broadsideblog

Being Bullied Scars You For Life: My Op-Ed In USA Today

In behavior, education, women on April 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm
Cave troll as corporate bully

Yup, it feels like that. Image by kevindooley via Flickr

From USA Today:

I was the perfect target.

Like Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish teen who recently committed suicide after being bullied by her new classmates in South Hadley, Mass., I arrived as a nervous outsider. Mine was a middle-class Toronto high school; like hers, most of my new classmates had attended grade school and middle school together.

I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.

I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.

I was terrified and traumatized.

The rest at USA Today.

  1. I think you’re missing a link at the bottom.

  2. Congratulations on getting an Op-Ed in USA TODAY. I have read your other posts on this subject and agree there must be some way to stop this.

  3. Cindy, thanks. Being bullied is truly toxic and it isn’t something you can just laugh or shrug off, no matter how many times people tell you “you’re too sensitive” or “Stand up for yourself!”

    The bullies need to be told “You’re cruel and you’re not welcome in our school.” Then enforce it.

  4. I had to write in regards to your article. I was bullied from the time I was in 1st grade to 8th grade. I never had children because I was afraid that my children would be bullied too and I don’t think I could handle it. I went to a Catholic School the teachers, the nuns, and the priests did nothing. There comment to my parents was “Kids will be Kids” Now, that I am older I recently met up w/one of my bullies at a Grocery Store and now she is a teacher and she finally apologized to me. I accepted her apology, but, I told her “if you see any of your students being bullied help them don’t turn the other way!”

  5. Sorry to hear about this. Not to go off on the wrong tangent but do you pronounce “Caitlin” with a short A sound?

  6. Johnna, I am sorry to hear this — but the teachers’ cowardice in no way surprises me. No one would every tolerate this in adults! Cops would be called, arrests made and lawsuits threatened or carried out…

    The next time time someone says “kids will be kids” my reply is “thugs will be thugs — until someone explains what cruelty means.” I also hear you on the issue of not having kids and this fear of their being bullied — my protective instincts of others are always tuned extremely high and I go nuts when someone I love is attacked, insulted or threatened.

    Doug…In Ireland my name is pronounced Kawtch-lin (short a) and in Wales, Kawth-leen. (also a short a.) Either way, I mispronounce it as Kate-lyn — although the spelling is the original Welsh.

  7. Well written piece Caitlyn. Bullies are toxic for everyone.

  8. Dawn, thanks. They are indeed.

  9. Caitlin,

    Thank you so much for your piece in USA Today. I am a mental health therapist and I hear stories of people as adults who are still horribly affected by the bullying they received as children and teens. In some cases, they are then bullied as adults in the work place as well and it’s a never ending cycle. Bullies grow up to be adult bullies unfortunately. It is so terrible when parents, teachers, administrators and other adults can’t stop the bullying cycle.

    I read a few days ago that schools are just realizing that there is a “new bully” – the popular kids who know what to say and when to avoid adult detection and that the old description of a bully being a person of low self-esteem and with other issues isn’t as accurate now. I believe that both descriptions have been around for a long while…and I wonder why it takes so long for adults to recognize this. Seems to me it’s just an excuse to brush it under the rug. Blaming the victim has to stop.

    Again, thank you.

    ~ Sara

  10. Sara, thank you so much for validating — clinically! — what I know and live every day. It really leaves you a changed person and not, in any way, for the better. Yes, I am more compassionate (that’s better) but I will always carry anger and frustration that this cruelty is so accepted.

    I’ve run into bully bosses in four (!) NYC journalism workplaces as well: managers who think nothing of shouting, even cursing at workers; one woman my age who stood thisclose to me (terrifying in itself) about whom human resources knew and simply didn’t care…These were not sweatshop jobs, but decently paid white-collar work. In an economy ruled by profit and “productivity” whether people are going home ill and/or in tears matters not at all — people are terrified of losing their jobs. One of my co-workers told me she had been on anti-depressants simply to cope with the daily stress of this one insane manager.

  11. Strong piece, Caitlin. I think you raise a really important issue toward the end. The bad economy allows too many employers to bully with impunity. And that can damage not only a particular workplace but the broader society.

  12. Jerry, it’s a problem in a good economy — and torture in a bad one. Like high school was for me, you can’t just flounce off and quit when there are six people in line for every job. Bosses know that and bullies groove on power, so great times for everyone.

  13. Caitlin, I read your article in USA Today and was deeply moved by it, I have a two kids a son in college and a daughter in 5th grade. I read the article to my family and my daughter was near tears, the others were just silent. I am sorry that you suffered such horrific abuse as a child. Thanks for sharing and helping to get the word out about this topic (school bullying). You are a beautiful person! :)

  14. Greg, thanks.

    It’s the highest possible honor for me, anyway, to know my words might have changed someone’s mind on this topic.

    Others suffer much, much worse abuse (rape, incest) and, as some have pointed out to me, this stuff does make you a lot stronger — if you survive it. I was very struck today by this NYT piece, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/us/09bully.html?ref=us, in which Phoebe apparently told a friend she was “not a tough girl” and “wouldn’t know how to fight.”

