Life After Bullying: A Three Part Series, Part 1: Views from a victim

Working in both schools and clinical settings, I have had the opportunity to work with many people who were bullied as children. The adults often times come in suffering from depression, anxiety or other stress related disorders. They may have marital problems or problems at work with co-workers. They hang onto bad marriages, bad jobs and bad relationships out of fear. The children are brought in by parents  because the school has referred them or because the parents themselves are concerned about depression. At school, children come into my office because they have friendship issues or because, in the words of the teachers “they need to learn social skills”. They are loners; frightened, sad, friendless.

Having been a victim myself, I readily identify with them. Bullied and abused by peers, I grew up alone. I had great social skills, but never had the opportunity to use them. I began to believe what the kids said about and to me and it became part of my identity. Quiet, shy, sarcastic and frightened, I did not date in high school and had few boyfriends in college. I married the first man who appeared to love me and accept me. Big mistake. He continued the pattern set up by my junior high bullies. He belittled me, ignored me, cheated on me and after we married, he began to show a narcissistic personality which, along with his alcohol consumption, lost me the few friends I did have. He cheated on me and I put up with it because, having found someone, I was afraid to be alone.

I was alone and afraid. He had a temper which others never saw, but I sure did. I was afraid to make him mad. I continued in this pattern for almost a year after we divorced before my brother pointed out that he was a bully just like the kids at school. I started confronting his behavior using the words I taught my students and he eventually began treating me more appropriately. I taught our daughter the same and with the help of her therapist, she too was able to stand up to his behavior and would call for me to pick her up from visitation almost every time she went. When she turned 18 she changed her name and told him never to contact her again.

Victims often grow up feeling alone. They are afraid to try to make friends or enter into loving relationships. The harsh words they have endured for so many years continue to resonate in their minds and they begin to believe them. When no one counters the bullying by stopping it and affirming the victims worth and encouraging them, they believe everyone, including the adults, agree with the bully. When someone tries to engage them in a friendship or asks them out on a date, they put up a wall. They fear they are being set up as they have been so many times before.

When I was in junior high, the kids were awful. I suffered daily abuse from them. They stole things from my desk,  hid my coat and lunch, put tacks on my seat, called me names, made fun of my clothes, wrote things about me on the blackboard and would not let me play with them on the playground. They wrote on the blackboard that I was “in love” with a boy. He was a very shy young man and new to our school. They wrote it in crayon so it would not come off. It was there most of the year. One of the girls, the “queen bee” stole a necklace out of my desk during PE. My brother Brian had given it to me. It was abalone and silver beads. It was beautiful and I loved it. She refused to give it back and wore it to school. She told the teachers it was hers and that I was lying. Despite the fact that my mother was the school librarian,  nothing was done to the students who bullied me. I was told to ignore them, that they were just jealous of me. Somehow I doubted that and ignoring them only made things worse. After they started in on a boy who had psycho motor seizures at school, I had had it. My eldest brother had seizures and I could not stand by and watch them abuse him. I stood up to them. I told them what was going on and that he had no control over it. They laughed. They started prank calling  my home on a daily basis pretending to be various boys asking me out.

I did not want to go to school. I began feigning illness. I put the thermometer in the heating vent to make the number go up. I forced myself to throw up. I had nightmares every night. I wished to be brave enough to step in front of a car.  By spring of my eighth grade year, I was completely falling apart. I wanted to get out of that school in the worst way. High school could not possible be worse. One day shortly before the end of the year, after having been taunted for the hundredth time about being a baby because I brought my mom to school with me, I decided to petition my parents to allow me to walk home. I always rode with my mother back and forth. My house was a good five miles from the school. At that point in time, my mother was in bed with a slip disc. I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to show the kids that I was not dependent upon my mother. Family friends had been giving me a lift back and forth for almost a week.  Neither of my parents was exactly thrilled about my walking that far alone, but the weather was nice and after much begging and pleading they acquiesced. I was nervous but also exhilarated to be on my own. I knew the route by heart and had ridden it on my bike numerous times with my brother Jeff on weekends. I would take a couple of back streets, cut to the bike path for awhile and then onto the main road leading to the cul-de-sac I lived on. Everything went as planned right up until I was three blocks from my house. A man pulled up in a red convertible M.G. with the top up. He asked me for directions, I stepped closer to the car to help him out only to find out that he had his pants open and was sporting an erection. After using some foul language about what he wanted me to do to him, he tried pulling me into the car through the window. I managed to break away and ran the rest of the way home. It took me five years to tell anyone. I was afraid it was just one more thing the kids could make fun of if they ever found out.

High school was so much better. I could meet new people and not have to have contact with the kids from my K-8 school who abused me. I can honestly say that until our 30th high school reunion, I only spoken about a dozen words to two of the girls who transferred to my university in our sophomore year. I only spoke to them because they begged me for a ride home at Christmas time one year. I overcharged them on the gas expense and felt great about it. Still suffering from an inferiority complex in high school, I didn’t date. It’s not that I didn’t have male friends, I did, lots of them. In fact, most of my high school friends were guys. I have four older brothers and guys are much  more comfortable for me to hang out with. Not one of my male friends however ever thought about asking me out. I still don’t know why….and neither do they. I was their buddy. They just never thought about it.

Dating in college was so difficult. Was I really as ugly as the kids said? Were my clothes that horrible? Would anyone ever really want to be with me or would it always be a joke? My dating life became like waiting for the other shoe to drop. One of my tormentors from the past was going to jump out from behind a bush and make fun of  me and the guy would laugh at me too.  When I finally did marry, the guy I married was narcissistic. If I hadn’t worked three jobs, we would have been in the homeless shelter. He could earn a living (he’s an attorney) but he refused. When my thyroid quit working and I gained a lot of weight, he indicated that I was fat. He made fun of my intelligence, calling me a dork and ridiculed me for reading books all the time. He treated our daughter like garbage too. Like many clients I have spoken to who admit to having been bullied as a kid, I found myself married to a bully. Not able to defend myself despite my age and education. I found myself in the victim role once again. No self-esteem, fearful, lonely, lost.

Now seven years post divorce, I do not date. I don’t even know how to. I find myself being bullied by co-workers periodically. Sometimes I can turn the situation around, other times not. I work extremely hard and am very good at my job. I excel in everything I do, not just because I enjoy it, but because I need the constant reassurance that I am not a loser. I am diligent in watching students in the hallway and intervening when I see a bullying issue beginning. I do not want any child growing up feeling the way I felt. In some ways, I have turned my awful childhood experiences into a positive. I am a Certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Trainer and an active advocate for schools implementing consistent comprehensive bullying prevention. I can speak passionately about the subject without notes and use my own experiences as a way to touch my audiences hearts. In other ways though I am still the scared, lonely little girl who spends most of her time alone wondering if she’ll ever measure up. I often wonder why…why me? What was it about me that made me so vulnerable? Why did they hate me so much? Even now, re-reading this post, my eyes fill with tears. I am saddened by the childhood I lost to the abuse of other children.

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About Author


After 16 years in the classroom MaryAnn Byrne became a nationally certified counselor and a licensed professional counselor, specializing in child and adolescent therapy and relational aggression. In 2007, MaryAnn became a certified Olweus Bullying Prevention trainer/consultant. She currently works as a school counselor in both elementary and middle school. Additionally, she supervises Olweus programs at the middle school level. She frequently conducts workshops for private schools, Girl Scouts and professional development for the school system. MaryAnn earned her master’s degree from Virginia Tech in counseling, pupil personnel services as well as a B.S. in special education and early childhood education from Radford University.

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