Will a bullying victim become a bully? Not necessarily…
I was bullied as a child. Andrea and her friend — I’ve forgotten her name — emotionally tortured me for years at the small private school I attended. They picked on me because I was different, because I was sensitive, and…because they could. I reported it to the teachers when I felt I couldn’t handle it anymore. I told my mother — she gave me the age-old wisdom to “ignore it and they’ll stop it once they see it doesn’t bother you anymore.” Only, it didn’t. If I walked away, they followed me. If I tried to ignore them, they stepped up the harassment. They made every recess a living hell, and even though it was a private Christian school, they got away with it.
Why was I a victim of these two older girls (they were in 4th and 5th grade; I was in 2nd and later 3rd. It didn’t end until they left the school in the third year of the bullying)? Well, for one thing, I was small — still am, but that’s another post! — and I loved horses, which they soon learned because it’s all I drew, my favorite subject. So, to “honor” my horse-craziness, they gave me nicknames: “Stupid Cupid” was one — a terrific racehorse name in their eyes, I’m sure. The other, completely original, was “Purina Cat-Chow.” I guess they figured “Purina” rhymed fairly well with “Corinne” so that was their new moniker for me. They dogged me during recess, making snorts, whinnies and other appropriate horse-noises. They made fun at me, shoved grass in my face (after all, isn’t that what horses eat?) and claimed I carried flies back into class. I couldn’t hang with my friends because these two taunted me to the point where my friends didn’t want to be part of the spectacle.
I really had a moment to recall this episode in my life the other day when I was interviewed on the topic of Phoebe Prince and the relationship between being bullied and becoming a bully.
While there are certainly many instances where children who are bullied become the bullies later in life, it’s not always true. Some become strong protectors for other children who are being picked on. Some, like me, become determined to develop greater sensitivity and character in kids so they understand why bullying is so hurtful…and so wrong. Unfortunately, for some bullying victims, we’ll never know what they would have become because they are killed, or kill themselves, before they have a chance to emerge from the horrors of youth violence.
But, regardless of what actually “becomes” of the bullied child, I’m sure their lives are altered in some form or fashion. It may be that the tests they undergo as a result of physical or psychological “assault” serves to harden them to a sharp edge…like the finest steel must be seasoned by heat and blows before it is “cured.” I’m not saying that it’s the way it should be, but crises do tend to build character in many of us (yes, but aren’t I enough of a character already?)
But not for all. Not everyone survives, not everyone overcomes. If there were one simple answer to “what makes a bully” we could go to the heart of that issue and deal with it there. Broken families may be a contributor. So might abuse in the home. But not always. There are plenty of abused, neglected children who don’t resort to this kind of behavior. Likewise, some kids who have everything going for them in life, who shouldn’t need to behave this way, act out in the most vicious and hurtful ways towards others. Recently studies indicate it might have to do with spanking…but that’s not certain either.
We do know bullying is damaging and hurts more than just the victim. It may give rise to more bullies, it may not. We may not be able to control circumstances that lead to bullying, but we can work to set up environments in which bullying isn’t supported and in which positive character and behavior is recognized and reinforced. We’ll likely have fewer bullies then to propagate this lifecycle of cruelty and violence. They will once again become the exception, rather than the too-frequent rule.