    No one should have to armor their soul to walk into school every day. Not everyone WANTS to be(come) tough and aggressive, no matter how much the culture rewards it. I hope we can all (learn to) value the gentler souls among us.

  15. Good article. Unfortunately, it brings back terrible memories that I rarely talk about. I, too, was mercilessly bullied in school. Growing up in Kissimmee, Fla, which, despite its Sunshine State location, is the Deep South, I was picked on by racist white kids because of my skin color.

    The black kids didn’t let me off the hook either. I was born in the Virgin Islands, and by the time I moved to Florida at age 4, I had a very strong Caribbean accent for which I was verbally and physically attacked by the black kids.

    No one at school did anything for me. I remember my dad coming to my school one day, and in front of the principal, warned one of the bullies that if he ever touched me again, he’d personally see to it that he paid for it dearly — and painfully. He never touched me again.

    My older siblings had it even worse. We lived in a black neighborhood, and my parents had to drive my older brother and sister to a nearby white neighborhood to catch the school bus to avoid daily confrontations at the bus stop a block or two from our house.

    The physical scars have long gone, but the mental ones remain, which I’m sure is the case with anyone who has experienced extreme forms of bullying.

  16. Jeremy, thanks for sharing this. I think there are many of us out there and it helps to hear (not that it’s a good thing) that this stuff is not — as it can feel — unique to you alone.

    I hate how overly sensitive I am, still, and wish I wasn’t, but I suspect this is a direct result of being bullied. I am fine when (like when I lecture or teach or give interviews) I control the attention and can end it at any time I choose — it’s almost therapeutic in this respect. But when I can’t? Scary as hell.

  17. Caitlin, thank you for writing this piece for USA Today. And please keep putting this topic out there as a journalist. It is truly the most heinous behaviour that has to be recognized and stopped.

  18. Barbara, thanks. I’ve been really touched by the response to this; I heard privately from a young man whose sister also committed suicide as a result of having been bullied; I think it’s a national scourge.

    If we can make smoking seem disgusting and anti-social, you’d think we could do that with bullying.

  19. I was a “dog” too once. I’m sorry you had to go through the same thing. I don’t think I understood what suicide was then, not until many years later, or it might have been me. I’m glad it wasn’t, and my heart breaks when I read about another kid who’s been pushed to that edge. It’s not necessary, and a waste of someone who is so much better than those who treated them so poorly.

  20. I am so sorry to hear this. Bullying is so widespread and so awful. I have been hearing from a lot of people after my op-ed appeared in the U.S. and Canada. When will it stop?

  21. Twenty years later, and the effects of bullying still linger. I am always worried that people don’t/won’t like me, how others perceive myself, have been a people pleaser, and accepted less than respectable treatment from men. I have only recently begun to see a therapist to help heal the damage. Could take a while …

    http://darthkater.com/notes-from-facebook/the-tales-of-three-snatches-notes-from-facebook-january-2009/

  22. What struck me most about your article and the dreadful news from South Hadley, MA, was the lack of intervention from those in authority. I am continually amazed by the “bystander effect” of educators and administrators. Sure, I know there are sanctions against corporal punishment these days but abdication is equivalent to gross negligence in these cases.
    My oldest daughter (in Junior High) reported to me that a boy had touched (tweaked) her body parts inappropriately. I was livid! I called the boy’s father and apparently the boy erased the message before his father got it (or so I heard). At 8th grade graduation I saw the kid and I was enraged. He was acting cocky, so in the absence of anyone doing anything about it, I did something. Mind you, this 8th grader already had a full beard (matured early). With his friends watching, I got in his face and told to never to touch my daughter again and told him I would be watching him very closely the next four years of high school.
    Do you know what happened? He became the most polite and most protective gentlemen to my daughter throughout her high school years.
    Intervention works, but adults have to do the right thing.
    I would have intervened on your behalf as well.

  23. kater, I hear you on this…I was asked today on a radio show interview how this has affected me as an adult and I, which is embarrassing and professionally unhelpful, certainly as a writer, tend to be quite thin-skinned. Unless or until I really know someone well and feel very safe with them, I dislike being teased. I HATE people looking at me or laughing at me. I am happy to teach and speak publicly because I control the attention and set the tone. I can always leave the room. I hope therapy is helpful to help you with this, because there’s no doubt in my mind it has changed how we see the world, and not for the better.

    Dave, thanks very much for this story. Everyone I speak to about this tells me that once they, literally, get in the face of the bully and threaten him or her back, directly, it usually stops. But so often no one does a thing to confront these nasty creatures and the victim is left to tough it out alone, which truly makes you/us (victims) hate and distrust people in authority because — hello, what are you doing avoiding your responsibility to protect us? It is shocking to me how this is shrugged off as though, because it is not physical assault, no damage is being done. Yes it is.

    I grew up in Toronto, and Canadians tend to be much much less confrontational than Americans, so my Dad (who was distraught over my treatment and highly assertive) would still not have been likely to get in school administrators’ faces.

