Victim of bullying shares emotional scars

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Bill," upward of age 40, remembers playing baseball at age 6 -- not the home runs he hit -- but the vivid memories of being held down and forced to eat dirt.

That year Bill became the target of a bully, whose actions would follow Bill through high school, college and into adulthood, leaving behind emotional scars.

"Many nights I would cry myself to sleep," he said.

For him, the bullying continually worsened from his experience on the baseball field a a young child to being assaulted around age 13, Bill said.

"Everyday occurrences included knocking books out of my hand, calling me crude names," he explained. "You almost live in a state of paranoia. It's the constant threat that really messes with you."

There are about 2.7 million students being bullied each year by about 2.1 students taking on the role of the bully, according to bullying statistics 2010.

Those statistics also revealed that 1 in 7 students in grades kindergarten through 12 has either been a victim of bullying or is a bully.

Bill said he had one main bully, who had "bully helpers," that plagued him from grade school through high school.

His antagonist was "a jock" of average size, but not really well liked by anyone, Bill said.

Bill, on the other hand, was as he put it "a geek" who excelled academically but was "horrible" at playing sports. His mom was a kindergarten teacher at the school.

Bill said he thinks that's why he was singled out to bully on the playground, in school hallways and around the community.

The belief that bullies target specific personalities is not necessarily true, according to Mary Buhman, a licensed independent social worker, in Le Mars.

"I don't know that it has anything to do with them going after geeks," she said.

Buhman speculated that bullies choose their victims because they see a personality trait they don't like about themselves in their victim.

In her private practice Buhman said she encounters a lot of bullying

"I see kids who have been bullied," she said. "I see kids who are the bullies."

Buhman doesn't see Bill as a client, but he is treated by a counselor.

Buhman said bullying gets more awareness today than in years past.

"I think it's always been an issue," Buhman added. "I think we're doing a much better job of educating."

She added that many schools also now have anti-bullying policies which help.

When Bill was a child those education tools didn't exist, and his experience of being bullied carried into his adult life.

By then he had learned the best way to fit it was to become the butt of the joke.

"I gave them a reason to make fun of me," Bill explained. "I can put myself down better than anybody on earth."

Into his 20s, 30s and 40s, that behavior began to affect his personal and professional life.

"I was not taken seriously," Bill said. "Even though they knew I was an intelligent guy, I think some people had a hard time looking past the comedian, the oaf."

He also puts the blame of his personality problems and daily living issues in the hands of his childhood antagonist, something Buhman said, during a separate interview, is a definite possibility.

"I have huge self-esteem issues. When I'm doing a project at work, I constantly ask 'am I doing this right and is it OK?'" he explained.

Bill said he also speaks in a loud voice, something his psychiatrist and counselor think is the result of wanting to be the center of attention.

"It's a constant battle to not have self-esteem issues," he said. "It's something I'll always have to deal with."

Bill said in very stressful situations he shuts down.

"I cannot move, cannot speak, cannot do anything," he said. "My doctor told me it's something (a defense mechanism) children use in an extremely violent situation."

Bill said he's currently dealing with the results of being bullied with talk therapy, personal development classes and medication.

"Today I feel like a different person," Bill said. "I'm able to communicate clearly. I understand my boundaries. I can prevent myself from being defensive and insecure."

Bill said he wants to make sure his children never become the targets of a bully and asks others to be aware and take action.

"If you see somebody getting bullied, don't just stand there and laugh or do nothing," Bill said. "That's where the differences can be made."

He added that when bystanders do nothing it adds to the bully's "power trip" telling him what he is doing is right and accepted.

Buhman said she agrees with Bill's thoughts 100 percent.

"I really do think if someone stepped forward and said 'why are you doing that, that's not even funny?' there wouldn't be bullying," Buhman said.

Bill encourages parents to teach their children that bullying is not OK.

"The surest way to cure a bully is when the people who are doing nothing, do something about it," he said.

Bullying awareness program

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, Le Mars Community Middle School auditorium

Parents invited to "Stand for the Silent Assembly" program, free and open to the public.

Kirk Smalley will address the issue of school bullying by sharing the story of his son, Ty, a victim of bullying, who took his own life.

His message is to motivate children to believe "I Am Somebody."

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