Standing up to bullies as an adult

When I was tormented as a child I had no resources. No escape. I just had to sit down and take it.

Not so as an adult.

Some years back I was extremely unlucky and went to work for one absolutely horrendous employer after having worked for another shitty one just before.

I will not reveal the name of these companies – I don’t want to be sued – but I can reveal one is an ”IT company” you have all heard of, and the other you have most likely not heard of. The reason I put ”IT company” in quotation marks is because they are a third rate company that only hire the people that can’t be hired anywhere else, and are well known for treating their employees like garbage.

While I worked for the ”IT company” I experienced being lied to, isolated, bullied and treated like an object. And all for the privilege of being paid far below living wage! I wasn’t the only one to suffer – the company is a revolving door for that very reason – but it did a number on my mental health.

But I’m not going to write about ”IT company”, not at this occation at least. This is only to set the scene.

I had just left ”IT company” and joined the other company. I will call this company Useless. The place was weird from the very beginning.

In the job description they demanded at least 3 years of experience in the profession I was interviewing for, yet I got the job with only one year of experience under my belt. During the introduction on the first day for all the newbies, the manager kept on telling us we should not read the reviews for Useless on Glassdoor, that they had real trouble keeping people, but that was all the fault of lazy and unreliable millennials. I think you can see where this is going.

So I started working there, and immediately noticed a number of problems. The main one that the workload was far too big for my small team to handle. There simply wasn’t enough hours in the day to do everything. During the first meeting my team had with the manager and the team lead, my colleague told them this, and was told in a rude manner that this workload was perfectly easy to handle, that they had told her how to do this, and they could not understand why everything wasn’t being done. I sat there in silent schock.

Before I continue this story I should probably name the characters.

The manager I will call Karen – not original, I know, but she really is the stereotypical Karen, in every sense of the word. Imagine an overweight boomer with the stereotypical karen haircut. She is rude, demeaning and cold to anyone she deems ”beneath” her. That’s my manager. My team lead I will call Sub-karen, because she’s also a Karen, but without the same power as the manager. Sub-karen and Karen had been friends for many years, and it was Karen who gave sub-karen the job in Useless to begin with.

The problems with this job just kept on appearing the longer I worked there.

The workload was not manageble, and every time I raised my concern I was cut off by Karen or sub-karen and told this was easily manageble and every other team could handle it. The fact that the other teams were much bigger and had many more people to help out, not to mention they worked on different systems, was completely irrelevant. But more concerning was the wrongful information they fed me, followed by denial and gaslighting when I pointed out they had told me something completely different earlier. No, they never said that, it was I that never listened!

This all came to a head when I dared to tell sub-karen that the way she told me to do a task was flat out wrong, as I was following Karen’s direct orders, which was the opposit. Sub-karen hauled me into a conference room and yelled at me, berating me for contradicting her and insulted my work and all the labour I had put in. Told me I needed to think about if this was the right position for me.

This was the exact point I stopped caring and decided I was going to make them pay. I was not going to tolerate being treated this way any longer.

I immediately contacted the recruiter that forwarded my resume to them. Told her everything. They looped in HR. I made an official complaint against sub-karen. I had already heard from several of my colleagues that there had been many complaints against sub-karen and Karen. I was appalled this had been allowed to continue, I said.

After the whole official complaint was kicked into gear, sub-karen and Karen would barely acknowledge me. They never said anything to me outside of the weekly meetings, and then it was only to sneer at me. I didn’t care anymore. I

dropped the whole meek lowly employee demeneor I had given them the first couple of months. When they asked if I had worked late to try to catch up, I laughed at them. Told them if they wanted me to work overtime they had to pay me (we were not paid any overtime, ever). When they asked why I didn’t do all the tasks only three people could realistically handle, I looked at them like they were stupid and smiled at them like they were small children saying something naive and adorable.

They didn’t do anything about it. From the moment I complained they ignored me. I had demonstrated i wasn’t scared of them. And like typical bullies they ran for cover.

Of course this didn’t lead to any major repercussions for Karen and sub-karen. HR dismissed the whole thing and I was let go. But karma was catching up to them.

When I left they no longer hired people with experience in the profession we worked in. Useless, who pretended they only hired the best of the best, had to hire whatever random person the recruitment agencies managed to find. Their rating on Glassdoor had tanked. Their reputation in the city we were in was completely destroyed.

