I am a 37 year-old woman, Mom to one toddler, and married for four and a half years to my second husband. I have a degree in chemistry from a rather prestigious public university, and I have spent my career wandering from one job to the next, keeping each one no longer than two and a half years. I was laid off once, and pressured into quitting once, which were both devastating experiences for me... moreso than for the average person. I suffer from depression and a severe fear of abandonment, which I mostly credit to the abuse I suffered at the hands of my peers for my entire school career (K-12). I was told that "teasing is normal" and that I should "just get over it" and it would never affect me once I was away from school anyway. The teasing never made any sense to me. I wasn't particularly smart, I didn't have any obvious physical differences that made me stand out, I was white, middle class and "normal" in most ways. The only thing I can think of is that I never really understood how to play with other kids. I was always the "leader," always the one deciding what game to play, simply, in my mind, because nobody else ever seemed to offer fun ideas. My Mom called me selfish and bossy and told me that was why nobody ever wanted to play with me. Boy, THAT really boosted my confidence! I was a tomboy for sure, and I was really into nature... so I guess that made me stand out from the "doll playing" girls since I had no interest whatsoever in playing typical "girl" games. But that is the only thing I can think of that made me stand out from the crowd. That and the fact that I felt worthless thanks to the myriad of negative comments I kept hearing at home.
I don't remember ever not being teased. It started at home when I was just a few years old, and I guess that just set me up as a victim for my entire school career.
It started with the kids in Kindergarten. I wore jeans, flannel shirts, hiking boots, had short hair and went by a boy's nickname. "Andi is a boy, Andi is a boy..." was what I heard almost every day. I would argue back that I was a girl and to leave me alone, and guess who got the time-outs? Yup, me. I learned quickly that defending myself got me nowhere.
In first grade I just couldn't make friends. The only friend I had was the class bully, and she was adept at setting me up to take the fall for her pranks. When she dumped me halfway through the year I resorted to lying and stealing to get attention. Yeah, that really worked wonders. First grade is where I really got off on the wrong foot at the private school I attended... the teachers both disliked me, and that haunted me throughout my entire school career. Oh, and first grade was also the first time I didn't receive many valentines. I gave one to every kid whether I liked them or not (my school teacher Mom saw to that), but out of 30 kids I guess I got one or two.
For second grade I was home schooled. That cured my negative behavior, but it prevented me from forming friendships with the kids in my peer group (like that would have happened anyway).
When I returned to school for third grade, the girl groups were already formed, and try as I might I just couldn't break in, and besides, I shared few interests with them. Our classes were mixed grade so I had to resort to making friends with the second graders. I had a couple female friends, one good one in particular, but mostly I had a few boy buddies because I was a tomboy anyway. Again I didn't get many valentines, even though we made big "mailboxes" so we could receive them anonymously. At this point I wasn't so much teased as I was just ignored on the playground, and shunned on the sports field (admittedly I was pretty bad at sports).
Fourth grade was pretty awful for me. I was the only fourth grader in a class of second and third graders, yet I was being asked to do the same work they were doing. BORING! I was begging my teachers for more challenging work, but wasn't getting any. But the point was that the school had either deliberately or accidentally separated me completely from the other kids in my grade level, and they would not move me to the other class. By being separated I was again not able to form social groups with the other kids in my grade, so again I resorted to boy buddies, which made my after-school social life pretty nonexistent.
In fifth grade we moved up to middle school, where kids of all ages took classes together. There was no separation of age groups, so finally I was able to connect with the girls that were my age. I was actually making inroads at being friends at this point... the only time in my entire school career that I had a fairly large group of female friends. At the end of that school year I learned why the girls had pretty much ignored me earlier... it was because all the boys liked me! And that is why I was their friend in fifth grade... all the boys (older ones especially) liked me and hung around with me. Like I cared at that point. But this ended up being one of the keys to my demise.
Two things happened the next year: puberty hit me and mother nature was particularly unkind to me, and a new girl had come to the school and she was determined to be the ringleader of my age group (there were all of 30 of us in the same age group) and win over all the boys. I had gone from being the cute little girl that I had been, to an ugly, gangly grease pit that became an easy target for the ringleader (let's call her Amy) to stomp on. As with others who suddenly find themselves without friends at this age (11), I was desperate to belong to the "in" group. And as we all know, the more desperate you are, the bigger the bullseye you wear. And being such a small group, I was the only kid wearing a bullseye. Yes, there were other kids on the outside, but they had all been latecomers to the school and had not previously been a part of the "group." I think that because I had once belonged I thought that all I needed to do was convince them they were wrong about me and they would accept me back. It never really occurred to me to give up on them and make friends with the other kids.
