The Burn Book (Stephanie March)

Mean Girls

From the 2004 movie Mean Girls

When I was in middle school I wanted desperately to fit in, to be liked by the cool kids.  Didn’t we all at that age?  So when one of the “it” girls handed me a burn book to write in anonymously, I foolishly took it home and did exactly that.  A burn book back then was a place for us to rate the looks of people or write about who we had a crush on.  It was also a book where people inevitably got slammed for their appearances or personalities.

And yes, I’m ashamed I ever wrote a single word in it.

After writing in it, mainly about who I had a crush on at the time, I passed it to someone else.  This went around for a while.  Eventually it made its way back to the girl that created it.  She was someone I had assumed was a friend and badly wanted to be best friends with.  Instead of keeping it private, she showed it to everyone.  Soon everyone knew what had been written about them both good and bad.  It was a total middle school nightmare straight out of the movie “Mean Girls”.

Pretty soon I found myself surrounded by an angry mob of sixth graders.  The friend decided to announce the book was my creation and put my name to ninety percent of what was written in the book.  I was absolutely mortified.  It was my word against hers and her army.  I didn’t stand a chance.

A teacher came over at some point and I did my best to plead my case.  One other girl came forward and admitted to having written in the book.  We were instantly the school pariahs.

That day was towards the end of the school year and we were having a field day.  A field day is when the majority of the school goes outside to participate in activities and mingle.  It was truly the worst day possible to have angered my entire grade.

At the end of field day I found myself again surrounded by an angry mob of students, screaming at me and threatening me.  The leader was my now former friend.  I remember trying to stand up for myself but soon older kids were part of the angry mob madness.  I was scared and so embarrassed, humiliated in front of the entire school.  In the end I was saved by a teacher before it escalated to hair pulling and physical blows.

When school let out for the summer I was still devastated and concerned about my safety.  Hardly anyone would speak to me and a few kids on the bus threatened that if they ran into me over the summer I would pay for it.  And at roughly 89 pounds and 4’11” I was not exactly the fighting type.  I spent most of that summer indoors.  I cried a lot.  I wondered if I would ever have friends again and if I would ever be able to trust another if I did.

The shame I felt from my participation in the burn book was immense.  I was not a bad person but I certainly felt like one.  And while I didn’t write the entire book or create it, I still took part in it and was paying a very heavy price.

I survived that summer and lived to eventually, slowly, make new friends.  Better friends.  But I never forgot the impact the burn book had on me and the toll it took on my confidence at that age.  I apologized to those that I hurt and even to some that I didn’t.

And it took a while to realize that I was not a bad person even though I had done a bad thing.  Kids that age are so susceptible to peer pressure and to joining in with the crowd.  Oliver Sheldon of Rutgers University explains in his study on behavior that “Unethical behavior may not be experienced as something that needs to be resisted if people think it’s socially acceptable.” Admittedly, I thought it was fun because everyone else was doing it even though my instincts screamed it was wrong.

We all have done stupid things as kids and even as adults.  What defines us is not how we acted in those situations but how we turned those situations into either a positive or negative growth experience.  And, while painful, I believe that I did grow from the burn book experience.

I learned the pain of being bullied and how it felt to sit in the cafeteria alone.  This led to a high school experience where I purposely befriended those that seemed alone or had unfair reputations.  And that has carried over into how I treat people today.

This helped develop my empathy and taught me that trust shouldn’t always be so easily given.  And, more importantly, that nobody is worth abandoning my moral values for no matter how cool they seem to be.

Because the real cool kids know that kindness is king.

~Stephanie March (writer and advocate)

Alan Eisenberg’s new book about the long-term effects of bullying and his personal experiences, “A Ladder In The Dark”, is now available through Amazon and other fine book retail outlets.

Bullying Prevention Infographic

Whether you’re a classroom teacher, a student, or parent – understanding an issue like bullying is incredibly important. This infographic by Nova Southeastern University’s Masters Degree in Education Program covers many key components of the bullying conversation and ways to address the issue:

Bullying Prevention Infographics

The Pause Button (A Personal Story)

The idea of recovery from a past experience scares many of us. The idea of having to confront the pain of the past and to relive it is enough to make many become issue avoiders. But the truth is that recovery, while not easy, is necessary to get you on the right path again. Stephanie candidly shares her experience and understanding about ways she went through recovery. I know that she is spot on in her ideas, because I had to go through many of the same recovery techniques myself. ~Alan Eisenberg

As a survivor of Domestic Violence, I am no stranger to bullying. When we are bullied by anyone it is hurtful and leaves scars that time does not easily erase. When we are bullied by a partner or loved one the impact is incredibly severe. I think when we hear the term Domestic Violence we think of black eyes and broken bones. The physical. What we don’t think about as often, unless you’ve lived it, are the invisible bruises left by words hurled at their victims.

