Bullying and Disrespect : The Terrible Twins…

People meeting me for the first time would be unlikely to see me as an obvious victim figure – and in my mind I am not! – yet, throughout my life, I have been susceptible to bullying and disrespect. It finally hit me, writing yesterday’s post, that the two are inextricably linked. Of course they are. If I did not see this, it was because, at some level, I did not want to. Who, after all, finds any pleasure in admitting that people they know – and, in some cases, like or even love – not only fail to return their feelings, but actually see them as second class citizens, people who in some weird way do not merit respect, equal status, equal rights?

Call them Trolls. Call them bullies. Call them Malignant Narcissists. Call them sociopaths. The label does not matter. It is the intent which makes the difference – metaphorically, the setting in the heart and mind to freezing. In many cases, bullying starts from an obdurate, if at times unconscious, sense of entitlement, of social hierarchy, of being a King or Queen (or, when younger, Prince and Princess) within the circle and of having certain rights conferred upon one as a result – rights (and this is the crucial part of it) which the lower orders (the serfs, villeins, slaves) do not have because they are inferior. Basically! They are there to do one’s bidding, whether it be emptying the Guzunder, paying out danger money, cleaning the mansion or accepting kicks and slaps when frustration reaches boiling point – and, of course, it goes without saying, being verbally reviled at the drop of a hat.

Bullies may well be festerous heaps of insecurity and childhood trauma underneath, but their way of coping with same is to blank it out where possible while at the same time taking it out, often viciously, upon those they do not respect, those who are insecure and vulnerable themselves (and do show it) – and those who, through their lowly status (financially, socially, emotionally), are not deemed worthy of kind or thoughtful treatment.

But there are, as everyone knows, two sides to this coin – and, as one bullied since early childhood, I must, in all conscience, present the other side: Very often, the bullied come to see themselves as inferior; they almost come to expect unpleasantness, or casual disregard, or neglect, as their inborn right precisely because they must, in their eyes, be majorly flawed in some fundamental way to have been bullied in the first place.

To put it very simply, the bullied often let bullies get away with it because their sense of their own rights, needs and entitlements is so flimsy as to be virtually non-existent. Used to being looked down upon, kicked, given orders, messed around and treated like shit, they cannot conceive of any other real alternative – and often grovel piteously, or slavishly agree with everything their lordly Trolls say, in order to receive that daily crumb of mouldy bread which, tossed contemptuously from Above the Salt, is all the sustenance they will get.

Because the bullied don’t believe that they deserve decent behaviour, guess what?! Yup! They are notorious for attracting whole colonies of Trolls into their lives. Respect for the ‘victims’ has become so far reduced to the lowest common denominator, that being noticed benevolently is cause for celebration; more they cannot hope for! They allow others to disrespect them – and, as we all know, there is an awfully thin line between casual and unthinking lack of respect and overt bullying.

I think it is a truism that bullies do not target those they see as equals. Why would they? Just as animals in the wild bring down the weak, the old and the very young, so the bully homes in on the fragile, the vulnerable, the child (or adult) who carries the unmistakable ‘scent’ of one who has been chased and caught and wounded before.

You see – and this should be obvious to all but the most insensitive – bullies are not as brave as they think. Otherwise they would take on the giants, the monsters, the dragons, the Green Knights of this world. But they don’t, do they? We see it globally. Big powerful countries picking fights with those not their equals in stored weapons or manpower or financial backing. We see it in schools. We see it on the street, in friendship groups, in the home. The ‘strong’ beat up the ‘weak’. Those with a modicum of power (whether it be a Headship, a Prime Ministerial role or a Presidential one) take out their frustrations, and sense of inflated entitlement, upon the metaphorical serving classes. Why? Because they know they will win. They know that the fight will be uneven. They know that they are, for all the rhetoric they use, unassailable when it comes to the lesser beings.

But, I would have to say this: Those in power can be toppled. The French Revolution is bloody testament to that. As ‘Lord of the Flies’ showed so graphically and memorably, nobody wins in a bullying scenario. All the savages on that desert island were shown, right at the end, to be nothing but wounded little boys.  Jack and Roger wielded temporary power, but it was shown to be a destructive sham by the end, the latter’s sadism combining with the former’s sense of absolute entitlement to be Chief to the deadly detriment of all.

