Bullying Isn’t Going Anywhere

Bullying is an issue that unfortunately doesn’t seem to go away much with age or maturity. I wouldn’t have appreciated hearing this when I was going through it in middle school, but I probably needed to.

Middle school was a challenging time for me. It seems to be that way for most people. According to DoSomething.org, “90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.” That’s almost everyone, which indicates many students are likely being bullied while simultaneously bullying others.

I attended a small private Catholic school, from kindergarten through 8th grade, with roughly 25 students in each grade. Elementary school was relatively easy going and I developed several strong friendships with some girls in my grade. I was comfortable and never felt alone.

However, something occurred in middle school to alter that dynamic for me a bit. I was going to be challenged in ways I could not have predicted.

Right as middle school was rearing its ugly head, my few close friends were feeling burned out of the private school life and opted for a nearby public school. We tried to keep in touch, but as it was, we slowly drifted apart, which ultimately left me without a group of close friends to call my own. However, I was optimistic that I would find my place somewhere or another.

I was so proud of my first guitar. Check out all those “friendship” bracelets!

The autumn that middle school began, a few new girls joined my grade, whom I was looking forward to initiating friendships with. The summer before, I was volunteering as a welcome ambassador for new students and was actually assigned to initiate a conversation with one of the new girls.

I had never met her but was told to send her a few friendly text messages asking about her interests and to let her know we were all looking forward to having her at the middle school. Our brief text conversations went well, and I felt relieved that I might have a new friend to sit with during lunch and recess. I was sorely mistaken.

Along with this new girl came another. I wasn’t aware but I was, unfortunately, positioning myself in the middle of a very manipulative friendship and threatening the stability of it.

I was much too naive to understand the logistics of this friendship, which ultimately made me a clear target of the “leader.” For the next two school years, countless times I shared personal information and confided in both girls, especially the girl I had connected with over the summer, only for them to somehow use the information against me. There were weeks where I felt like the three of us were getting along, but then “like the flick of a switch,” as my mom referred to it, there would be weeks of being cold-shouldered and openly picked at.

Many days I would sit alone at lunch, or try to work up the courage to sit with another friend group. Not because other groups wanted to exclude me, but because I felt embarrassed for being let down once again. No matter how many times the girls publicly embarrassed me, I didn’t catch on to what I was doing wrong.

Trusting in people wasn’t wrong, but trusting in those girls who repeatedly abused my trust was definitely wrong. Each time I was shunned by the group, I always felt angry at myself, though I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t yet understand that I was the one seeking out this disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong- I wasn’t asking to be bullied, but I was seeking approval from the wrong people. I was so concerned with these two girls’ approval that I had forgotten about all of the other kids in my classes. I had to find acceptance within myself and stop seeking it from others.

There were great kids at my school who would have happily accepted me and been friends with me. I believe middle school would have turned out a bit better if only I had given my time and energy to those who were kind to me, rather than those who I wanted so badly to like me.

Me with an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt and a cut-out of Edward Cullen

The private school I went to didn’t have a high school program. So, once 8th grade came to an end, I had to transition to a different school. My parents and I decided that going to a local public school would be the best option, and I assumed that it would be easier than private school since I would have more people to be friends with.

I assumed incorrectly. High school was almost as snotty, but this time I had some new coping skills to get me through the muck. Within my first year of attending, I was devastated by the betrayal of the first close friend I made. I tried to learn from the situation, but I also became very bitter as a result.

I finally understood that I didn’t deserve to be mistreated by my friends, but I had also developed too thick of a skin. I wanted to shield myself from being disappointed again, but that only made me appear cold and unfriendly. It wasn’t at all telling of my true character and only made it more difficult to make new friends.

Instead of embodying the qualities I was hoping for in a true friend, like understanding and patience, I became easily offended, constantly looking for the negativity in someone’s voice or intentions. I put up a wall between me and the rest of the world.

I was convinced that I couldn’t trust anyone. I lost touch with my own experience of being victimized, and I was becoming a lot like the girls who once made my middle school life so miserable.

The last two years of high school were challenging in their own right, and I grew and matured as a result. It took me a while to learn to be trusting of friendships again. For so long, I was behaving like an injured dog, snapping at any hand reaching out to help me, assuming they were intending to do more harm.

I had grown to be incredibly defensive of criticism, which was only making me a more obvious target for others to antagonize. However, as soon as I allowed myself to be kinder and softer, life got easier. By the time I started college, I was in a much better place to initiate healthy friendships. Don’t get me wrong- mean girls are still everywhere, but I know how dodge them much better now.

I don’t doubt that many childhood bullies adjust their behavior and turn out to have normal relationships as adults. Bullies can definitely grow up, as I have seen first hand. However, mean people exist everywhere and you have to be ready to face them, no matter what.

Bullies feed off of provoking and terrorizing their targets. I’ll never forget how my middle school bully’s eyes would switch from light blue to black, the moment she’d look my direction. I gave into fear each time, which only gave her more confidence to manipulate me.

The best way I have learned to deal with aggressors is to display no emotional response other than politeness. Kindness will only deter a bully. If they can’t provoke you, they’ll most likely get bored and leave you alone.

Of course, every bullying situation is unique, and I know that you can’t always just walk away. Nonetheless, investing time in building your own confidence and self identity is the first step to breaking free. Nobody can ever take your confidence from you!

Bullying exists well into high school, college, and even the workplace because there will always be people who believe they can gain strength from lowering the self-esteem of others. However, let this inspire you to grow stronger emotionally so that you can face your bullies with confidence. Until you have the confidence and the ability to face hatred with kindness, your bullies and critics will have much more control over you.

There is an old cliche that says something along the lines of, “nobody can make you upset unless you give them permission.” To an extent, this is absolutely right. You have the choice to either take rejection to heart or to dismiss it. Make good choices.

Seek out the company of people who lift you up and encourage you, not the opposite. If you’re constantly focused on what others think of you, you won’t have any time left for your personal growth.

Have you ever been bullied? What did you do to cope with it or to overcome it? Let me and other readers know in the comment section down below.

If you or someone you know is struggling with bullying, please visit stopbullying.org for more tips and resources. You are not alone.

4 Comments

  • Amanda C

    Wonderful work! Great personal insight into the evolution of the bullying experience and its longer-term effects. I hope you found some peace and satisfaction in writing this!

    • Mary Beth Tillery

      Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I definitely feel much lighter after sharing my story. I hope that I can inspire others who are being bullied!

  • Ansley Causey

    Loved it! It’s both amazing and sad how so many young ladies experience this very same middle school/high school way of life. I related to this on so many levels. Thanks for sharing, girl!

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