Today, I’m pleased to host my guest Alan Eisenberg, well-known founder and author of the blog, Bullying Stories: Dealing with Bullying from an Adult Perspective (www.bullyinglte.wordpress.com). Alan also does presentations on bullying and is working on a documentary called Bullying: Long Term Effects.
Just as research shows that the effects of divorce on the children involved are serious and linger long into adulthood, it is also revealing that the effects of being bullied also linger and cause difficulties. Bullying Stories has been instrumental in providing a safe place for adults to share their stories of being bullied and, hopefully, to help vanquish the pain.
A Pacifist’s Anger by Alan Eisenberg
“Why are you acting so angry?” is a common question my wife asks. While I consider myself a pacifist, I find that I can also be angry. Inside, I feel the anger and rage and want to understand it, but I struggle sometimes to understand where it comes from. I just want peace. This bothered me for many years, but later, I came to realize what had happened. And, at least for me, it had much to do with my life from age 7 to 14, the years I was bullied.
In 2007, I realized it was time to confront the demon that had haunted me for almost 30 years. The demon’s name was bullying and the issue I needed to confront was my past experience with bullying and the belief that those years of being bullied had left long-term scars and effects on me. I also wanted to use the web as a means to share my experience and allow others to share as well. So I started the “Bullying Stories: Dealing with Bullying from an Adult Perspective” website (www.bullyinglte.wordpress.com).
I found out that I was not alone in wanting to share what happened to me and, in fact, a community of anti-bullying people surrounded me. Eventually, as some discovered my website and stories, they contacted me to share theirs. Karen Coombs was one and I am fortunate to have her as a partner in working toward a better solution to the issue of bullying. When she shared with me that she had written a book called “Bully at Ambush Corner,” I was intrigued. Then I found it was the story of a pacifist boy named Rocky who didn’t want to fight, but was confronted with a bully and needed a solution.
In Rocky, I saw a kindred spirit, a person who doesn’t want to fight. On my website, I share my stories of the times I dealt with bullies, whose bullying was very physical. I would constantly be surrounded and punched by a group of kids, while they taunted me. They were relentless, either making fun of my last name and calling me Iceberg, or other much harsher versions. I talk often about not wanting to fight and how my mom always told me to try to talk it out with them. Like Rocky, who just took the punches at times, I felt that fighting wouldn’t solve anything. So I didn’t. Instead, I let the fear grip me and let my easily emotionally influenced self deal with the pain and fear. I did this for years, running away from the issue and letting the “why me?” anger build.
I think I was picked on partly because I wouldn’t fight back, but mainly because I let the bullies affect me, and so found myself either crying or upset when they taunted me. My solutions during those years included hiding in school after the closing bell until all had left. When the coast was clear, I would walk in the woods to a path to get away from the school for fear that a bully was waiting for me around the corner. I talk about this story on my website and figured out that I lost 8 days of my life over the years avoiding bullies this way. But this wasn’t the only thing I tried. I also tried talking to the bullies, to administrators at the school, and to my parents. None of them could help though, because a bully can always lurk in a corner and find you when no one is looking. And they did just that.
So my fear led to anger and my anger could easily be misplaced when I felt threatened by others. My “fight or flight” instinct was damaged from the years of bullying and I would perceive disagreement as if a bully was coming toward me. Of course, I had no idea why I felt this way. Also, I had the pacifist’s emotions of someone who didn’t want to fight, but the anger of someone who was feeling threatened. If you haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to explain. But it was real; it is real. Finally, after many years and many attempts to not fight, I was forced to throw a punch when I realized it was expected of me in order to stop the bullying. I first punched someone when I was 11 and it felt terrible. But…the result was that that particular bully left me alone. Also, my friends were proud of me. It felt wrong in my heart, but it stopped that bully. Then I was 12 and did it again, and it stopped that bully. But it wasn’t fair. It hurt me to do it and it was the last thing I wanted to do. But I felt as if I was trapped in a box with no way out but my fists. My pacifist heart was shattered and my peaceful solutions seemed to all but disappear.
