Last summer, Hollywood based Brand Consultant ChadMichael Morrisette woke up to find a touching Facebook message from a former classmate Louis Amundson.
Amundson had been one of the boys who had bullied Morrisette as a teenager and had messaged him out of the blue, twenty years later to be precise, with a sincere and heartfelt apology. Morisette reciprocated with an equally sincere message of forgiveness.
Both men showed an admirable amount of courage.
Amundson was prompted to contact Morrisette after a discussion about bullying with his daughter forced him to reluctantly admit that he had been a bully as a kid. What this incident shows is how years later bullying can still hurt both the bully victim and the perpetrator.
The awful view that bullying is an inevitable rite of passage has finally been brought into question in reason years and long term effects of bullying are now gaining increased public interest. Previously, Psychologists have been more interested in the short term effects of bullying but now there is an increased number of psychological studies into how bullying affects a person’s adult life years, even decades, later.
The results are truly devastating.
Bullying deeply and profoundly affects a person’s long term mental health. An adult person who was bullied as a child is four times more likely to suffer from issues such as anxiety, agoraphobia and depression that a person who had not been bullied. Even more upsettingly, they are also ten times more likely to be at risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior. A person who has been bullied may even experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a direct result.
School is the time when your brain is still growing and you are developing as an individual. Your formative years are named as such for a reason: they form you, your thought processes and the manner in which you will react to situations for the rest of your life.
I was bullied as a teenager and I can honestly say that this experience has shaped my life in ways that I wouldn’t have wanted. However, for years I have been too embarrassed to discuss this significant part of my life, even with close friends. This is because I had always been so certain, until very recently, that having been bullied reflected some deeper truth about me that made me somehow less worthy than other people. I have been sure that once people found out about my past then they would automatically see me as somehow less valuable.
Nowadays, I am less harsh on myself and, at 24, have just enough distance from my schooldays to have a more considered perspective. I was shy and mousy and liked to read. I was the kind of nerdy, frizzy haired girl that you will find fidgeting and biting her nails in any classroom in any school across the world.
These are hardly criminal offenses, but in terms of the rules of high school, this constitutes as a prison sentence.
If we are being extremely generous in terms of my life expectancy, and indeed if I ramp up the exercise routine, a quarter of my life is almost up and I am still being affected every single day by my time being bullied. The fear of running into one of my former tormentors in the supermarket or in a nightclub can send school dinner bells ringing harshly through the dusty, industrial cleaning fluid scented maths corridors of my memories.
I have bumped into some of them and have been transformed, as if by cruel Cinderella magic, back into the squeaky mouse of my adolescence, words tumbling over each other as I make small talk.
I find it hard to forgive because I am still living with the emotional consequences; for me it isn’t just a part of the past. However, according to the website nobullying.com, forgiveness isn’t necessarily forgetting how you have been wronged, it is more to do with “letting go of the ill-will toward an individual who did you wrong.”
However, separating forgiving and forgetting is easier said than done.
These awkward exchanges aren’t the encounters that you imagine in your teenage daydreams where you waltz into a school reunion wildly successful and suddenly beautiful. Neither is it the nightmare scenario where you end up a mean and bitter failure with the feverish knowledge that your schooldays have irreparably ruined any prospect of happiness.
Life is, thankfully, much more complicated than that.
I am happy. I make my living from writing, my first real love and escapism, and furthermore enjoy a busy and fulfilling life. However, I imagine that the attributes that I pride myself on; my literary ambitions, my activism and my interest in the world around me, are nothing more to my former bullies than awkward, nerdy flaws that further cement their prior opinion of me. I haven’t “won” in this sense.
This makes it incredibly hard to gain a sense of closure—at least, it does until you get past the idea that you need to somehow “win” or “show them.”
Very few bully victims are ever given such a complete sense of closure that ChadMichael received. The relief that even after all those years, his pain still resonated with a perpetrator must have been immense. So often the hurt of children and young people is seen to be transitory and character building, the actions of cruel children to be mere teasing.
To forgive even one of the people who hurt him must have been an enormous weight of his shoulders.
I wonder how I would react if I was to receive a similar apology, whether I would be as gracious and forgiving. Forgiveness is a funny thing; you can’t just say it you have to mean it which is why it can sometimes take a while. But when it does happen, it can have greatly positive effects on your life.
According to nobullying.com, genuine, heartfelt forgiveness can have positive effects such as healthier relationships, lowered blood pressure and decreased risks of depression.
What’s not to like?
One way to begin forgiving your childhood bullies is to first empathise with them as people. Bullies tend to be harbouring their own anxieties and feelings of inadequacies that they are taking out on others.
They may have been experiencing difficulties at home which they were mirroring through their violence in the playground. Many bullies have experienced bullying themselves at some point in their lives. Interestingly, bullies are also at risk of experiencing long term psychological problems as an adult. Adults who had been bullies in their younger years were four times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorders.
The guilt that Louis Amundson had harboured long into his thirties was telling. If you have bullied another person then try to raise the courage to apologise if you can and begin to set a better example for the next generation. Louis’s daughter must now surely be proud of her father who now has nothing to be ashamed off.
If you have been bullied yourself then try and find your own personal way in which you can forgive; don’t let your formative years dominate the rest of your life.
Author: Julia Banim
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: spookman01 in Flickr