I do not believe that looking down on others, and bullying them, gives any genuine satisfaction in life. It is like a very dark craving, an addiction if you will – and increasingly nasty behaviours have to be adopted in order to get that all-important high. Just as those who smoke, as I once did, start with the occasional fag and end up on twenty or more a day, so the bully can never satisfy that almost sexual craving with simple name-calling for long. There is a link, in some people, between sex and violence. I know that because the man who sexually attacked me on a Weston street so long ago was fuelled by the need to bully, to overpower, to terrify, to assert his dominance and, although it was expressed in a sexual way, the urge was pure Troll and I, in his view, was a nothing.

What can I say? I cannot force anyone to see all other humans as equals. To do so would involve the kind of bullying against which I seem to have been fighting all my life. All I can do is to ensure that I, Alienora, am aware that we are all in this together, that there is no true division hierarchically between the peoples of our planet and that working together towards a common aim is far more likely to bring about true peace and equality than bullying others into seeing the world the way we do.


Violence: ‘I could never do that!’ Second Thoughts…

I wish I could turn back the clock to 1966 and act upon second thoughts with regard to the worst bullying I ever took part in. In my heart, I did have second thoughts – but was too much of a coward to do the right thing.



Have you ever hit another human being? Felt your fist connecting with living flesh? Felt your fingers tangling, with vicious intent, in another woman’s hair? Seen your boots imprinting themselves deeply in another’s vulnerable abdomen? Seen blood following your assault?

Have you ever jeered and sneered, cat-called and teased, enjoyed your power over a weaker member of the tribe?

Enjoyed it? Felt release, relief, revenge, righteousness?

Condemned violence in other colours, creeds, countries and sexual orientations?

Have you ever wanted to hurt another physically – but held back because you know that violence is never the solution? Or lashed out when temper’s in the ascendant and then regretted it hugely?

I think our responses to physical acts of violence tend to be pretty straight-forward. There is no ambiguity involved: A punch is a punch. It leaves bruising and blood and pain. A beating breaks bones and skin and sheds blood.

Seeing the never-ending televisual evidence of graphic violence, most of us are shocked and horrified and would swear, in a Law Court if necessary, ‘I could never do that!’

Is this the honest truth, though? I hit a girl on the nose with a maraca when I was about twelve. She bled like a stuck pig. I knew it was wrong. I knew it would solve nothing. I knew I would be punished. Yet, just before the guilt and concern and regret set in, there was the tiniest flare of a kind of sick joy: A sense of dreadful power over another person. It frightened me. It did not last. But it was there.

I hit her because I wanted to. I had a clear choice. No one stood behind me and forced me to take that musical instrument and wreak havoc with it.

Emotional and mental violence is not so easy, is it? It is a shifting line in the sand to many – and far easier to slide out of with ready excuses. After all, no evidence remains on the skin, does it? It is their word against yours!

The worst violence I was involved in happened when I was at primary school. I was eight or nine. I did not lift a finger – but I was there; I was complicit and I did absolutely nothing to stop the escalating situation. Again, I knew it was wrong. I hoped we would be stopped. But I lacked the guts to stop it myself. I feel the burn of shame and remorse still.

There was a little boy in my class at school. His name was David. He was the Simon and/or Piggy of the group. Physically not quite right (he had an undescended testicle which, in the way of small children, we all knew about) and he was fragile, shy, inarticulate, struggled academically and never fought back. He was the archetypal victim.

He was treated with casual cruelty every day: Pins were placed on his chair; he was kicked in passing; he was sneered and jeered at by the leaders of the gang. He must have dreaded every moment.

Why we collaborated on this one particular day I now have no idea. My guess is that the plot was hatched by the Jack Merridew and Roger combination – who ruled the roost with violence and intimidation – and that the rest of us followed along like sheep because we were afraid of the consequences if we did not.

It was swimming day. We had a pool at the back of the playground, and a long changing room with boys at one end and girls at the other. Who stole his clothes? His towel? Who hid them down the girls’ end? The identity of the individual is irrelevant. The real question should be, ‘Who stood up for David and said that this was wrong, going too far?’ No one. Therefore, in my mind, we might just as well have held on to his possessions as a class and carried them from one end to the other like that.

The horrible bullying laughter started as soon as this poor little boy, naked and cold, realised that the safety of towel and garments had been withheld from him. His long walk of shame, from one end of that changing room to the other, lives with me still: He was so tiny and goose-bumped and alone, his genitals on full display to all. He made no sound, in my memory, but tears streaked down his cheeks.

