I want to talk about bullying. It’s partly because of the Chris Sims/Valerie D’Orazio revelations from yesterday, which has acted as a prompt to make me finally try and get my thoughts out about it. We don’t talk about bullying enough, and bullying ruins lives. I know, because I’ve suffered from it quite extensively.
‘Bullying’ is almost too friendly a term for it, one that conjures up memories of childhood days and images of the school bully who will one day get his comeuppance. Bullying is, in it’s ultimate form, a campaign of of harassment and intimidation, often involving violence or threats of violence, directed by one or more person at an individual. It’s a horrible, nasty thing that needs to be recognised as such.
It’s one of those things that we push to one side and awkwardly tip-toe around. It’s something that we know happens in schools, but we tell ourselves that it’s just kids and that they’ll grow out of it. We know that it happens in workplaces, we know that it happens increasingly online, and we shrug our shoulders and ask what can we do? It’s endemic to our society.
Bullying has long lasting effects. For me, I experienced the after effects of being bullied at school, and on occasion in the workplace, for years, even decades, afterwards. I found it impossible to trust people, even those closest to me. I created a persona that wouldn’t allow me to get too close to people precisely so that there’s no ammunition to be used against me. I still react incredibly badly to criticism, fearing on some level that I’m going to be bullied again, and I’ve actively sabotaged myself so that I won’t get noticed.
There are also the memories. The nightmares. I still have them to this day, and I’m thirty-six. Thirty-six. There’s no set trigger for the memories, but I’ll relive the worst moments in vivid detail and actually feel like I’m there again, feeling helpless and afraid. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the night terrified, afraid to go back to sleep, knowing that it’s waiting for me again. I’m a lot better now, but it’s something that’s haunted my life, hanging over me and not letting me move on.
The after effects of being bullied have had a profound effect on me. I’ve struggled to rebuild my trust in people, and I still find myself feeling like I exist on the edge of groups, not really believing that people actually like me. I’ve had issues with depression, body-image issues and more besides. I keep going and hope that one day it’ll all be left behind me, and, like most people that have been a victim of bullying, I’ve kept quiet about it, fearing that I’ll have to go through it all again if I speak out about it.
The thing is, that’s what’s stopping anything being done about it. Those of us who have suffered very rarely speak out, either at the time or after the fact. It’s become such a part of our culture that I, and I suspect many others, don’t really believe that much will be done about it. You can see people who have made a career out of bullying people being lauded as ‘strong personalities’, while those of us who have suffered keep our heads down and hide. We remain victims, seeing our tormentors prosper.
Bullying is part of our culture. It’s not going to change until we accept that and try to address the problem. We need to create an environment where people can come forward with their experiences without fear. We need to listen to people and realise the massive impact that this has on people’s lives. We need to make people who have been a bully realise exactly how much harm they’ve done, and we also need to give them the space to apologise and try to do better.
Bullying won’t go away overnight. It’s far, far too pervasive. We can start talking about it, though. We can try to do better.