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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Why me?

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times over the years.

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I’ve reached an answer, and it’s probably something the broader audience don’t want to hear.

The favoured perception of a bullying victim is the weirdo, the outsider. Someone who provokes their poor, normal peers into bullying them. Because no-one would ever bully someone for no apparent reason, right?

I have some bad news for you:

Bullies don’t bully because they feel helpless, provoked or scared. They don’t do it because they’re hurting on the inside or have a shitty home life. They do it mainly for entertainment. Because they’re bored. Because they like torturing their fellow human beings. Because it’s fun.

Like hyenas they single out the smallest and weakest prey and tear at it mercilessly, until all that remains are some unrecognisable, bloody pieces of flesh.

I know this is not a popular statement. In our society we prefer to paint perpetrators as victims. And it is a deeply disturbing and worrying trend. But I will come back to this in a later post.

So why was I chosen as the designated torturing victim?

I was a very timid and quiet girl. I was very scared of provoking anyone and would certainly never start a feud with someone intentionally. I tried to be agreeable and friendly to my surroundings. In other words, I was the perfect bullying victim.

At this point someone most likely will raise the question: So why didn’t you stand up for yourself?

A perfectly valid question. Why didn’t I? If I just stood and took it I can only blame myself, right? To this, my answer will be: Because you can’t defend yourself against an entire pack. Go on and try. Try being rounded up and attacked from all sides. Try walking into a hostile environment every single day, where you have to keep your guard up all the time. Try standing up for yourself and all you get in response is a roaring laughter, resembling the screeching of rabid monkeys.

To all those who was never bullied and can’t understand why the victims of bullying didn’t stand up for themselves or were so affected by the abuse they received:

You don’t know how lucky you are. You don’t know what kind of blissful ignorance you are living in. You have never suffered abuse and therefor don’t know what that does to a person. How it changes the person’s perception of themselves, the world, their fellow human beings, how it changes their personality.

And as a closing remark I have to say: I deeply envy you for this.

Beginnings

I’ve thought a lot about how to begin my story, but frankly, I don’t have a clue.

Should I jump straight to where my daily hell begun, or sometimes before that?

I figured I should start with the beginning. Maybe not as intricate as David Copperfield – I will not bore you with the hour of my birth or go into great details of my early years – but I figured it is important that the reader knows a little of my background, to better understand where I was coming from.

My early childhood was a happy one, I know that for a fact. For one, that is how I do remember it. My parents were not wealthy by any standard, but we did have a house, I had more toys than I could ever play with, and we could go on a long vacation every summer. Like almost every child in my country, I went to kindergarten from I was a year old until I started first grade.

I loved kindergarten. It was not like it is now, with focus on teaching and preparing the children for school. We did nothing but play, all day, every day. There never was a dull moment. When we tired of one game we always came up with something new. I was surrounded by friends and it was always so much fun.

We didn’t have internet, computers or tablets in those days, so we had to use our imagination during playtime. Often I would take charge. My imagination never slowed down , and I liked to make up scenarios, characters and storylines we would play out. This doesn’t mean I was loud or particularly bossy. I was a very timid and quiet child. But I was surrounded by people who liked me and I trusted, and so I bloomed.

I don’t have to rely solely on my memories for this part, because the photos of me from this time doesn’t lie: I’m always smiling in those picture. I just look like the happiest little kid around. Even my mother, knowing my story so intimately, being with me the entire way, has commented on this.

I looked forward to starting school. To this day I can still remember with crystal clarity that the morning was an overcast day, that my backpack was purple, the dress I was wearing was blue, me walking into the schoolyard for the first time with my mum. I remember thinking I was a big girl now.

And knowing nothing but acceptance from my peers, I had no reason thinking my journey forward would be any different. That is the luxury of being naive and untried. Everything appears to be so easy.

Boy, was I headed for a wake up call.

Foreword

To say that I’m nervous doesn’t begin to cover how I feel as I’m typing this.

To have been bullied and everything this entailed was my filthy little secret for so many years. Only my immediate family knew, and it’s still a silence that’s just there, not something we talk about openly.

Funny choice of word, some might say. “Filthy” alludes to something dirty, something that was my own fault. Something I rightfully should be ashamed of.

And I am ashamed. Because this is the how the world at large view bullying and bullying victims. It is something we invited in, something we are to carry the blame for. If someone is being bullied, it’s because they’re doing something to provoke their peers and you can’t blame those poor little darlings for lashing out at these annoying weirdos.

At least that’s my experience, whenever I’ve tried in the past to talk to people about the issues surrounding bullying, especially among school children and students.

So to write on a public blog for the whole world to see is very daunting to me. The idea for this blog arrived some years ago, but at that time I was still too much of a mess to be able to write in a concise and (somewhat) levelheaded manner.

A big concern was the abuse and harassment I might attract for writing what I do. When I first had the idea I knew I couldn’t take it, but therapy and many hours of reflection has somewhat helped me harden for that possible outcome.

You’ve probably guessed by now I don’t have the most positive outlook on the world and human beings in general. Why that is will become apparent in the blog posts to follow.

I have no expectations surrounding Outcast or what its future will be. Perhaps it will be a hit, perhaps no one will care, perhaps it will gain a few readers.

All I can promise is that I will be completely honest about my experiences. This also means I will not sugarcoat anything.

You’ve been warned.