Damaging Self-Confidence (A Personal Story)

First, I must apologize to those that have submitted stories this last month. I have been blessed to be inundated with stories and have been delayed in posting them, but know they are coming. Dave submitted this story to me and was nice enough to remind me he was anxious to share it, so it is here. Dave gives a great perspective of the power of a good upbringing and how a good family structure and a calm mind can help during times of bullying. Thanks for sharing all sides of the perspective, Dave. ~Alan Eisenberg

Compared to what I read about today, I wasn’t bullied that much, but it was enough to leave a permanent dent in my self-confidence. Sixty years ago when the worst of it ended, my school was safe; the trouble was outside on the streets and in the parks where I spent all my time in good weather.   The bullies, older than I was, roamed in small gangs looking for amusement.  Most of the time they taunted me for stammering or for my bouncing walk. Sometime they’d assault me: a sharp punch to the stomach; a burn on the hand with a cigarette while others held me; or the grip of many hands holding me over the edge of a fire escape. One boy, just a year older, repeatedly thrust my head toward the spikes of iron fence so both eyes would be impaled if he pushed all the way.

I was an only child in this seaside town where my mother wrote children’s books. My father encouraged me to fight back, but I wasn’t a scrapper, as he had been in an equally tough town.  My mother said it was my own fault because my screams of terror entertained the boys and made them laugh.

Despite the fear that these incidents provoked I managed to have a lot of fun as a kid and to get into plenty of trouble.  A landlord left a supply of WW2 trophy ammunition, and I set out with a friend to convert a cap pistol into a working revolver. I had no intention of using it for defense against bullies; it was just an interesting technical challenge. Thank God, as a ten-year-old, my gun-smithing skills weren’t up to the challenge.  Later the brother of another friend detonated one of the cartridges in a vise and received some shrapnel in the face.  I was horrified when the police told me that my bullets had injured this boy. I gave them all the ammunition and apologized to the boy and to his mother.

I graduated from gun-smithing to model airplanes: a safer hobby.  I wanted to be an engineer like my grandfather, but couldn’t manage physics and math in college. I became a research psychologist and later a computer specialist. Today I teach statistics and neural science part-time.  Technical pursuits kept me from dwelling on problems like bullies. I still fix computers for relaxation.

My parents supplied me with a first-rate cultural education; our house was filled with books and recordings of classical music.  They supported all my endeavors, even driving me to another town twice a week for marksmanship training, and, of course, they paid for my college.

The boy in my mother’s books, Azor, supposedly based on me, had some of the good times that I had and said some of the things that I said at his age.  But Azor showed none of the manifest anxiety, stammering, or social ineptitude that I displayed to other kids.  Somehow, I think, my mother allowed her fictional creation to supplant in her mind that actual child that she was supposed to be raising.  How else can I explain her reluctance to acknowledge my pleas for help with the bullies, or hope to understand her failure to confront adults who threatened me, as some did?

Even today, in an era when bullying is not tolerated, I get angry when I read of parents who actually defend their children, as mine didn’t, and even angrier when I hear of mothers or fathers who stood up for their kids in the 1940s and 1950s when I was having so much trouble.  And yes, the bullying left signs of post-traumatic stress like depression and panic disorder, but not the full-blown PTSD described in DSM-IV.

The boys who harassed me were adolescents whose brains had not matured enough to support good judgment; they did not grow up to become violent criminals. Their gangs were spur-of-the moment collections, not the lethal drug-fueled groups that we have today.  They were tame, even by 1950s standards. Can I forgive them for what they did to me so long ago?  Of course I can. One of them, still a good friend, apologized to me recently.

I can’t say that my experience gives me much wisdom to impart to parents, educators or children contending with bullies today. To parents I would say, “Listen to your kids!” They’ll shut down, as I did, if you deny or minimize their complaints.  And to kids, if you’re faced with physical assaults, I’d say, “get some training in self-defense. “

Why didn’t I turn my anger and persisting anxiety into a burning desire for revenge as some victims of bullying have?  For the same reason that I never planned to use my converted cap pistol as a weapon against anyone: I still can’t think of anything worse than hurting another person.