The abuse I suffered at the hands of my peers was particularly insidious because it wasn't as if they thought I was worthless... on the contrary, they knew they had control over me at that point (grades 5-8), but they were also very interested in watching what I did. Being a natural leader personality-wise, I tended to start trends without intending to. I would be the first to wear a certain new style of clothing or shoe, and next thing I'd know everybody else was doing the same thing. I'd get into a certain activity, and others would follow. It made no sense... on the one had I had influence, but on the other hand I was degraded for wanting to be a part of the crowd.
Fortunately I did not have to endure physical abuse... attending a Quaker school with a policy of nonviolence made sure of that. But the emotional abuse was severe and obvious to everyone around. Their favorite thing to do was to announce publicly that there was going to be a party at so and so's house, and I was NOT invited. They would mention me by name and make sure everyone around knew that I was not invited. They also loved to be nice to me one day in order to draw me in and get me to lower my guard, then turn on me and accuse me of all kinds of imagined misdeeds. Or even more fun was starting a ruckus while the teacher's back was turned then point the finger at me, even though I wasn't involved. It got to the point where the teachers would assume I caused every ruckus and would not even listen to my protests. That was the reputation that followed me from first grade. I had become the perfect scapegoat. Everything that went wrong was Andi's fault. Oh, and then there were the notes saying mean things about me that were dropped deliberately so that I would find them, or the notes (with personal information) I wrote to "friends" that got intercepted and spread around the school.
My teachers knew all too well how hurt I was over this behavior, but they felt unable to do anything about it (I guess the nonviolent philosophy did not extend to psychological violence). I didn't get along very well with most of the teachers anyway, though thankfully my homeroom teacher was a saint, and I credit her for saving my life through her kindness.
It is all a blur now, and I don't remember when it started (I think around 7th grade), but at some point the school started giving us the option to ride a bus, and that was when my hell really began. At the same time as the bussing started, a new group of boys had come to the school, and the in-girls wanted them all to themselves. In short order they made sure that these boys knew I was garbage and to ignore me. They went further than that... I became their victim both at school and on the bus. I don't remember what happened, thankfully, but I do remember feeling so totally ostracized that I felt life was hardly worth living if this was what I had to look forward to. That same year a new girl came to school, and I was able to beat the rest of the crowd to her. She became my good friend, and at least I had her for that year. But she lived in a different town so she didn't ride my bus (the new boys did, however), and at school, while she wasn't afraid to be seen with me, she was afraid to stick up for me for fear of not making friends with anybody else. The memories have mostly left me, thank God, but I know that 6th and 7th grades were so bad that tears, both at school and at home, were becoming a regular thing.
Something happened to me between 7th and 8th grades that made me realize that I didn't need to take it any more. I think it was my friendship with Jenny, and another girl, Sylvia, that finally saved me from my desperation to be a part of the group. In 8th grade I decided to simply stop reacting, and stop trying to get them to accept me. They still teased me incessantly, but it wasn't having any effect, which seemed only to push them to tease me more. I had my friends, and surprisingly this did end up allowing me to socialize with the other girls in my age group (as if I really wanted to at that point). It was a two-faced time... when I was alone with the "popular" girls, they would still shut me out, but when I was buffered between them and my two good friends, they were nice. But then put them with the boys in the group and I was wearing my bullseye all over again. After my friend Sylvia started dating one of the boys and sitting by him while he abused me, I learned that I could not trust people, no matter how nice they seemed to be. I couldn't trust anybody to stand up for me, not adults, not kids, and I couldn't trust that people would be there for me "for better or worse" even though they were supposed to be (here I am referring to the fact that not only was I teased at school, but the teasing and negative comments came fast and furious at home too, and I was told I was weak for letting the kids get to me. I felt I simply had nobody I could rely on, that I was alone in this world, that trusting people would do nothing but hurt me in the end. Oh, did I mention that my Mom was a bully when she was a kid?).