It was so bad that people were warning each other against Useless, and the horror stories from people who were unfortunate enough to have worked there spread far and wide. I did my part, and warned anyone that bothered to listen to never ever work for Useless.

And now? They have not recovered. They still only hire people that can’t get a job anywhere else. Recruiters refuse to work with them, because most people leave within a few days to a few weeks.

And as for me, I still give them a little jab with my poisonous pen once in a while. I have written my scalding reviews on every job site there is. I know they read these, because they have tried to write their own pathetic reviews in response. I laugh and silently thank them for confirming my words are bothering them.

As an adult I can do all this. It is not much, but I took back some of the power. It felt good.

Of course, I was in the fortunate position that I didn’t depend on this job to survive. I knew I would never use them as a reference. So many victims out there don’t have this luxury. To all bullying victims out there who are currently suffering under a bully boss: If your employer don’t have any strings on you, there is no reason you should act corteous towards them. Respect is earned, and is a two way street. If someone try to make your life miserable, you don’t owe them anything.

You are not a bad person for standing up for yourself.

It has been a long hiatus

I didn’t intend to be away for so long. I have struggled with depression and bad thoughts, and the beer bug that swept the world only made it worse.

I lost my job last summer, and was forced to move countries and move back in with family. In many ways this has been good for my mental health. I have other people around me on a daily basis and have someone to talk to and spend time with. It also helps that my parents own a property of some size, so I can actually spend time outside, even if another lockdown is to come.

The downside is that I am not living far from the Stepford hellscape where I grew up. My biggest fear is to run into any of my abusers.

They are out there, and I know several of them are living pretty close to me.

When your former bully becomes a psychologist

The subject of this post is exactly what the title say.

Today I discovered that none other than Regina, the girl who tortured me and initially turned the rest of our peers against me, is now working as a psychologist.

When I initially saw her name, and that she indeed is a certified psychologist, I laughed. High enough to probably scare my neighbours.

Not only that, but I found an article she had written, about low self esteem and how it affect your sense of self worth.

I couldn’t stop sniggering.

But, even though I think the lack of self reflection is incredibly funny, a part of me is concerned.

People come to her for help and guidance. Vulnerable people. And she knows how to seek out the spot that is softest and impossible to defend and to drive the knife home. She has had a knack for it from at least the age of 8.

I know, I was there.

I sincerely hope she doesn’t use her position of power to harm anyone, like she loved to do in the past. But I wouldn’t be the least surprised if she did.

Because she is a bully. Bullies don’t change.

Why should I be nice to my bullies?

One of the most astonishing things about being a survivor of bullying, is that society expect me to be all nice and smiley to my bullies when I meet them today.

To this I have to ask: Why?

Why should I be nice to someone who turned my life into one long struggle of distrust, misanthropy and a general hate against said society?

The answer, of course, is that people who weren’t bullied don’t understand the long term effects. Their thought process runs something like this: «Yes, bullying someone isn’t very nice, but they were just children. It was a long time ago! Why should the victim be bitter? They haven’t seen their bullies in years!»

Trauma doesn’t work that way.

It stays with you always. It festers.

But most importantly, the reason I will never be nice – or even civil – to my bullies, is because I know they are horrible people. Why should I be nice to someone who has proven over a period of several years, that they enjoy humiliating and belittle another human being?

But apparently I’m the difficult one. I am the one who is in the wrong, somehow.

It’s as if bullying is actually okay.

I’m part of a writing group, and some time ago one of the people in this group submitted a draft for a story, concerning a woman who was a big bully, a stereotypical mean girl in high school. Something really traumatic happened to her, and ten years on she is trying to reintegrate into society. She moves back in with her parents in her old neighbourhood, and meets several of the people she tormented in their school days.

The thing was, her previous victims were completely over her. The bully acted the same way she had done when she was 17, being a bitch to her old classmates, destroying their possessions and making fun of them, and they did absolutely nothing to retaliate.

They were basically balanced adults who just felt sorry for the bully and the difficulties she was now facing.

I of course, called out this strange behaviour, and asked the submitter exactly how bad the bullying had been. Did this girl just act like she was superior than everybody else, or was she a cruel sadist to everyone she deemed «beneath» her?

