How To Forgive Bullies From The Past (And Why It Matters)

Toa Heftiba

Bullying is something that we have all faced at one point in our lives or another. Whether it be at home, at school, or on the job; we have all had a moment where a person or a group of people seem to want nothing more in life than to make you miserable. The bullies pick on you, call you names, embarrass you, and gloat when they get to see the tears rolling down your face. You can’t understand why anyone would be so mean to you and you let their actions slowly pick away at your self-esteem. Even years after the bullying ended; just the mention of your bullies name is enough to make you want to throw up. You develop a deep hatred for these people who stole precious moments of your life and made you miserable.

I know the hatred well because I hated the kids who bullied me at school for years after I graduated. And I know; hate is such a strong word, but it is the only word I can use to accurately describe what I felt when I thought about how poorly some people treated me as a child. Almost a decade after I graduated and moved away from the little town I grew up in, I still seethed with anger when I recalled the mean names chanted at me, remembered the post-it-notes my peers stuck to my back (and what they wrote on them), and relived being humiliated by my peers as a child.

The anger towards our bullies stays around for so long, especially if you were bullied at school because we expect so much more out of our peers. We expected to be part of our class, to be accepted by our peers, and to be safe and happy behind school walls. We expected our classmates to look out for us in the same way a brother might look out for his sister and we never expected them to turn their backs on us, hurt us, and demean us. It’s confusing, hurtful, and makes us believe that something is wrong with us. Something must be terribly wrong with us for our own peers to treat us so poorly.

Why was I bullied by some of my peers? Because I was different. Because I was socially awkward and needy. Because I didn’t have the right clothes or the right hair style.

But what my bullies didn’t know is why I didn’t have good clothes or why my hair was cut so short and choppy. They didn’t know that I was needy because I was craving positive human interaction so badly. They didn’t know that I was socially awkward and unable to open up to them because I was hiding such a dark secret about my home life. They didn’t know that I was being physically abused at home and the reason I wore turtlenecks in 90-degree heat was to hide bruises around my neck.

They didn’t know anything.

And if they didn’t know what was going on with me, how in the world can I hold a lifetime grudge and hatred against them for reacting immaturely to what I was going through? What they did to me when I was their classmate was wrong and hurtful on so many levels; but in order to move on from my past and forgive, I had to see things from their point of view. I had to look at myself at that age through their eyes and understand that the majority of them were just following the crowd because they didn’t know any better.

They were just kids and they didn’t know any better.

When I made the New York Times, I began to get a lot of emails from former classmates of mine, emails filled with apologies and obliviousness to what I was going through at home. I received an email from one of my worst bullies; an email begging for my forgiveness, proclaiming that they wish that they could go back in time and take back everything that they did to me. I received emails from teachers who looked the other way, (and at times participated in the bullying), from old neighbors, and people from my little town that I only knew by the first name.

After I read each of those emails, the years of anger and hate began to melt away. Did hearing “I’m sorry” help with that? Probably. But to be honest, reading those emails made me remember that they were all just little kids at the time; unable to act maturely and deal maturely with the situation I had going on at home. They knew I was a little different and they didn’t know why, so they reacted and treated me accordingly. Many of them were following the crowd and trying to fit in with the “strongest” bully. Many were afraid of being bullied themselves, so I was an easy target.

How can I stay mad at them?

I can’t and I won’t harbor a grudge against my bullies anymore. I will never forget what they did to me, I will always wish that I had gone to a teacher and gotten help, and I will forever have a sad spot in my heart when I think about all that I missed out on as a child; but I won’t waste another moment being mad at my bullies. I forgive them because they were just children. I forgive them because they are raising their children to be kind, loving adults. I forgive them because I stopped, put myself in their shoes, and saw my childhood through their eyes.

“The truth is, unless you let go unless you forgive yourself unless you forgive the situation unless you realize the situation is over, you cannot move forward” Steve Maraboli

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