Do bullies ever change?

There is no frase more frequently thrown at bullying victims than, «tHeY WerE jUst KiDs!»

What these apologists are saying is that the bullies were too young to be able to identify with other individuals and recognise all people around them have the same range of emotions as them. That the bullies simply didn’t understand that they were hurting their victim. That their lack of empathy was due to a not fully developed brain, not because they enjoy cruelty and seeing other people in emotional or physical pain.

Which of course is nothing but bullsh*t. Bullies knows perfectly well what they are doing. They know they are tearing apart the very soul of their victim. They know they are causing irreparable damage. And they still do it. Because they think it’s fun.

And they never change. People who bullied other children, will continue to do so as adults. They become the tyrant in the office, the Karen harassing hospitality staff.

People who use the «just kids» excuse, do it to absolve themselves and society of any wrongdoing. It’s just something kids do!

No, bullies never change. They will never grow empathy or feel shame of what they are. I have a personal example:

The people I went to school with were organizing the 10 year reunion. I was the only one not to receive an invitation.

I would never attend of course – I have no wish to see any of these demons ever again – but that’s not the point. The point is these people are still excluding the bullying victim. And they were all adults in their 20s at this point. It was already a long time since they could in any reasonable way be referred to as «just kids».

Some apologist will probably argue they simply forgot about me. There was nothing personal. Oh really?! The girl they tormented on a daily basis for their own personal entertainment, the girl they gossiped about and made up rumours about, the girl they stole from and sexually abused, the girl they were still gossiping about years after graduation, just happened to slip their mind?

Naw, it was fully intentional. But I’m glad they did what they did because it proves my point. The 20 year reunion is coming up. For some reason I doubt there will be an invitation waiting for me.

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 shock.

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.

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.