The world of the victim, the world I inhabited for quite some time, is ripe with a never-ending list of bullying tactics used by the abuser to assert control and manipulate their partner. This can include, but is not limited to, the destruction of objects, threats, name calling, and directly or indirectly harming animals and children. And honestly it’s difficult to pick one aspect that is the most painful. But it’s the words… the words that last.

Record playerThese words replay in the survivor’s mind long after they leave. In flashbacks, moments of sadness and stress, and in a seemingly average moment to remind you what you should think of yourself (according to that person). It’s a record player of destruction that is very difficult to turn off and it plays for years on repeat. The key for me has been finding the pause button.

I don’t think recounting the words are particularly helpful to me or to you. And it doesn’t take much imagination to come up with a playlist of typical abusive terms and statements. I’m betting that if you’re reading this right now you have heard quite a few yourself. It’s not easy to forget, is it? And eventually that common thought becomes one you swear you created yourself. The crucial thing is to remember that you didn’t. The monster was not of your making and those words are not yours to own.

Pulling hair outSo what has helped me press the pause button? It has taken an arsenal of my creation. Venting to trusted friends that add positive reinforcement to that record in my head. Friends that remind me what I’m replaying is nothing but lies said by someone with nothing but bad intentions. Writing has of course helped and I can’t recommend that enough. You don’t have to be talented, just get it out. Write down everything they said, how it made you feel, and burn it. When the words start to come back, stop, breathe, remind yourself who said them. Go do something distracting like blasting music you love or hugging a pet. Exercise. Anything. Just get out of your head and stop the record.

I know, it all sounds like generic advice and you’re probably thinking “But I’ve tried all of that and it doesn’t work”. The thing is it didn’t work for me either. Not for quite a while. It took practice and more practice and more time. And eventually it stuck… a permanent pause button that I can access. That’s not to say that the record doesn’t ever play. It does. I just know how to play something else now. And you, dear reader, will find with practice your pause button getting stronger. I know this because you are stronger than you think and stronger than your abuser ever dared to imagine. You are the strongest person you know or you wouldn’t be here right now, reading this.

Something else that has helped me tremendously in calming the flashbacks, the memories, and my mind in general is yoga. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone recovering from trauma, from bullying, that suffers from any form of PTSD. And when I began I was out of shape, completely inflexible, and completely annoyed at even the thought of yoga. But I tried a free video and was hooked. Hatha yoga is perfect for beginners and has a lot of calm, soothing moves that are centered around meditation. This practice of slowing the mind and body helped me in healing tremendously. pause buttonIt put me back in my body and helped me truly care about how I was treating myself by not putting emphasis on self-care. It continues to help reduce tension, improve my sleep, and soothe my anxiety.

I can’t tell you how many times the record played over the years or how often I wished it would stop. But I can tell you that it gets better if you work at it. That pause button is there, you just have to find it.

If you are currently involved in an abusive relationship of any kind, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at or call them at 1-800-799-7233.

~Stephanie March (writer and advocate)

Alan Eisenberg’s new book about the long-term effects of bullying and his personal experiences, “A Ladder In The Dark”, is now available through Amazon and other fine book retail outlets.

Names Can Hurt You (A Personal Story)

I didn’t know Mike in middle school, but I knew his friend David, the one that I wrote about in my story “Me As The Bully“. David spoke to me several years ago about Mike and how he was also bullied terribly in Lexington, MA. I contacted Mike and now we talk often and he knows that he isn’t alone in the terrible bullying that happened to us in Lexington. Mike just finished authoring a book called “Growing Up Against All Odds”, which also talks about his bullying experiences in Lexington. I am so glad he chose to share some of his story here. Mike – You are brave and strong and I, for one, am proud of you! ~ Alan Eisenberg

Growing Up Against All OddsMy bullying experiences began at Clarke Junior High School in Lexington MA in the 7th grade in 1982. I had lived a relatively bullying-free existence up through elementary school and made some good friends. But it seemed like as soon as I walked through the doors of Clarke Junior High school on the 1st day of 7th grade, I immediately became a target. I wasn’t like the other kids and I was an easy target for ridicule. I talked differently with a lisp. I wore dorky clothes and had big, black, dorky glasses. People relentlessly mocked me about my glasses and my clothes but especially my speech. Instead of my real name, Michael, people called me SchMichael.

