I’ve done plenty of things I’m not proud of. There was ‘Christmas Shopping Gate’, when I flipped out after one too many shoves from passers-by, and started barging through the crowds shouting ‘EXCUUUUUSE ME!’ while accidentally-on-purpose bashing them with my bags. (I blame PMT). Then there was the day I teased my friend so mercilessly she kicked the wall in frustration and broke her toe.
But if there’s one thing that truly makes me shrivel up into a little shame-raisin (how gross would they taste on your granola?), it’s this: I was a bully.
I know. Disgusting. It didn’t last long (just a few months, aged 11) and I wasn’t the worst bully I’ve seen (not that any level is acceptable) but I was pretty horrid. Psychological bullying was my thing: humiliating and excluding anyone I saw as less cool than me, which was pretty much everyone, since I thought I was ‘it’.
A few years later, I got a taste of my own medicine. My bully taunted me for about a year, and I had to work hard to rebuild the confidence she knocked out of me with every sneer. But I got there.
These days, I’m nice. Promise. I give people hugs and cake and shoulders to cry on. I even smile at people who bump me in the street… sometimes. But I can’t undo my bullying days. And that still makes me ashamed.
But there is one thing I can do: help you if you’re being bullied. Because I probably know a bit about how you’re feeling, and your bully too. So here are some tips from a former bully to you, with a big old dose of sorry, and an even bigger hug.
“Oh… it’s nothing”
Bullying can be anything from a push in the corridor to a whispered insult. Don’t brush it off, worrying that you’re overreacting. You’re not. If you’re regularly being made to feel scared, uncomfortable or upset, it’s ‘something’.
It’s not about you
Seriously. I know it’s hard to believe; when someone’s picking apart everything that makes you you, well that kiiiind of feels like it might be about… well… you. But trust me: most bullies are going through stuff themselves. When I was a bully, it was tension at home. My own bully was about to move schools. It’s not an excuse, but it might help you realise that their nastiness isn’t about you not being clever, funny, or nice enough. You’re all of those things. And more.
Summon your squad
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and ask them for support. That could mean feeding you an endless supply of chocolate or dreaming up creative nicknames for your bully. My personal fave is Trunchtrump: the unfortunate lovechild of Donald Trump and Miss Trunchbull. Don’t actually call your bully names, though – you don’t want to be as bad as them.
Childline says assertiveness is ‘being able to stand up for yourself without being aggressive.’ Stand in front of a mirror and practise saying what you want or don’t want, calmly and clearly: ‘That’s my bag and I want it back’. Next, write down everything you’d like to ask or tell your bully. Then, if you want to, tell them for real. You definitely don’t have to – it’s not your responsibility to ‘solve’ the bullying – but it could make you feel like a major girl boss. Plus, it’ll give your bully some food for thought. I bullied people I knew wouldn’t challenge me. If they had, I’m not sure I’d have picked on them again.
Tell an adult
I know, I know. The thought of your parent or teacher stepping in is as awks as having your first kiss in front of your nan. While she livestreams it to your whole school. Then there’s the fear your bully will find out you told. But, as Kidscape explain, ‘schools can put a stop to bullying without the bully learning who told, especially if the bully has several targets.’ Take a breath and tell someone you trust. Like… now.
Know you’re not alone
SO many people are going through the same thing; you just have to find them. Search YouTube for people sharing their stories, or join Childline’s message boards – a great place to chat and get advice.
Boost your confidence
Find things that make you feel better about yourself. Help someone with a problem, write down your best qualities (come on, you know there’s something), or try something new. Joining a club outside of school can give you a real confidence boost and a whole new set of friends. When I was being bullied, I joined a theatre group. It was super-fun and, the next time my bully called me boring or fat, I found it that little bit easier to see that she was lying.
It won’t last forever
Remember that this will be over eventually and won’t hold you back in the long run. Ask older people you look up to whether they were ever bullied (I bet at least one says yes) or read the bullying stories of celebs like Obama, Emma Watson and Ri Ri. And don’t just wish the time away. Plan the amazing future you’ll have and get cracking on achieving it. Working towards some goals will boost your confidence and keep you distracted. And when you achieve them, it’ll feel even sweeter.