If your personal trek in the dark lands goes on for long enough, you're eventually going to want to strike back at them orcs, yo. There's a fair chance you'll develop a desire to have some sort of payback on your bully: punch them, key their car if they have one, publicly humiliate them by swapping their underwear into spontaneously combusting gag ones, shave their cat while they're away from home ... something. Anything.
And that mindset is the real pitfall of many a bullying victim.
The "just fight back" mentality has its share of problems. Traditional bullying tends to hinge on a power imbalance -- either lots of kids versus one, or a big kid terrorizing smaller ones -- and failure to fight back can fuck up your self-esteem pretty horribly. Even if you succeed in your payback, the months and years of frustration and elaborate revenge fantasies you've probably had by then can make knowing when to stop revenging a tad difficult. When you've unleashed the giant murder robot on your tormentors, at which point should you cut the power?
A: After they've pissed their pants, but just before it starts using them for accordion practice.
Lots of bullying victims experience feelings of rage and frustration. According to this article, a third of bullied gifted students alone harbor violent thoughts, and over time some of them are bound to give in to their impulses. Very occasionally, this leads to wonderful things like Casey Heynes finally having enough and body-slamming his bully. (I'm assuming Casey is gifted, because holy shit, that slam, you guys.)
Most of the time, however, it's a recipe for disaster.
Let's move away from gifted kids and back to teenage me. My kettle finally boiled over one day when I got into a confrontation with a group of kids who attempted to steal a stupid-ass hat I was wearing for whatever reason. I left the scene in tears, and the next thing I knew, I was carrying a baseball bat I had retrieved from home. It was one of those weird objects that sometimes seem to turn up in the corners of unused rooms: a splintered, old wooden thing that no one could remember buying and that had only ever been used by our dog, who occasionally lugged it around when he felt his tail wasn't wrecking enough flower pots. Yet there I was, carrying that alien hunk of wood on the streets until I found that gang again. I'll never forget their faces -- I'd seen that expression in the mirror often enough.
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Looking back, the nails were probably overkill.
Aaaand that was that. The inverted power dynamic freaked me right the hell out, so I hauled ass back home and buried that fucking bat in the deepest corner of a storage room. But to this day, I remember the sensation of power that came from holding that thing, and I know for a fact that there are kids out there who would have swung it. I also remember that 12 out of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s were perpetrated by bullying victims who had been sucking it in for too long, and finally snapped.
Was I close to being one of those poor, horrible bastards? Hell no. I always had people to talk to, family to back me up. I was never in that dark hole truly alone, and I think avoiding that situation is absolutely vital to every bullying victim. So, if you've ever been bullied, I guess that's my advice to you: Don't withdraw from the world. Reach out to someone. Don't give in to that bullshit rage. And don't you damn well dare let it turn you into yet another bully. You're much, much better than that, which is why ...
The way my bullying ended is almost as anticlimactic as, well, everything else about it. Eventually, I just stopped caring about the big, bad bullies and even started pushing back a little verbally (tiny skeleton arms, remember). Somehow, this started a rumor that I had taken up martial arts. I never bothered to correct the misconception and, as a happy result, was essentially left to my own devices. It didn't take any grandstanding on my part, or any conscious effort -- I just more or less grew out of it.
(However, I did later take up martial arts for real, but that's a story for another column.)
One I'll write after the statute of limitations expires.
These days, I know many people that are former bullying victims, and they're some of the most intelligent, interesting, and generally awesome individuals I have ever met. I'm willing to bet that even my own level of dickheaditude, while astronomic, probably isn't half as high as it would be without the experience. I know some former bullies, too, and they ... well, obviously they're fine, too, but they lack some of that fire behind the eyes.
See, that's the thing about bullying everyone forgets. It is definitely hellish, and there are tons of potential psychological consequences for every involved party. But unless you let those fuckers get under your skin (which, by reading this, you just promised me you won't), your bullying will end one day, just like mine did. At the end of the day, it's just a phase -- a tunnel of shit from which you will emerge a stronger, better person than you were at the entrance. Just ask Jessica Alba. Or the hordes of other successful people who took the worst their bullies had to offer and shrugged it right off. Hell, if you're being bullied, ask yourself in a few years' time. Chances are, they'll all tell you the same thing: You can't wrestle demons without becoming stronger in the process.
The only trick is to not grow horns yourself.
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