The Lasting Effects of Bullying
© 2017 By Randy D Pearson –
In the span of less than a week, I received word that the two boys who bullied me in high school, over 30 years ago, have passed away. This news dredged up a slew of memories, many of which I had buried long ago.
The first thing I realized is that the news of their passing did not give me any amount of pleasure. I’d outlasted the people who made my junior and most of my senior year hell. However, it’s not as if a curse has been lifted, or a weight removed. I’ve had no interaction with them since just after high school. Two men, who had moved far away from their hometown and lived their lives to the fullest of their abilities, are gone from this world. Dead before they turned 50.
I posted about their passing on social media, adding the fact that they had bullied me. Some of my classmates were well aware, while others had no idea. A few even commiserated, either having been bullied by them as well (which I hadn’t known, being wrapped up in my own situation), or from their own personal experiences. A couple of them were shocked. “Weren’t you friends?”
We were, until we weren’t. In fact, one of the boys was my best friend through grade school and even in 9th grade. Then, in my sophomore year, my parents moved me away from the school I had attended since 2nd grade. I spent the year begging them to move me back, and did so for my junior and senior years. However, the old saying ‘you can never go home’ has some basis in fact, as the bullying started soon after I returned.
Back then, in the mid-80s, people weren’t ‘bullied.’ They were teased, picked on, or messed with. No one thought it much of a big deal, just kids being kids. You just dealt with it. I never told my parents, or the teachers. I just changed my routine, coming to school as close to the first bell as possible, and hiding out in the band room after school, “practicing” my tuba, until it was safe to walk home. Sometimes it worked, but not always. In my senior year, I took a shared time college-prep class in a neighboring city, so I could be away from my high school as much as possible.
Their deaths have forced me to relive some of these events, though when my wife asked me what exactly they did to me, I am hard pressed to remember most of the details. I have effectively shoved the individual incidences so deep into my subconscious that I would need a team of psychologists, or perhaps archeologists, to extract them.
However, I am all too aware of the lasting effects of their actions. I have always had great difficulty in trusting others. It takes a lot for me to let someone past my defenses, so I have very few close friends. Up until recently, I had a serious issue with intimacy. My relationships were mostly short lived, lasting only months or even weeks. It took me until the age of 45 to trust someone enough to fall in love and marry. I became much more introverted, preferring my own company to that of others. Being bullied fundamentally changed my personality, affecting me for the next 30 years.
These days, parents and school administrators are much more aware of bullying. Most schools have programs in place to detect and stop such behavior. But we know kids will be kids. If someone wants to bully, they will find a way. With social media, it is easier than ever.
My bullying, overall, was not physical. Unless I’ve buried these memories as well, I don’t believe I was ever attacked, other than spitballs. However, the mental bullying – the name-calling, the tormenting, the fear – left me with life-long internal scars.
Have I managed to live a good life? I’d like to think so. I have a fulfilling job, a few close friends and many casual ones (remember, letting people in is a serious challenge for me), and even a couple of novels on bookstore shelves. Would I go back and change it if I could? Ultimately, I’d have to say no. Those occurrences have made me who I am today. But up until recently, it’s been a lonely existence.
I want to take a moment to talk to the current generation of bullies. If you are bullying people, know that your actions will have life-long ramifications. Take from a nearly 50-year-old man – the actions in our teenage years will last, deep inside, for a lifetime. They do not go away. They become buried, they become part of the tapestry of that person’s existence, but know that they will linger, somewhere under the surface, forever.
If you are being bullied, know that it does get better. I realize that last paragraph (this entire article really) will scare you, but it’s not as bad as I make it seem. Everyone deals with their issues in different ways. I never had therapy, and perhaps I needed it. It took me a while, but I turned out okay. If you can get help, do so, the sooner the better.
I outlived my bullies, I have quieted my demons, and I will continue to live the best life I can.