An interesting occurrence happened in 8th grade, and at first I thought it would vindicate me, but it ended up just making me feel worse in the end. One of the popular girls, one of the VERY good friends of Amy, suddenly started making unfortunate choices in clothing and make-up, and she found herself on the receiving end of the same sort of abuse I had endured for years. At the end of three weeks of this she was ready to run away and hide for good. One of the teachers intervened and asked me to help her through the pain. I did, thinking I would win a supporter from the group. Boy was I wrong. As soon as she was back into the group, she was back at it again, backstabbing me and participating with all the others.
Oh, and yes, the teachers did try to intervene eventually, but they could never get the kids to explain why they chose me as their target. They would extract an apology, but the behavior would just start all over again when it was over. I never "tattled", the abuse was so obvious the teachers couldn't help but see it (there were all of 100 kids in four grade levels, and over a dozen teachers). I think at some point the message was communicated to me that somehow I was bringing this on myself.
In 9th grade I had simply decided I didn't care anymore, I wanted nothing to do with the in crowd and I started just ignoring them completely. I had created a new "three musketeers" group with another girl named Barbie (who was both inside and outside the group), and a new girl named Becky. I was also interested in a new boy, but he only had eyes for one of the popular girls, and never did get over that. Interestingly, my total disinterest in the "group" had the effect that one of the boys who was my WORST tormentor decided he wanted to be friends with me! And we actually DID become friends for a while, but that didn't last very long (reason to be explained shortly). At least he did not go back to tormenting me, he was actually pleasant to me, just didn't really pay much attention to me for the rest of our school careers (today he is a psychologist. I have no idea if he ever grasped the seriousness of what he did to me, and to another girl whom he date-raped).
Another one of my worst tormentors decided to start a competition with me for grades. We were both gifted in the sciences, and he took it personally every time I beat him on an exam score (which was every time, usually by just a few points). I just didn't pay much attention to this, even though he was pretty loud about it (today he is a physician, while I've never been able to amount to much).
By the time I was 16 (um, 11th grade I guess) I was barely even socializing with anybody at school. I went to school, I went home. I was still watched and emulated, but I didn't care. By then they knew that they could not influence me, so they pretty much stopped trying. I just managed to muddle my way through life, laugh at funny things and internalize the pain. I never resorted to drugs because that was actually the "in" thing to do, and by then I was doing my own thing, which was usually the opposite of the "in" thing. But also I didn't have many friends for one reason: people found it easy to talk to me... too easy... so easy that they would ultimately reveal something they had never intended to reveal to anybody, then they would become scared that I would use that against them (which I never, ever did). This is why the one boy stopped being my friend in 9th grade, and why the torment stopped even though I was never accepted into the circle.
By 12th grade I simply quit going to school. I drove a carpool, and I tutored a younger student, so I went to school every morning and I returned to school in the afternoon, but I virtually never attended classes, yet I managed, somehow, to keep my grades up. The teachers, knowing all that I had been through, cut me a lot of slack. I think they were really glad that I wasn't around much actually as I had become a "troublemaker" by making the school question it's values and policies. Also by then I had met a man that I was seeing a lot of during the day (he was considerably older than me), and I had a social group that had no clue I was just 17. I learned that I wasn't such a horrible person once I got out of the school situation... in fact I had a large number of friends... they were just twice my age, that's all.
However, all was not well. Suddenly in March of my senior year I fell into a depression that was so severe I could barely get out of bed. I quit going to school all together, and agreed to do an Outward Bound course in return for graduation. This sounded like great fun to me since I was so involved in the outdoors, but I soon found out how mistaken I was. To make a long story short, I discovered that when I was put into a situation where I had to interact with kids my age, it didn't matter who they were, I automatically fell into the scapegoat role. At the end I was blamed, by both the kids and the instructors, for the failure of the group to return to base camp within the 3 day time allotment we were given (never mind that the group, not I, chose to walk 8 hours the wrong direction one day because we (everyone but myself, that is) had run out of water and could focus on nothing but finding potable water). This was the single most devastating event of my life... after this experience I thought I was doomed to a lifetime of ostracism and scapegoatism. Despite psychological counseling after this experience, I think this was the event that cemented my belief that I would never, ever escape my past.