They knew I hated it. They knew it got under my skin. They said it to me whenever they interacted with me. They even wrote it in my yearbook. It really hurt me but I didn’t fight back against them. I was too scared and wasn’t confident enough in myself to fight back against the bullies. I was more concerned with gaining their approval and fitting in, rather than being an outsider. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be one of the popular kids. I didn’t want to be a nerd who was unpopular and ridiculed all the time. Not only was I getting bullied but my own friends abandoned me as well.

They didn’t want to hang out with someone who was unpopular because it would bring down their own reputation. I even had a friend write in my yearbook that it was ‘somewhat of a liability to know me’. In retrospect, I wish I had gone to the principal or my teachers for help, but I doubt they would have cared. Bullying was not really taken seriously as an issue back in the 1980s.

Instead I just raced home every day to be by myself. I hated being at school. I hated the bullies. I hated all my old friends abandoning me. I hated the fact that it was relentless and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. It actually got to the point where I began writing down how many times a day people would call me SchMichael.

So I rushed home every day after school, sat on the sofa and ate and watched The Flintstones and Match Game. Things got better in high school but the damage had been done. I was less trustful of people. I couldn’t look people in the eye. I had trouble communicating with people. I had trouble being social and getting involved in school activities. I was just very shy and withdrawn, which was a shame. I missed out on getting to know lots of people in high school and getting involved in many different types of activities.

I still felt like everyone was out to get me. These are issues I still have today although they’re far less severe than they used to be. Bullying is not something to be taken lightly. It can have lifelong effects and impact your relationships, your job, your social life and many other areas. I really feel as though it took me years to recover from my bullying experiences at Clarke Jr. High School and in some ways, I’ve never recovered.

~ Mike

Alan Eisenberg’s new book about the long-term effects of bullying and his personal experiences, “A Ladder In The Dark”, is now available through Amazon and other fine book retail outlets.

Untwist Your Thinking – All or Nothing Thinking

If you truly want to changeAs I come back from the last few months of writing my bookA Ladder In The Dark, which I hope all of you readers have bought by now (don’t make me keep begging), here new pieces, I thought I would share what was one of the most valuable thing I learned while trying to cure the damage done to my psyche from the long-term effects of bullying. I found a book published a while ago by Dr. David Burns called “Feeling Good”.

The book is full of several items that help you to recognize the forms of thinking you might be doing due to psyche damage that, after you read, you’ll probably say like me “I do that”!

Luckily, Dr. Burns than discusses the way to untwist that thinking you have developed. Is it easy? By no means. It is work and changes you will develop over time. Dr. Burns discusses 10 twisted cognitive beliefs many people develop with the issue of anxiety and CPTSD, although that term was not coined yet when he shared this.

The first of his twisted thinking we do is “All or Nothing Thinking”. I was incredibly guilty of this. Think of it as always saying everything sucks. Nothing is going right! Truly, does everything suck? Has nothing gone right for you all day? That is the issue of all or nothing thinking. As we continue to say these all or nothing items, guess what? Our minds begin to believe what our mouths say.

So, eventually, you forget to be grateful for the smaller and more positive items that we all have, such as just waking up and breathing. Yes, that sounds like a simple positive, but it is one thing that did go right today, huh?

As Dr. Burns says about it, “You look at things as only black and white categories.” Kids are particularly good at practicing black and white thinking. So how do you untwist this thinking?

In this thinking, you are being a perfectionist and thinking about how you are not perfect.  No one is perfect and we must understand and accept that. It is fine, so don’t sweat perfection. It’s overrated anyway. You might also be dieting and blow it one night and then say to yourself, “I can’t diet.” You discredit the whole week that you did good.

