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?

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

After The Death (Aharei Mot)

I was honored to be asked to deliver a sermon (really a speech) with a theme of bullying during services at my place of worship recently. I thought I would share the speech that I gave with you. It’s a bit lengthy, but I thought the subject matter appropriate to share… (~Alan Eisenberg)

The bible reading this week is AHAREI MOT, which in Hebrew means AFTER THE DEATH. This is because it takes place right after the Death of Moses’s brother Aaron’s two sons. The reading is also maybe even more significant, because it is also the origin of the YOM KIPPUR ritual.

Interestingly and possibly even intentionally, this reading takes place about 6 months after and equally six months prior to our YOM KIPPUR. It’s as if to say that we should remember that making atonement is not just a once a year event. It has always been a challenge for me to understand the idea of the once a year atonement. I know that some of us believe we have the other 364 days to build up our mistakes so that once a year we can ask for forgiveness, and then even then, we only ask it of god. While in other religions, they go weekly to confess their sins and ask for atonement, but again, only to god. Why to god, as if he is going to tell the people who most need to hear it.

Why do we struggle to say the words ANI MITZTA’ER … Hebrew for I’m sorry! Why is this so hard for us to do? And what does it mean to others when you say it to them, sincerely, and meaningfully.

David Brin, an American science fiction author, has one of my favorite quotes on the subject. He said: Why must conversions always come so late? Why do people always apologize to corpses?The author Harriet Beech Stowe said it as well when she said “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone.” Continue reading

I’m an Old Woman Now and I Still Remember

I am always grateful for the adults that share the stories of their past here, because it is the same reason I chose to. We don’t forget. We don’t forget the bad and we also don’t forget the good. Sometimes, as in the title of this story, someones we don’t forget the ones that didn’t beat us up or pick on us. Not only that, but I am grateful for a writer that shares such clarity in their words as Polly has below. I am honored to share her story. ~Alan Eisenberg

I’m an old woman now, and I still remember one girl didn’t beat me up that day

I’m an old woman now, and I still remember that one girl, pretty and blond and from the South, didn’t beat me up that day the others jumped me in the alley, going home at lunch time. In fact, Lucy–I don’t forget her name–came over during recess where I stood around, alone as always, to warn, “Listen, Christie says they’re gonna get you. You better take the street–don’t use the alley.”

It was autumn, in fifth grade. Golden leaves lay on the lawns. A few of the neighbors had real gardeners–Black gardeners, for this the early 1950s, Washington DC; the gardeners were raking up the leaves. And some of the housewives might be looking out to watch them, or maybe stepping out to get their mail, or looking through the window from a store delivery truck, or waiting for their kid, with lunch all ready on the stove. If I walked home down the street–six blocks, past four or five brick houses with big windows on every block–someone would see me. Someone’s mother, or a friend of my mother’s–anyhow, some neighbor–surely would notice me walking alone. Alone–down the street alone.

A neighbor would come stand outside her door and say “Are you all right? Why are you walking all alone?” And I would have to say, “Because.” And she would say, “Because? Is that an answer? Why?” And so I’d have to tell, full of shame, “No one wants to walk with me. They beat me up. If I go by the alley, they will get me, someone said”–I’d certainly not blab a name–“today.” And surely the neighbor would tell my mother, and my mother–or my father, or both–would lecture me, “You need to make friends, like other little girls. If you would go to school more regularly, you would have friends. Why don’t you make friends, you’re smart, there isn’t any reason you can’t make friends, like other little girls.”

Meanwhile, after lunch my mother would be driving me back to school, for safety, angrily saying, “Why do I have to drive you like a little child, is that what you want? I’m tired, why can’t you let me have some time for myself? You know I have to vacuum the house and do the washing before your dad gets home,” and all the girls would say, “How come your mother had to drive you?” and make jokes.

So I took the alleys. And Lucy was there but she stood at the side, and shook her head, and moved back and forth like she wanted to run away, or go for help, but was afraid, while Christie held me down and twisted my wrist while Barbara and Mary helped and scratched my arms and rubbed me on the gravel and Christie twisted harder to make me scream.

Of course it was I who became a scholar and author and went to a major university, while Christie and Barbara and Mary stayed on as government typists or maybe unhappy housewives in DC. It’s I who joined in the radical antiwar protests and the changes and the women’s movement of the Sixties. It’s I who, sometime in the Seventies, by candlelight laughed with my elegant lover, as we walked our San Francisco hills, at the image of who and what–father of six, mother of eighteen, eternal salesclerk, stockyard worker, clerical aide–our bulliers must have become.