    • In late 1981, we moved from suburban Toronto to a small town in northern B.C. named Smithers. Population: 5,500.

      There was one public high school, a Christian private high school, and a tiny alternate school (where many students were cut from the same cloth as my bullies). No where else for me to go, and in a small town, gossip contributes to bullying.

      My dad left the RCMP in 1981, and with 12 years experience as a police detective, knew the laws inside & out. It was my mum who went to bat for me with the administration at school, but they did very little (if anything). In fact, the so called mediator/guidance counselor ADVOCATED that I let the girls beat me up, so that they would “get it over and done with”, and leave me alone.

      Really.

      My dad used to have to drive me three blocks to school, because I was afraid of getting jumped on route. One morning, I refused to get out of the car, and was crying. My patient dad lost his patience, and was fed-up with the antics of the bullies, administration, and school board. He had all three of my tormentors summoned to the office, and there — in the presence of the principal — pretty much read them the Riot Act, stating that if they were to continue their abuse, that he would not hesitate to proceed with legal action; he told them flat-out all of the legal consequences of their juvenile crimes, and scared them.

      One of the girls’ mother came to the door of my home later that afternoon, yelling at ME, telling me, “Little girl, your father cannot threaten my daughter!”

      “Oh, yes, he can!” I replied, and slammed the door in her face.

      Those girls stopped bothering me, but OTHERS jumped on the “hate Kate” bandwagon, jeering at myself, teasing me, flinging insults my way, and flat out humiliating me in front of others.

      On of my favorites was a creep who announced to myself, in front of my entire 9th grade Social Studies class, “If I had a dog that were as ugly as you, I’d shave it’s ass, and teach it to walk backwards.”

      My high school experience was ruined by bullies, and for feeling so reviled & unaccepted, I was: extremely truant, often ill (severe asthma. stress didn’t help!), and fell through the cracks. A really intelligent girl, with honor roll friends, but I flunked everything, and … failed to complete high school. You can imagine how this has affected other areas of my life.

      Shame & fear are incredibly huge obstacles to overcome in one’s life, hindering a person in so many ways. Many have told me to “get over it” and “move on”. They have NO idea what it’s like to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-worth, and constantly feel that not only that they’re unlovable by others, but even unable to love themselves.

  24. This is such a sad story and a terrible waste of your time and talents. I was asked today how I managed to stay sane and not take my life or fall into depression — I had parents who valued me and dear friends (thank heaven) and went to a summer camp where I was happy and loved. So I had other places where I knew people really liked me — and the school bullies were something I would (as I did) one day see in my rear view mirror.

    If I had not had all these other supports, and a small town makes things much worse, I am not sure how I would have survived. I went on a regional quiz show and we did really well two years in a row, so everyone knew I might be hated by a few a—holes but I’d helped make our school look good on TV so that bought me some respect.

    Victims MUST know (you) that being reviled doesn’t mean we deserved it. That’s not easy to escape, I know. I do really believe a good therapist might help a lot to rid you of these toxic “old tapes.” I hope so!

  25. Bullying seems to be all too common these days, it’s really sad. I’d like to contribute an actual success story of teachers who intervened on my behalf, one of whom lost his job because of it.

    I was bullied relentlessly in Junior High, mostly because I was quiet, had really bad asthma and didn’t reach that last growth spurt. Some of the more cruel boys were shooting up to 6′ and higher and I was, and still am, 5′ nothing. This was at a private school (non-religious), about 40-odd kids in the whole middle school (grades 6-8). The English teacher saw what was going on, pulled me out of the recess time, and taught me chess. We would sit in his classroom with a pot of tea, studying old chess games, talking and having a good time. Obviously, this was before the thought ever crossed my mind of such a situation being vaguely inappropriate, but that was a while ago. The bullies got their comeuppance (in my mind), when we had a chess unit in math, and I got to order them around the board drawn on the gym floor with masking tape.

    My second round of bullying occurred when I was a freshman in public high school. There was a girl that I was in band with who was…well, a bitch (honestly, best word I can use to describe her). She did most of her bullying inside of band class, mostly tossing candy wrappers at me, or making oinking noises when the teacher was focused elsewhere. I was planning on dropping the class in the second semester due to her bullying, when a friend of mine told the band teacher all about what was going on. He intervened, got the VP involved, and made sure she couldn’t bully me in his class. Didn’t stop her from taking it outside his class. After one too many candy wrappers thrown at me, I had a minor shouting episode at her, ended up fleeing to the band hall, at which point he intervened again. She got a mark on her record, threatened with suspension, and thankfully, the bullying stopped. The next school year, her mom made sure his life was hell, and he didn’t get rehired.

    Both of those teachers are my bullying heroes. Mr. Steele and Mr. Clark, where-ever you are, thank you.

  26. These guys are heroes. You should find them and thank them as you are not long out of high school. Anyone who stands up for a bullied child deserves thanks — not losing their job. This is such a depressing ending to a great story. Thanks for sharing it!

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