My favorite way to start to fight this compulsive way of thinking is to use a gratitude journal. Spend each day writing about how “thankful” you are, even for small stuff. Three items a day every night. Then, in the morning read them. Try not to write the same thing twice. Sometimes mine are deep and sometimes simple. For example, a simple one would be:

1.      Thank you for letting me sleep well today

2.      Thank you for letting my breath come easily today

3.      Thank you for the phone call from my family

It could be that simple. Just start finding that life is not black and white. In fact each day usually has both good and bad. The more you gratitude journal each day, the sooner this thinking will change. Again, it is not easy. You have to want to change. And if, like me, you made it habitual, then it will take some time. I think it so important to watch that children don’t do this. It is something they tend to want to do and we need to help them see that there is good in every day. Life doesn’t always suck.

The next twisted thinking we will investigate will be Overgeneralization, where you see negativity as a never-ending issue. More next week. What do you think?

The Aftermath of Bullying (A personal Story)

As I have discussed both on my website and book, there are certainly correlations between adult onset mental health issues and bullying, now known as CPTSD. Angela, an expert in the field, makes this clear in her story below ~ Alan Eisenberg

man depressed in chairFor so many years I did not make a direct correlation between what happened to me as a child and who I had become as an adult.  I buried the trauma of being severely bullied because the pain from remembering was unbearable.  What I had endured from the age of 10 to 14 years old had left deep emotional wounds that would not heal.  It was easier to numb the pain by suppressing it and seeking other unhealthy ways of coping.  The subconscious mind is a powerful thing.  It controls our thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviours.  As much as we try to hide, ignore, or deny our pain, it is always there stored away in the subconscious part of our mind.  We can choose to acknowledge it and begin to heal or we can spend our lives just surviving each day and searching for happiness in all the wrong places.

As a young child I remember desperately wanting to be liked and accepted by my peers.  I was at an impressionable age trying to discover who I was and where I fit in.  The bullying I experienced was what many refer to as friendship bullying.  Every friend I thought I had, at some point turned on me in a very vicious way through verbal, physical, and social bullying.  They were the peer reference group for many of the other children.  They were the popular girls, and had a lot of social influence and power.  As a result, when the bullying started, I had no one.  When they turned on me, the entire school either participated in the bullying or stood by and did nothing.  During the 80’s bullying was not taken seriously and was not even recognized as an issue among children or adults.  It was considered a rite of passage and so, I had no support from the school or teachers.  I was alone and it was the single most painful experience of my life.  It left me feeling unworthy of love and acceptance

Talking about the specifics of what happened to me would take hours of writing and is no more or less painful than what many others have experienced or are going through at this very moment.  The message I want to convey here is the impact that bullying can have on an individual if they do not have the tools, resources, and support needed to avoid the long term emotional damage that can occur from suppressing a traumatic experience of bullying.  Many of us read the statistics of what can happen to targets of bullying.  We hear about the risk of depression and anxiety if help is not sought early on.  But there is so much more to it.  The residual effects from depression and anxiety can result in extreme rage, self-hatred, paranoia, eating disorders, cutting, drug and alcohol abuse, isolation, unhealthy relationships, insomnia, physical ailments, and in many cases ultimately suicide.  I know this not because I am a psychologist with a PH.D but because for thirty years I suffered from many of these disorders and symptoms.  It was only when I reached rock bottom at the age of 42 as I reached for my bottle of anti-anxiety medication with a bottle of water in hand that I realized it was up to me.  That I could no longer cope on my own.  I needed help and I was ready to face my demons.  I knew I would have to go back in time and re-live the experience.  It was the only way I was going to be able to live a normal life.  It was either that or leave those that loved and cared about me behind to mourn their loss.   Going back meant  the emotions would all come pouring out.  The emotions that I was too terrified to express as a child needed to be acknowledged and released.  I will not tell you that it is an easy process. What I can tell you is that if I had reached out for help sooner, I would have not suffered unnecessarily for so long.

Often once the bullying has ended, we believe that it’s over and we just want to move on.  We don’t want to remember so we lock it away.  We don’t want to talk about it because of the shame or the fear of what others will think.  So, we suffer in silence hoping it will get better or the pain will just go away.  Unfortunately that’s not how it works.  Of course every individual and situation is unique and there is no cookie cutter, one size fits all, remedy for everyone.  What I want people to understand is that there are people out there that understand.  People who have been there that are willing to listen and can empathize with your experience.  People that can give you guidance and healthy tools to cope.  But ultimately it is up to us to recognize that we deserve to be happy and to reach out for help.