Bully Whispering (A Personal Story)

It all started with an email that I received from Kate Cohen-Posey with her own personal bullying story and an offer to have a new section on this site that she could help others through as a “true” professional who works with victims of bullying. Kate Cohen-Posey is a professional counselor and author on the subject of bullying. She has a practice in Florida and has written three books on both bullying and other issues in the world of professional personal therapy. As many realize, we know to help others in many cases by remembering what has happened to us. In the coming weeks, Kate will share her professional support in our new section called Cool Comebacks to Cruel Comments. But for now, she will share her story below. ~Alan Eisenberg

Bully Whispering

I think I’ve had the usual dose of mean comments, but two instants were over the top. When I was very young, I was surrounded by a large group of kids and told that I killed Jesus. The second stand-out memory was when a young man would come sit next to me in the school library and whisper in my ear that I should have died in the gas chambers. I would sit there paralyzed with shame. I’ve often wondered why I never told anyone this was happening—not my best and dearest friend, not my parents.

I experienced many other hurtful comments that did not qualify as bullying; they were not repetitive, intentionally aggressive remarks by people who perceived me as weaker. Often, in their ignorance, my friends said things like, “He’s so Jewish,” or don’t let him “Jew you down.” When I was in the 11th grade I shocked myself and confused my friends. Someone had made a cruel comment, and out of my mouth popped the words, “Why are you complimenting him when he’s being stingy.” This response planted the seeds for my future career. The bully whisperee became the bully whisperer.

I am now a psychotherapist in central Florida and teach people how to “whisper to bullies” by disarming disdain. I’ve published bully books for children and adults: How to Handle Bullies, Teasers, and other Meanies and Making Hostile Words Harmless. Bullies are no longer a problem for me. It’s not that they don’t exist. In fact I think adult bullying is more rampant, but more subtle than what children endure. My most empowering moments have happened when I blocked a bully. An ER doctor yelled at me for being late for an evaluation and I kindly told him he was a good doctor who cared about his patients. He backed off with his mouth open. If the meek frightened child that was me can learn to do this, anyone can.

~Kate Cohen-Posey

High School Girl Suspended Over Anti-Bullying Project

Sometimes when you think you’ve heard it all, another story comes out that seems to contradict what many are trying to do by creating anti-bullying messages. The below video is the story of a high school girl suspended for creating an anti-bullying project. It seems to me that the school did not handle this correctly and almost seems to be bullying. Do you think the school did the right thing?

Cool Comebacks to Cruel Comments

Kate Cohen-PoseyComing soon to the Bullying Stories website is a new section called “Cool Comebacks to Cruel Comments” hosted by Kate Cohen-Posey, MS, a licensed Mental Health Counselor and Family Therapist.

Kate has written several best-selling books as well, including Empowering Dialogues Within, Making hostile Words Harmless, Brief Therapy Client Handouts, and  How to Handle Bullies Teasers, and Other Meanies

You will be able to access this section at the top of the page under the new “Cool Comebacks” menu link. Kate will be a new contributor to this site and bring her unique insight as an expert in the field to help offer advise and support to readers of this site. I am happy to welcome Kate Cohen-Posey to this site where I know she will offer her professional perspective to the issues of bullying in our communities.

Whatever.odt Looks at Transgender Bullying

Online author JD O’Meara shared with me a new book that she has written called “whatever.odt”, which deals with the difficult subject of transgender issues and bullying that are getting more and more focus today. Her book, which is available from the website Smashwords looks at the subject from different angles and with a personal understanding of the issues. It is a book focused on a more mature reader, so keep that in mind. The site describes the book as follows:

JD’s whatever.odt is an academic memoir that brings together opposite sources — print and web, humorous and painful, scientific and literary — to place her personal experiences as a genderqueer individual in a larger cultural context. Offering the text for free continues her motif of opposites: “such a book would have been invaluable to me when I was growing up lost, confused, and bullied.” 

Combining a youthful and goofy sense of humor with insightful analysis and critique, whatever.odt is a fun and thought provoking read that sweeps across everything from Shakespeare to The Simpsons and from doctoral dissertations to Yahoo! story comments. The artistic form of the text follows its function, with its unusual title, enigmatic chapter titles, and unconventional paragraphing designed to mirror the atypical identity of JD herself.

Although it does incorporate elements of both genres, whatever.odt is neither a coming out nor a transition story. As the memoir of a genderqueer heterosexual, whatever.odt answers the call for transgender and genderqueer individuals to emerge from the shadows of shame by making their bodies seen and their voices heard. It engages in the contemporary initiative to expose and eradicate bullying by supporting and empowering those who are and who have been its victim. And it moves transgenderism and genderqueerness from the reader’s newsfeed into the reader’s backyard by offering a fresh perspective on the girl next door.