Nobody hit him. No one punched or beat or kicked him. Not that time, anyway. But great violence was done to his spirit, his sense of himself as a valuable human being. If we had thrashed him black and blue, I don’t think the ripping of his soul could have been significantly worse.

I felt horror. I felt pity for him. I felt ashamed, deeply ashamed, of my own cowardice. I did not laugh or jeer, but nor did I run up and give him his towel back or whisper a kind word in his ear later.

I was every bit as violent, every bit as much of a bully, as the rest of them – because, even at eight/nine, I knew right from wrong and had the clear physical ability to say, ‘No!’

So, I think we have to be both careful and scrupulously honest when we say, ‘I could never do that!’ because turning one’s back on violence, pretending it is something else – whether it be physical or emotional – is a form of complicity in the act itself. It is no good whining later on, ‘But I didn’t touch him!’ because that is, in every sense, a distortion of the truth: For David, my eyes riveted upon his pale and trembling body constituted an act every bit as violent as the casual jeers and cat-calls.

I feel very strongly that, if we are to stop violence, we need to redefine its parameters. It is not good enough to take the moral high ground by claiming that we would not dream of physically attacking another, if our lives are full of instances of emotional violence.

It is not good enough that the society we live in still depends upon evidence of blood, bruises and broken bones to call abuse a violent act. It is not good enough that children like David still go to school in terror and are bullied relentlessly by their classmates. It is not good enough that we still kid ourselves that joining in passively is, in some way, standing back from abuse: It isn’t.


I agree with the words above, but I would turn them round and take them further because there are those who condemn physical violence – but think it perfectly all right to bully others into silence, victimise them and thrust their definitions of their victims’ lives upon them mercilessly.

Fifty years have gone by. I have never forgotten David. He taught me a valuable and sobering lesson: We all have the latent potential for bullying and violence within us – and it is all too easy to call it something else, refuse to face that part and try to wriggle passively out of deserved trouble.

My most honest answer to the covert question in the title would have to be, ‘But I have done it. I am no better than anyone else on that front. I have violence within me…’

Bullying and Tough Love: Transformation

Today, I have undergone a transformation. I have stopped being someone willing to allow bullies free and easy access – and have become a woman willing, and able, to say, ‘No! That is out of order!’

It has been a painful process – and, like all transformations, will require courage and determination to keep in place.

But, for the first time in my life, I have seen that I have the right to object to bullying behaviour! It is my hope that someone reading this post might also be transformed.


I was bullied at school, with words and fists, terror and boots, as a child and adolescent. My boundaries, as a result, have always been extremely weak and pliable – and it has been dead easy for people to get at me and then claim that their response is either tough love or that I am over-reacting.

Tough love is a concept which is very open both to debate – some think it is helpful; others don’t – and abuse. But, whatever the truth, it only works if love is a component part of the toughness. Otherwise, it can come perilously close to outright bullying.

Other children saw me as nice and, for the bullies amongst them, WEAK. Two factual things made me stand out from my peers at primary school: I had a weird name and an upper middle-class accent. Both made me a target.

But underneath that lay a little girl who made allowances, who tried to be kind, who felt sorry for other children’s hurt and, all too often, confused the rage of the bully for ‘honesty’. As a result, boundaries were tested – and, every time I accepted insults, name-calling and cruelty, jumped over with ease. The bullying became physical.

But even back then, I was far more aware than I realised – though I discounted my intuitions as unkind or as some form of prejudice against certain children. I would always get a slithering uneasy feeling in my tummy about certain individuals. I am not an aura reader in the colourful spectrum sense – but I have an eye, or perhaps a digestive system, for darkness.

I allowed others children to shout names at me, to surround me in the playground, to beat me up after school and on buses because their excuses for doing so seemed so plausible to me: I deserved it; I was a snob; I was looking at them the wrong way; they were only teasing and I was taking it all far too seriously; they were using tough love.

This openness to bullying has been with me for decades. The pattern which developed during my marriage was typical: Unpleasantness, followed by reaction from me, followed by accusation of over-reaction to imagined insult.

It took me far too long to face the fact that, back in my childhood, the way I spoke and my given name were not good excuses for bullying; that the bullies, like all predators, sensed incoming prey and went for the jugular. It has taken me far too long in my adult years to stand up and act upon that inner unease certain individuals still inspire in me – and to say, ‘That was out of order,’ irrespective of whether they agree with me, and accept my right to autonomy and barriers, or not.

The question I ask myself now is this one: ‘Did I genuinely need to hear that message of unkindness – or is it more that the other person needed to say it for their own personal reasons?’

