting effects on the survivors.  According to the New York Times article on the report,

Victims of bullying at school, and bullies themselves, are more likely to experience psychiatric problems in childhood, studies have shown. Now researchers have found that elevated risk of psychiatric trouble extends into adulthood, sometimes even a decade after the intimidation has ended. [Read the rest of the post here.]

No. Shit.  Really?

Well, thanks for that, JAMA Psychiatry.  We certainly couldn’t have figured out that adults who were bullied as children might suffer with symptoms of PTSD without your expert help in identifying that fact.  It’s not at all as though those of us who were actually traumatized as children haven’t been saying this, you know, for years or anything.

It really makes me angry that it’s taken so long for the after-effects of bullying to be recognized.  We have networks to help survivors of all sorts of other violent acts, and we acknowledge the trauma that has been suffered–except for bullying.  When it comes to bullying, it is still looked at as a rite of passage.  Victims are still sent to “social skills” classes to learn how not to be “easy targets,” and all of us have heard at least one person say to us, “Just get over it already.”  We’re told that the bullies are to be pitied (and within the church that they deserve “grace”).

I don’t need the New York Times or JAMA Psychiatry to tell me what I already know: Bullying destroys a person from the inside out, and it takes years to break free of the self-loathing.  We internalize the messages of worthlessness and some of us never fully recover.  We have permanent scars, physical and otherwise; some of us don’t make it at all.

I lived it for eight years of my childhood.  I was called names, I was ostracized, I was mocked.  I was punched in the face, smacked with a bag of heavy books, and poked with sharp objects.  I was spit on and had all manner of disgusting substances put in my hair.  I was pantsed in the lunch room.  One kid used to flip open the latch on my musical instrument cases and laugh at me when I told him to stop.  I had a boy in my ninth grade study hall threaten to rape me because “ugly girls deserved it,” and he spent the first five minutes of nearly every study hall touching my thighs and calves under the desk where the teacher couldn’t see.

You know what happened?  Let me list it:

  • I was told to ignore it
  • I had the “sticks and stones” rhyme recited at me
  • I was told I was “thin-skinned” and needed to toughen up
  • I wasn’t believed (after the backpack incident, my father examined me and declared that there were no bruises–i.e., I was lying)
  • I was told that boys who picked on girls “liked” them and I should be flattered (yes, even the rapey guy)
  • I was told it would pass
  • I was told it wasn’t that bad
  • I was called a complainer
  • I had several teachers laugh at what the kids did to me
  • I had to ask for my seat to be moved on more than one occasion, rather than having another student moved or told to stop

So does this produce trauma?  Yes.  And I hardly need some study to confirm what I could have told the researchers in a five-minute phone call.

I think one of the worst parts of this is that my experiences were mild compared to some of my classmates.  As bad as it was, I used to be grateful not to be some of the other victims.  I’m ashamed to admit that while I didn’t bully any of them, I did nothing to help them.  I was too busy trying to survive and I feared that my situation would worsen.  I have no excuse; I should have stepped in anyway.

If you want to know why I’m so passionate about being part of making sure we take down institutions that enable person-on-person aggression of any sort, this is why.  It’s not about “accepting” the “other.”  It’s not about being kind to people in spite of our differences.  It’s about respecting the humanity of each and every person and teaching our children to do the same.  When that becomes our starting point, then there will be no “others”; only people.

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2 thoughts on “Why bullying matters

  1. wow, amy. wow, wow, wow. i had tears in my eyes as i read this. not that all your experiences weren’t painful enough, to have your own father infer/believe you were lying…i can’t imagine. my heart goes out to you, though i know that’s probably little comfort. though none of it was my fault in any way, i am so sorry that happened to you.

    powerful post.

    • My childhood kinda sucked, but adulthood is actually pretty awesome. But some things are just so triggering, including that NY Times piece. Took long enough for someone to finally get a clue. Of course, now there’s the uphill battle of ending the victim-blaming.

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