This haunted me and kept me up at night. I felt trapped in a cycle of violence to solve violence and decided on my next tactic: I’d pretend to be a bit crazy so others would leave me alone. I stared at someone and acted like I didn’t know what they were saying. Then I would respond in nonsensical ways. I brooded and shuffled my feet in the halls, behaving a little off, so others would leave me alone. This wasn’t all the time and with everyone, but mainly when around larger groups. I also wore dark clothes and weird shirts to give the impression that I was odd and a bit different. When I started 7th grade at age 13, this is how I lived my days at school. For the most part I was left alone, but eventually found others in the school who were either doing the same or really were a bit crazy. They, of course, became my kindred-spirit friends. Not the best friends a kid could have, but all I did have.
Unfortunately the bullying followed me in the form of a former best friend who said he was going to “kill me”. He was a big kid, much bigger than I, really mean and threatening. Using my new crazy tactic, I told his friends to tell him I had a knife and to leave me alone. He didn’t take the hint. So, gripped in fear of the impending confrontation, I found my mom’s sharp nail file and took it to school every day. The fear in me and the years of bullying made me feel there was no choice and I’d reach in my pocket and poke my finger daily with the sharp point of the file to remind me it was there.
I still walked the path around the school, and one day as I came up to the road, there was the bully and I thought he really would kill me. He yelled as much and started at me with his fists raised. I pulled out the file and cut him. I was sick to my stomach that it had come to this. For me to have peace, I had resorted to a weapon of violence. He yelled and I saw he was bleeding. I didn’t stop to see any more, but ran the mile to my house with him following me the whole way. I worried I had cut him badly. I didn’t know a file could do that much damage, and felt I would throw up from fear and panic. I got to my house with him still behind me. I shut the door with him pounding on it and yelling. He finally left. He didn’t come after me again and the school was abuzz with how crazy I was. No one bugged me again. Due to this experience, every time I hear of a boy or girl who brings a weapon to school who either used it or is caught with it, I wonder if they felt threatened and if they just wanted to protect themselves. Luckily, I moved away that summer, never to look back and never to be bullied much again, but I wonder how far I would have gone to protect myself had I stayed.
But those years from age 7 to 14 had done long-term damage. At the time, the late 70s, there were no anti-bullying programs in the school. There were no specialists to talk to me about it. “Kids would be kids” and we’d all grow up. And we did grow up, and now I have learned that they are studying the long-term damage to children who suffered from bullying and to those who were doing the bullying. It’s now considered a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and more and more people are talking about it. For that I am grateful.
As an adult, it is hard to make giant leaps of change in how we act and cope with our feelings. Those impressionable years of our youth help form who we become. I still consider myself a pacifist who believes that peaceful negotiation should work. But my years of dealing with bullying make me doubt myself and also act in ways I still feel bad about. I can feel angry and threatened and not know why. Due to years of being surrounded by bullies and not able to get away, I can feel panic in confined space and want to run. I can feel self-doubt and low self-worth. But, I have worked hard to realize where these feelings come from and to try to overcome them. Slowly but surely, a little bit every day, I try to be better. I sometimes wonder how Rocky in Karen’s story copes as an adult.
So sometimes I find myself as the angry pacifist. Sometimes my wife doesn’t understand why I feel threatened or angry. I just know I do and I learn to recognize it. I still consider myself a peaceful person who doesn’t see using my fists or a weapon as a way to solve everything. I still feel sick thinking of my past and how I solved bullying issues in my youth. But I have an outlet in the website I started those years ago, and reading others’ stories and the studies being done on the issue of bullying has helped me realize that others, like me, are angry pacifists and use that anger to try to solve the issue of bullying…one day and one step at a time.
Founder/Author – Bullying Stories: Dealing with Bullying from an Adult Perspective