Life After Bullying: The Scars, Shame, And Guilt


At some point in our lives, we’ve all been bullied – in one way or another. Whether we went through an “awkward” phase, we were reformed “ugly ducklings” or always “beautiful swans.” Whether we were degraded at work, school, or home. Vapid smirks and hushed comments, here and there, all still live within us. We never forget our wounds, no matter how long ago or small. Whenever someone touches that same spot, mentions those skeletons you so desperately need to hide, it hurts. And when the same typecast is in constant repetition by a consensus of people (“ugly,” “dumb,” “slutty”), we start to believe and eventually become our labels.

When you’re bullied, you nitpick, overanalyze and try to figure out what’s so wrong with you that everyone can see and make their mark on it – what makes them think they can determine your flaws and set your precious dignity in stone.

Others tell you to ignore the bullies – that they’re jealous of something you have and they only bring you down to lift themselves up. But when more than one person joins in, it seems like the whole world’s against you and you wonder if their “validations” about you were true all along.

When they snicker at you, you could pretend like you didn’t hear but that’ll only make them think they can get away with it. If you say something, you’re giving them the ammunition to bother you – the rise they expected to witness and emulate. And if you do tell on them, you’re only setting yourself up to fall prey to their anger. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. No one wins – except the bully who thinks they did.

But, the thing is their victory is misconstrued, counterfeit. Psychologically, they fulfilled some sort of emptiness within themselves – even if only for a few minutes – by believing their own warped delusion of “winning”. While you may feel you were subjected to some sort of trauma to somehow stand out as an “easy target,” you could probably deflect those same deductions onto the bully. Were they victims of emotional or physical bullying in their household? Are taunting, berating, humiliating their only ways of communicating – the only strategies they know, the only means they were taught?

You could blame it on parenting all you want, but it doesn’t mean you should justify or put up with a bully’s abuse any of the same.

Allow me to embellish with my own personal experience. There was this one guy who teased me all through school. He wasn’t the only one, but I would definitely say he was the main culprit since I’ve known him for only majority of my life. Anyway, a couple of years ago, I reunited with an old mutual friend. We all grew up with each other, yet somehow at this point, both became closer friends. While I was aware my best friend was friends with the guy who bullied me, I decided to put it aside and hope we were all now mature enough to move on. In other words, I indirectly “forgave” him; but of course, I didn’t “forget” years of torment. It also didn’t help that I saw him on a regular basis. Everything seemed fine until one day when I found out my friend lied to me about something. I don’t recall exactly what, but I called my “bully” (I don’t use “my” in a way of personal possession or pride, by the way) to find if he could verify my suspicions. Long story short, he decided to change up the truth in a matter of one phone call and then when I called him out on it, he gave some lame excuse which led me to finally confessing my feelings from the start – that I didn’t trust him and I knew he always belittled me, that his bullying still scars me to this very day and it affects the way I relate to people, etc. Instead of owning up to his actions from, say, the age of 11 until adulthood, he offered these transparent insights of “wisdom” about taking others’ opinions with a grain of salt and defending that I didn’t “know what (he) went through.” Then when I finally yelled (or should I say texted, since this conversation was conducted via text message) at him for never giving me an apology, he refused to even agree to one at that point. While I could justify his words acting in the heat of the moment or give him the benefit of the doubt, the fact that he didn’t even say sorry suggests he hasn’t grown or moved forward from high school mentality. And while I could blame him for that, it only made me feel responsible for not somehow attaining the closure I needed to not only find peace with others, but within myself to love me for me.

Although you shouldn’t depend on others’ opinions of yourself to prove your self-value, it doesn’t help when you’re inevitably surrounded by negative influences or toxic situations and relationships that don’t support you with the positive reaffirmation you deserve. Last year, I worked as an editorial intern and junior editor for a well-known entertainment website. Within a matter of one day, someone made three cruel and potentially defamatory comments – one below each article. It was obvious this person was/is somewhere on my Facebook tracking my posts, seeing their comments were all in “response” to them. The first comment wasn’t in response to any Facebook status in particular. It questioned my sexuality, because of a gallery I created. Regardless of my sexuality, I found it very offensive that they would accuse me of pretending to be apart of a certain orientation to “get hits.” I would never do that and was insulted as anyone else would be. In an impulsive state of anger, I posted a relatively tactful and civilized “response” on Facebook stating facts – that what I write doesn’t make me gay or not gay. Of course, this aroused yet a nastier comment on a second article that day. This time, it was three paragraphs long – calling me a certain name and alleging I worked for free. As much as that seems petty to cry over, I thought I had so much to say and posted yet another Facebook status in reciprocation to their previous comment. All I did was explained my duties accurately, which I didn’t even need to do. But finally, it stimulated a ten (yes, ten) paragraph essay under a celebrity Instagram gallery I created – calling me every name in the book and accusing me of the most outrageous lies anyone could write. What was worse was that they mentioned names of people I know and companies I’ve written for. That’s when I knew they went too far and could potentially be charged with slander.

I did everything to remedy the issue and find out who did this to me. I contacted police, but they weren’t of much help. I asked the website to remove the comment, which they did but couldn’t retrieve an IP address. I even spoke with a P.I., but it would’ve been pricey and unnecessary to use one – especially since the comment could’ve been written at an internet cafe and was already deleted at that point.

While I knew the comments weren’t true, I admit they got to me. I cried for two weeks straight and while others attempted to empathize, they kept on reinforcing cliches like “haters gonna hate” and “if they hate you, you’re doing something right.” But all I could think was: what did I do to hurt someone so much that they resorted to taking the time to publicly demean me for ten consecutive paragraphs? Did I put them through the pain others put me through? And if I did, I truly am sorry.

But, I will never know. All I know is that we’ve become so desensitized to bullying that we change and ultimately lose ourselves to fit in, we join in on the action, or we spit out these euphemisms about awareness and “haters” that have lost all substantial meaning. In the end, our acceptance towards ourselves and this issue isn’t because of revolutionary progress in schools or society, but because we’ve become so numb to the agony of old and new reality.