I read the text and it is very powerful, but is meant for an older audience as it is very honest in its approach (read has honest language and more mature subject matter). Below is an excerpt from the book.

I didn’t fare much better among the girls. They called me names incessantly, but at least didn’t try to physically hurt me. Except for the bully. I always tried to avoid her. She seemed to go out of her way to get me.

There was one time in particular when she caught me off guard during recess. She feigned throwing a ball in the opposite direction but instead whipped it right at me, hitting me square in the gut. When she came over to retrieve the ball, she told me that I should take my  f&#ki%g dyke ass to K-Mart and get a sex change operation.

And I was so accustomed to such abuse that my first thought was “really now…K-Mart?”

Middle school wasn’t any better. Our elementary school merged with two others, and I hoped my new classmates might be more accepting.

They weren’t.

The a%$holes had networked during the summer. I was barraged with insults on the first day of school from people I didn’t even know. I thought one guy in particular was cute. When I finally gathered up the nerve to say hi to him, he replied, “you must be that f&#ki%g queer.”

Gym class rather than recess now provided opportunities for humiliation. Despite being one of the best female athletes, I was regularly chosen last. I was tripped, pushed, blocked, and elbowed. I was hit by basketballs, volleyballs, and floor hockey pucks. I was intimidated, badgered, and belittled. This was all either denied or said to have occurred on ‘accident.’


They knew exactly what they were doing, and so did I. I couldn’t fight back. I was outnumbered. I couldn’t tell on them. That was useless, and just made it worse for me the next time around.

The book is 109 pages and is available in multiple formats from the Smashwords site at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/126040. JD’s perspective of the transgender issues currently being addressed in our society and the bullying that goes along with these issues brings clarity to a difficult subject. I recommend “whatever.odt” to anyone interested in getting a perspective of this issue.

Bully Victim’s Facebook Poem Moves her Classmates 25 Years Later

Lynda Frederick did not forget the bullying that happened to her 25 years ago in High School, so when her high school reunion group created a Facebook page to announce it, she used the opportunity to share with all her classmates how they treated her.

Lynda posted a poem on her Orange Glen High School class Facebook page. On it she wrote:

The little girl who had to walk to school while others rode the bus
Instead of asking why… you picked on her
The little girl who had bruises and was dirty
Instead of asking why … you picked on her

After this was posted, she didn’t expect the reaction from her former classmates. Some were brought to tears and then they created a scholarship fund in her name and raised $800 to fly her back to California for the reunion.

“I got an outpour of calls and messages, people stepping forward that I don’t even remember that said ‘I know I was one of those that picked on you and I’m so sorry,'” Lynda Frederick said Friday. “It was overwhelming.”

Lynda explained how during her time at school the other children would throw rocks and things at her and would spit on her. Frederick graduated from school early and then moved to New York and had three children, but the days being bullied in high school never left her.

Former classmate Shawn Gordon, of Escondido, said he got tears in his eyes when he thanked her for the anti-bullying message and showed it to his teenage daughters.

His memories included a time when he saw Frederick being bullied.

“One bully tried to keep tripping her,” he said. “I could have said something; never did.”

Lynda Frederick has now been able to connect again and find forgiveness from those children who have now grown up to be adults. “We can’t fix yesterday but we can try to fix today,” Frederick said. “That’s my new motto.”

Information for this article comes from: KNSD-TV, http://www.nbcsandiego.com/index.html and the Associated Press.

A Parent’s Perspective (A Personal Story)

The pain a parent feels watching their child suffer through bullying problems is not only real, but also one that is hard to deal with. Even as a person who works on the bullying issue, I struggle to find good solutions to offer to my own children as I listen to what they go through. Michelle shares her own story as a parent below and the all to common issue of trying to work it out with the other parents who are usually difficult at best to deal with. ~Alan Eisenberg

As a parent, I have read a few stories that were posted on a website about bullying. My son was being bullied by someone who he had been friends with for a long time. A fight broke out over the summer and as a result, this child made a disparaging comments everyday to my son for about 7 months. My son told me about it and I told him to avoid his old “friend” and I warned my son not to do or say anything to him.

This turned out to be the worst advice. I was trying to keep the peace because I was very close to his mother and I did not want her to get hurt by the kids fallout. I thought it was just a kid issue that would be worked out by the kids. A mutual friend told me that I had to do something. My son was getting upset everyday and I thought he was just being sensitive. Continue reading