The very last bullying event that happened to me occurred just a few days before graduation. I had just returned from my Outward Bound experience and the seniors had planned a "senior skip day." I had "accidentally" found out about it, and when this got back to 'Amy', she moved the meeting place and swore everyone to secrecy. I showed up at what I thought was the meeting place, and nobody came. I decided to go to the lake where the party was being held, and drove around all day looking for them. To this day I have no idea if they were actually there. Even the people I was "friends" with were threatened by the "crowd" that if they told me where to go they would be ostracized for good. And here I'd thought that all of this crap was behind me, only to find out that it was not.
Oh, and guess who was told she was voted the most respected person in the school? You got it. They respected me because I could go on with my life in the face of my tormentors and act like everything was cool... I was in control, and I knew what I wanted in life. Yeah... right.
The long-term effect that this experience has had on me is that I had, for a time, a self esteem that was so low that I was reckless and didn't care what happened to me. I did so poorly in college that I thought I was dumb and would never amount to anything. I couldn't hold on to a boyfriend (never mind that I always put myself into destructive relationships), and I couldn't make any new friends my own age. The few friends I'd had from highschool had abandoned me despite my attempts to keep in touch. I had no friends in college, and have only made a few real friends since becoming an adult.
To this day I struggle with abandonment issues, partially because I felt abandoned by my family when I needed them most, and partially because it seemed that eventually I was always abandoned by the people who had been my friends or I had cared about. I trust people, but once they break my trust that's it... no second chances. I call it my "one strike you're out" policy. I talk to my parents, but they are not emotionally close to me. I have learned to sabotage my own relationships so that I don't have to suffer the abandonment of another close friend. My husband tells me that he could never understand why I kept building walls after having been so open to him in our early years. The only time I have ever really been happy is when I've been by myself, with only associates and no close friends. I no longer seek out destructive relationships, but my first marriage was doomed before it started (I married a man I knew I didn't love so that when he eventually abandoned me I wouldn't care, but I ended up leaving first anyway). Even my current husband has abandoned me, in my mind, both emotionally and virtually physically (he still lived with me but our interaction was cordial and superficial), however we are working on our issues, and he is the first person in my life to whom I am giving a real second chance. It has taken me 20 years to fully understand how my experience shaped me negatively, and how it formed the basis for so much of my adult pain. My experience did not make me a better or stonger person, it only created a person who has learned to be destructive, deceptive, and emotionally closed off. Thankfully my husband understands what I went through as he too was a victim, though to a lesser degree, of bullying, and it is through this support and understanding that I am finally opening the doors to my past and trying to understand that I don't need to be a victim anymore. What's more, my 17 month old son has already exhibited signs that he is going to be "different" than the other kids (he is sensitive, intellegent, and clearly absorbs the world around him in a different way than others), and I know that I am going to have to help him survive his school years.
If there is any message that I can pass on to kids who are currently being victims of bullying, their parents, their friends, or their teachers, it is that it is imperative that you get psychological counseling and support. It is easy to intellectualize that you are not the cause of your own victimization, but that won't heal the pain or cure the very real psychological damage that bullying can cause. It is not weak to seek counseling. It is not weak to need help to get beyond the pain. It is not weak to stand up for yourself and make sure that everybody knows that you do not accept that bullying is a normal behavior, and that adults must intervene on your behalf. I don't know what can be done to stop the bullying, but I do know that it doesn't have to damage you so deeply that the rest of your life is altered permanently. You CAN learn to tune it out if you have the right support network behind you. They know alot more about bullying today than they did 30 years ago when it started for me. I wish that my teachers had had more resources available to them, had more knowledge on their side. I feel that if they had understood the phenomena of bullying they would have been able to find a solution because I know they wanted to. In a way you are lucky to be alive today because so much more is now out in the open. Just hang tough and know that you do NOT have to go through your pain alone, but you might have to MAKE people (i.e. your parents or a trusted adult) listen to you and get you the professional help you need. As others have said, school is not real life, and you will, in time, be away from the torment. Your pain and suffering are very real, it is not imagined, it is not exagerated, it is not a sign of weakness. Being the victim of bullying does not define who you are. But you should not be alone with your pain because that can lead you to do things that can be very destructive. People do understand what you are going through, people do care. You are not alone.
Back to Raven Days' Words Out Of Shadow
Back to the Raven Days home page
Copyright to the original articles in the sectionWords Out of Shadow is retained by their authors.