Because, if she was a proper bully, there was no way in hell her previous victims would be so kind and understanding. They would get back at her. They would humiliate her and make her pay. There was absolutely no way they would pasiently sit and watch her continue where she left off.

And to drive the point home, I told them a story I heard in my student days. One of the people I was going to university with, told me how he got back on his school bully.

He had a part time job as a debt collector. One day, who’s name didn’t turn up on his caller’s list, than his bully’s. My student buddy – let’s call him Will – called the bully up, introduced himself the standard way, explained why he was calling, and told the bully the debt needed to be settled immediately.

The debt was for several calls to a sex phone line, just to add insult to injury.

The bully couldn’t pay. So Will added all the extra fees he legally could add – he wasn’t stupid enough to do anything illegal, obviously – and the end result was that instead of settle a debt of maybe €60, the bully ended up paying over €200.

The person who had submitted the story was very quiet while I was talking, and really had nothing to say to any of my questions. It was like my persepctive had never entered their mind at all while writing it.

None of the others in the group seemed to have concidered it either, because once I finished relaying my story about Will, one of them exclaimed «What a facinating story!»

I had to stiffle a chuckle. This is why we hardly ever get realistic depictions of bullying. Because the people writing the stories never were on the receiving end, neither were the editors. That’s why bullying victims just roll our eyes every time we see a depiction of a bully who suffered some trauma, and then we are supposed to believe they are the «real» victims.

Honestly, the only realistic depiction of bullying and its psychological effects I have seen in any fiction, is in the novel Let the Right One In. But that is because author John Ajvide Lindqvist was bullied in school, and the book draws heavily on his own experiences growing up. And it shows. Even though the book is about vampires, it carries a realism most «realistic» fiction can only dream about.

And I have to admit, for me the most satisfying part of Let the Right One In, was when the bullies had their heads ripped off.

No resources

When a child is singled out by bullies, the decent into total isolation is no different than abuse among adults:

It begins with remarks and gossiping behind the victim’s back, to destroy the victim’s confidence and their trust in their own senses.

By diminishing the victim’s worth, in their own eyes as well as their surroundings, the bullies prepare for more heavy abuse later on.

This is done partly to make sure no one will react: If everybody already thinks the victim is worthless and that they deserve the abuse, no one will intervene. But it is also to make sure the victim will not retaliate: By breaking them down emotionally, until they are nothing but an empty shell, there will be no resistance. And the abusers will have their punching bag for as long as they pleases.

Of course, this is also done to make sure the victim is completely isolated. Broken down, with no allies, there are literary no one to stop them. Just what these sick people wants.

Then, after having secured their position, they move in for the kill.

In an endless stream of insults, snide remarks, gossiping, and sometimes violence, they live out their sadistic pleasures, with no guilt or fear of repercussions.

I will say however, there is one very important difference between bullying among children and, lets say, workplace bullying. It is, as I’ve previously mentioned, the ability to speak out.

Thanks to websites like Glassdoor or Indeed, employees who have suffered under abusive and bullying superiors now have the opportunity to speak out. And thanks to these platforms they are often listened to.

This past summer I was unfortunate enough to have a short gig at an absolute awful company, where the manager and supervisor were not suited for their positions in any shape or form. I did read the reviews on Glassdoor before I took the job, and they were scorching, but like the fool I am I thought they were greatly exhagerated.

The fact there were over 50 1-star reviews for this one company, accumulated in only 8 months, should have told me to run as fast as I could, but like I said, I couldn’t believe it was that bad.

To cut a long story very short, it turned out the Glassdoor reviews were completely justified. I left with hatred in my heart and with a thirst for revenge.

I made sure to complain to HR, the agency that recruited me, as well as posting my own stinging reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed, detailing exactly what it was like working there and why nobody else should.

My review received a double digit number of «Useful» clicks, which is highly unusual, and only prove there were many out there who felt the same.

And now, they are stuck with unqualified and unskilled worked, because no professional will consider them after reading the reviews.

It belongs to the story that my shitty supervisor suddenly got «promoted» to a back-office position after my complaint, where they would have no power over any other employee. A small victory, I guess.

My point is, as an adult you have certain resorces. You can inflict damage to those who wronged you, even if it only inconvenience them. As a child, you have absolutely no places to go.

Living in Stepford

The suburban neighbourhood I grew up in was a very typical one for that area and time period. Think well off but not upper middle class and lower middle class.