If you or someone you know has or is suffering from the effects of bullying I can offer you this advice from my own recovery process.

  1. You must acknowledge the deep-rooted emotions you are feeling.  It is best to do this with a professional coach or counsellor.  Once you begin to acknowledge your anger, shame, fear, etc. the emotions will become very raw and you should be with someone who is qualified to guide you through this process and bring you back to a place of calmness.
  2. Feeling your emotions means you must be prepared to walk through the painful experiences of being bullied no matter how long ago it occurred.  Saying it aloud really helps but can feel awkward at first.  For example “You made me so angry when you pinned me to the ground and punched me repeatedly.  I was humiliated and did not deserve to be treated that way.”
  3. Learn to make the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.  This is CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).  For example if we feel that someone doesn’t like us it may trigger feelings of fear or anger.  That fear or anger may lead us to behave in a certain way such as avoiding that person or lashing out at them.  Once you can begin to make this connection you will slowly begin to find the ability to change unhealthy behaviours and make better choices.
  4. Practice gratitude.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of expressing gratitude.  Being thankful for what and who we have in our lives gives us the ability to experience joy.  It alleviates feelings of resentment, bitterness, and envy of others.  It can be as simple as writing one thing down a day that you are grateful for.  Or you can say it aloud at the end of each day.  You will be amazed at how much you have to be grateful for.  It can be as simple as your morning cup of coffee.  Gratitude is not something you feel it is something you practice.
  5. When you are feeling depressed and alone, try to remind yourself that it will pass and look for what may have triggered your bought of depression.  Often it is our thoughts or distorted perceptions that lead us into a depression.  For example “No one cares about me.” “No one understands what I’m feeling.” These thoughts can send us into a downward spiral.
  6. Try to gradually face your fears one small step at a time.  For example, I used to be terrified to go to the local grocery store.  I was afraid that I’d run into someone who I thought didn’t like me.  I didn’t want to feel the rejection so I would avoid going.  As scared as I was, I started to go. Once I did it, it became easier and I began to realize that my fears were irrational.
  7. Most importantly, you must work hard to believe that you are a worthy person.  This comes from within and you will never find your worth through others.  Learn to be your authentic self and appreciate all your good qualities and what you have to offer.   I would highly recommend the work of Dr. Brene Brown.  You can google her books, quotes, and YouTube videos.

I strongly believe in the words “We can’t control what others do or say to us, but we can control how we react to it.”  Our youth today are up against an epidemic of bullying that has existed for decades.  They need help.  They need leaders, role models, and professionals that can help them if they are unable to help themselves.  I have accepted what happened to me and learned to take responsibility for the person I want to be.  My experience as painful as it was, was a gift.  It has led me to a place in life where I can help others.  I hope this article helps many, but even if my words reach just one, I am grateful to have done so.

~Angela Fryklund
Certified Professional Coach at Beyond Bullying Recovery Services

Alan Eisenberg’s new book about the long-term effects of bullying and his personal experiences, “A Ladder In The Dark”, is now available through Amazon and other fine book retail outlets.

Bully Incident #7: The Friend and The Counselor

A few years ago, when the movie “Bully” came out, I saw a scene almost exactly like this story. That certainly alarmed me, because now I knew that 30+ years later, little had changed. In the movie, the administrator thinks that just having the two boys shake hands would solve the issue. It was obvious that the bullying victim did not want to, but the administrator forced them to. It was a scary moment to me in the film and I still think about that as I share this story with you again. ~Alan Eisenberg

Bullying Stories

If Bob was the first person to directly bully me, the next one I can remember is Luke. Luke was my friend for two years in school. I went to his house or he came to my house to play. Now, I know it is not untypical to have friends stop being friends for a period of time, but if memory serves me correctly, this happened on a dime.

Boy's FightingI’m not sure what I did or what triggered it, other than my belief that, when your friend realizes you are very unpopular, they can quickly think they can be popular by picking on you too. Luke. turned on me quickly and started the tripping in the halls, punching in the gut type bullying on me. I recall not seeing that one coming. I liked Luke and often questioned why this was happening.

At about this time, good ole’ Franklin Elementary…

View original post 581 more words