Confessions of a schoolyard bully

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen you meet new people on campus, you always end up talking about your life before university.

 

A lot of the people I’ve met at SFU have some kind of story where they encountered some form of bullying prior to their university days.

Except for me. I’m on the opposite side of the story, I was a childhood bully. I don’t say this with any pride for how I acted, and I realize this won’t garner a whole lot of sympathy, but it’s the truth.

I went to the same school from kindergarten through to grade nine, which was the end of junior high school in Alberta and also the last grade offered at the private school I attended. The school was very small, and as a result, it was unavoidably intimate my graduating class was no more than 30, and it was still the largest the school would see for a number of years.

This was the kind of school where you knew the names of all your classmates’ pets. You had a rotating cast of teachers because it wasn’t practical to hire specific ones for each grade. It was the kind of school where reputations stick.

It started when I was around eight years old. Some of the older kids thought it would be funny to see if us younger kids could hold our own in a scrap with them; a real life ‘how many toddlers can you take’ scenario. I remember the thrill of how impressed they were when I went all out and tried to pummel anything that moved. It was a different kind of acceptance that I hadn’t had before, and I loved it.

This rush, combined with the toxic environment in which I grew up — both at home and at school — was why lashing out became regular for me. It’s tempting to avoid your feelings, even if it involves hurting someone else in the process.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]hockingly, the administration didn’t care for my tough guy ways, and put a stop to them fairly quickly.

 

But I had already developed a taste of what it felt like to win at someone else’s expense. Since I was a hypercompetitive child, I decided to find another outlet for my frustration.

For me, that became being very verbally abusive towards others. I have a list of justifications that I want to be able to give for this, but at the end of the day, the fact remains that I was a bully, and a vicious one at that.

Amidst school suspensions and threats of expulsion, the situation got worse and worse until the summer before high school, when I truly understood how people saw me. At a summer camp — just months before I started high school I saw myself through someone else’s eyes.

At the end of the day, I was a bully, and a vicious one at that.

A girl in my unit was crying. When I went over to comfort her, she just screamed at me to leave her alone.

I knew that I didn’t have the greatest reputation with people, but it was eye-opening to realize that people would rather stay in pain than let me anywhere near them. This moment was so powerful it made me disappointed with myself. It genuinely made me want to change to who I was.  

I was also fortunate enough to benefit from a change in scenery. I went from an uncomfortably small school, the only one I’d only ever known, to a public high school that had well over 2,000 students.

Early on, I got involved in my one and only fist fight at that school, and fittingly enough, I was on the receiving end of being bullied. We fought just outside the school, right after football practice. Pretty cliché, right?

We were called into the administration’s office the next day, where I expected them to just suspend us and give us the usual scolding. It wouldn’t have been my first suspension, and it wouldn’t have been my last if the school didn’t intervene the way they did.

Instead, they sat us both down, and had us talk through our issues until we got to the bottom of it all. It didn’t result in us becoming best friends, but we were civil towards each other, which is probably what they were hoping for.

The real victory for me was how close I became with the school’s administration after that. Feeling like you have a good relationship with your school helps the healing process a lot. It set the tone for how much I truly enjoyed high school and wanted to dive into everything that school had to offer in hopes of rebuilding my character, instead of engaging in self-sabotaging behavior.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s been a long road of recovery since then.

 

I learned that I was so set in the habit of bullying, it was a defence mechanism as well as a default. Throughout high school, I would agonize over the day’s interactions when I went home. I wanted desperately to build relationships, and would often become frustrated with myself when old habits showed.

It was a difficult position to be in. Instead of trying to deal with it in a healthy manner, I turned most of my anger inwards and became brutal towards myself. Combined with the fact that I was still in the aforementioned toxic environment, there wasn’t a lot of reprieve, no matter how desperately I just wanted to be liked and accepted.

Ironically, I’m now my own worst bully.

It’s been tough reconciling with how other people viewed me, and even tougher to move forward. Occasionally I still catch myself going too far with jokes at the expense of others, not realizing it until I’ve offended someone. I can safely say that I have lost friendships because of how easy it is to slip back into the role of the tormentor.

Kindness is one of the best traits you can aspire to, and understanding this has been trying. One day, I hope I can stop beating myself up over how I used to act, but for now I’m just content that I’ve changed how I treat the people in my life.

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