On the surface a quiet, nice area perfect for families with children. The school was close enough for all the students to walk there, and we had several shopping malls at a short driving distance.

And the concensus was that this area was just so nice. If someone dared to mention how there had been several instances of creepy guys trying to lure kids into their car under the pretext of driving them home (happened to one of my classmates), that teenagers would stop second- and third graders on their way to school and not let them get there on time (happened to my sibling), or that kids would try to push one of their peers into the road in front of a fast moving car (happened to me), people would just shrug and brush it off with “That’s awful, but that happens everywhere.”

I realise these examples are pretty tame compared to what happens in other areal in other parts of the world. I will not play the game of “Who’s worst off?”.

But it was just so nice, you know? Everything was just picture perfect. Everyone knew, if not each other than at least of each other, and everybody got along just great. In school all the children got along just great and my school scoret brilliantly on the wellness check they did every year, so there.

We all got along just great. It was great. It was fine. Just smile.

I think it was this environment that made me allergic to hypocrisy and false niceness. I simply can’t stand it. If I get as much as a whiff of someone turning a blind eye to a problem or brush off real issues because they find it unpleasant, I immediately despise that person.

Some may call it harsh. I call it realism. So far this immediate distase has never been wrong. Any person who display such behaviour has turned out to be as fake as their niceness later on.

This is the only positive effect I have found from my years of relentlessly being bullied. I learned not to give such people my time.

It has saved me a lot of trouble.

The day it all began

Let me tell you a little story. The story of how it all began for me. Like all bullying victims I didn’t see it coming, and did not know what to do.

Before

My childhood is strictly divided into a Before and After. Before I was a happy-go-lucky girl without a care in the world. I was the one who led the play and came up with scenarios we acted out – usually involving princesses and pirates.

Before I had never, not once, experienced being rejected by my peers. I was well liked and the other children liked spending time with me. To have everyone turn against me and being completely abandoned, was not something I had ever contemplated.

My first year of school was great. I can’t say I remember much about it, but I had my best friend and neighbour attending with me, and I got on well with my classmates.

But after our first year my best friend moved away. Now this shouldn’t be a problem. By then I knew the rest of the children very well and we got along fine. I would not be lonely.

After

I can’t say I remember what day or date it was, but I know it was pretty early in the second school year. It can’t have been any later than September, for I was wearing a light pink jacket only suited for early autumn.

The sky was grey and overcast. The whole class was out in the school yard, waiting for our teacher to come and fetch us. In our first year we had been put in pairs, and we had to make a line with our “line mate”, if that makes sense, when the bell rang.

The girl I had been paired with, lets call her Regina George, lived only a block away from me, and we often walked home from school together. I had nothing unspoken with her and thought we were friends.

It was there, while waiting for the teacher, Regina suddenly turned to me and out of the blue said: «You think you are so pretty.»

I was stunned. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was 8 years old, and couldn’t care less what I looked like. I was a bit of a tomboy as a child, which meant I preferred pants to skirts, and loved to play in the forested area behind our school when the teachers weren’t looking. Unnessesary to say I had no fashion sense, and had never even raided my mom’s makeup bag for fun.

So what made Regina say that?

Looking back with adult eyes have made me realise she was testing me. She wanted to see how far she could go. The fact that she would bully me for my clothes and shoes later on also shows she was not consistent and it was only a flimsy excuse.

And she found out she could go as far as she wanted. I was, first of all, unable to understand the situation. Even though I had done well socially up until that point, I have always struggled with understanding social situations and social cues. Therefore I didn’t know how to approach the situation or how to fire back at Regina. I was helpless.

I was stunned into silence. I didn’t understand where it was coming from, or what I should say back.

The difference from before was that all of my peers had been accepting of me. If I had any quirks, it had not been a problem. This Regina was determind to change.

She talked constantly behind my back. Repeated to the rest of the class, but especially the girls, that I thought I was so pretty and that I was stupid and weak. Now, I know the automatic response to this will be: «Why didn’t you defend yourself?»

How, exactly? When one of your classmates, someone you up until that point thought was your friend, suddenly turns against you and repeat the slander from Regina, while Regina herself stands behind her with a smug grin plastered across her face, what do you do? Hit the stupid bitch and the slanderer?

Who will be punished? I knew, and so did Regina and the rest of the class, that if I hit them I would be in trouble. I would be hauled off to the Principal’s office and told you shall never hit anyone and violence is never the answer.