Because, let us be blunt here, people use the Get Out of Jail Free card of HONESTY to openly abuse, insult and hurt others – and then, when quizzed, say, ‘I was only being honest…’


My problem all my life has been a tendency to give others the benefit of the doubt – and, instead of responding with an immediate, ‘That was unacceptable,’ think – because this is how I have been trained – ‘Oh, maybe I have got it wrong. Maybe I did deserve that comment. Maybe it was meant kindly…’

But, once you allow anyone over the line of what is acceptable to you, there is no going back.

I can see now that I am not a weak person – but I do have fragile borders to my kingdom, and have allowed invasions by metaphorical Vikings far too often for my own inner safety.

It has got to stop. Tough love should only ever be used sparingly and in worst case scenarios. It is not an excuse for bullying. It is not a card used to get under the radar of what is acceptable.

The idea of over-reaction is, far too often, used by bullies as a justification and a form of projection. Instead of focusing on their behaviour, the whole thing then revolves around your (supposedly hysterical) reaction.

If something feels off, or nasty, or plain weird, to me, I have every right to object to it. I do not expect to be told that I am in the wrong for standing up for myself!

Been there. Done that. Got the ‘I Let Bullies Win’ t-shirt to prove it.

Said shirt is going into the incinerator today!

Protecting myself…

I find it almost impossible to hate others – even those who have harmed me. I usually end up empathising, identifying, feeling sorry for, forgiving, giving another chance.

Since childhood, I have been a listener – absorbing, sympathising, caring. And now, in my late fifties, I am going to have to learn one of life’s hardest lessons, for me: How to not listen; how to say to others, ‘I am not prepared to have this conversation with you.’ I am going to have to deafen my ears, and harden my heart, to their cries and entreaties, their emotional blackmail and threats. I am going to have to sever threads of talk which are toxic and draining – and I will struggle. It is terribly difficult for me to turn my back in this way: To refuse another a chance; to send someone away without listening. It hurts to even think about it.

All my life, I have been too soft, too malleable, too naive and gullible – in some respects, overly trusting. I tend to judge others by my own values, to give people the benefit of the doubt; to see good motives when, in fact, nastiness is at the core of their behaviour. Now, I am having to toughen up fast, to seal up the gaps, to wise up to life’s more undesirable realities, to recognise that not everyone is kind and honourable and honest.

I have, on too many occasions, given bullies a fair hearing. I have, far too often, allowed them their voice because I felt it just and equitable to do so; because I did not wish to deny people their say, or stifle their need to speak.

But, there is a perilously thin line between accepting an invitation to be heard in a healthy way – and using that platform to abuse, to sow doubt, to launch an attack upon the listener. And it has taken me far too long to learn to erect barriers of cynicism, of doubt, in order to repel the negative and protect myself from harm.

The sad thing is this: My gut instinct is finely-tuned, and my body tends to act with violent surges of pain to any threat. So why do I not batten down the hatches and curtail the chat? I know when conversations feel off in some way. I know when I am under psychic attack. Yet, I cannot be assertive soon enough to stop the flow, to limit the poison. I cannot put a metaphorical ice-pick through the brain of the fiendishly clever rhetorical speaker, cannot bring myself to interrupt the scatter-gun of increasingly hostile questions, cannot even find the words to interject and divert the danger elsewhere.

Manners are important. Consideration is too. But sometimes our early upbringing – with its long list of rules about what is construed as rude and insensitive – can be counter-productive. And I find it very hard to be rude, to interrupt another’s story, to put a phone down on a hostile caller. I have been brought up to wait my turn, be patient, be polite and kind, to LISTEN rather than talking – and to feel guilt, even when the fault is not actually mine.

In consequence, I am lamentably easy to bully, to talk into or out of things.

I crave love and approval and warmth. I loathe and dread conflict and anger, and people breaking friends with me. The weaknesses of this are very obvious: I find it almost impossible to reject those who harm me, and to stand up to anyone lest they turn against me.

I am having to learn to say ‘No,’ – and to keep on saying it even when the other ignores me and carries on with his or her diatribe.

Most of all, though, I am having to practise – and practise hard – the art of taking a scalpel to the dialogue sooner rather than later and, even harder, not caring what the other person’s response to my rudeness is.

It is desperately difficult for me.

I can call upon protectors from other realms – and do. But, ultimately, I also need the means, from within, to repel unwanted visitations.

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