This is a crucial part of the mechanism of bullying: The cooperation from the adults. The adults don’t see it this way, of course. What they see is a difficult child who pushed and hit another student, and the adults will pat themselves on the back for interupting and correcting the difficult child.

What they have actually done is to empower the bullies, by showing them it is completely safe to torment their peers, that the adult will protect them and punish the abused, they will even assist in the humiliation, by forcing the bullying victim to apologies to their abusers.

Unneccessary to say, I am not fond of teachers. They are nothing a part of the problem.

And a few years later, I came to discover they were more than just collaborators, they were bullies themselves.

It never goes away

It has been a rough month.

The nightmares I have suffered since I was trapped in the hellpit have returned.

For months I was better, or at least free of reexperiencing the torment every night, and then, about 3 weeks ago they suddenly returned full force.

I don’t know why now, exactly. I did start a new job one month ago, and perhaps the stress is getting to me in a way I can’t detect conciously.

Why is irrelevant, really. The only thing that is important is that I have to relive the same cold  laughter, taunting gazes and whispers I had to put up with every single day for right years.

I am no more free of them now than I was when they surrounded me.

Last night was different though. Last night, my abusers didn’t have their own faces, but an identical wide grin of razor sharp teeth. Rather similar to Venom.

I was completely helpless and equally scared as 14 year old me, the only thing stronger was my hatred towards them. In my dream I attacked them, for the first time.

I attacked their soulless Venom-like faces and tried to rip their eyes out. But of course they were many, and I was one, and they overpowered me.

I awoke with my heart racing. It shook me up all day.

It hasn’t been this bad in a long, long time.

Do they know I still relive their harrassment?

Probably not, and if they did know, they would snigger and congratulate each other on a job well done.

 

Call it by its rightful name

«It is just something kids do. It doesn’t mean anything.»

All victims of bullying have heard a variant of this frase.

Yes, of course it is. It’s just a little game kids play with each other. If you carry scars from the abuse you suffered for years, decades – the rest of your life – you are the problem.

Isn’t it so?

Instead of redusing «bullying» to just a «game», let us start referring to it for what it really is:

Harassment. Assault. Abuse.

Why are we so compelled to soften the blow of these words? Rather than acknowledging the behaviour for what it is, we have a need to reduce it to something «harmless».

Probably because so many of us have witnessed it, and not intervened, or participated in the bullying ourselves. To soothe our own concience, we reduce the abuse to something harmless (in the minds of the non-bullied people).

I realise it is difficult for people to understand a situation they have never experienced. But when people come forward with stories of how they are struggling with PTSD, anxiety, low self esteem, anger issues and substance abuse decades after they got away from their tormentors, it should call for some reflection.

Bullying is not something you just walk away from. Neither when it is happening or later in life.

Kids have to go to school. They have to stay on the school grounds for the entire day from Monday to Friday. They have to be around their abusers. They can’t walk away from the situation.

They are trapped.

All schools have pretty slogans of how they are not tolerating bullying on their premises, and if something is happening you should tell a teacher.

But this is just pretty words. The truth is schools and teachers don’t care. They will allow bullying to happen, and if anything just tell the victim they are too sensitive.

The truth is children, the weakest and most helpless members of our society, stands without any type of protection from harassment and abuse. And society seems totally okay with it.

If you want to know the true values of a society, look at how they treat the most vulnerable. Are they being listened to? Are their well being truly the concern of the people in power?

Or do they just laugh it away and make excuses when children are being harassed and abused by their peers?

If it was an adult that was subjected to such abuse, it would be taken to court. The abusers would be named and shamed. But because the victim is a child, it is of no concern. The little weirdo probably deserves it as well.

 

It has been a long time

So yeah, I started this blog and it was meant to be a weekly thing, then life and a soul crushing job took completely over and at the end of the day I had no energy to spare.

To write good text takes a lot of work. It demands peace, quiet, time and a huge level of concentration. None which I had.

But I do now, and during the year that has come and gone since the last time I wrote, I have done a lot of self analyzing and contemplation on my life and what happened to me in the years I was bullied.

There will be many ugly insights, regarding my bullies, myself and our society that allows this to happen. No, more than allows it, encourages it.

I promise I will not bail out again. So let us start. Continue reading It has been a long time