Bullying: Resurrecting Buried Trauma

When I was about 13-14 I was bullied at school. Not physical attacks; it was nothing so obvious. Name calling, “teasing”. I was the quiet one, the one who didn’t get involved in playground games but would rather spend time around books. I didn’t have anyone I’d call a friend, not because I didn’t want friends but because I had no idea how to form friendships.

I became more and more fearful of being at school. I used to fantasize on the journey there in the mornings about opening the car door and jumping out, although I was too afraid of injuring myself to attempt it. At the time I couldn’t articulate how I felt: I wasn’t able to put a name to my emotional state. My grades declined and I often didn’t complete homework, leading to punishments. I felt completely alone, insecure and vulnerable.

Things reached a climax one morning. I’d dressed in my uniform as usual but I guess my fear and anxiety had risen to some critical threshold and when my father called for me to get in the car I stayed in my room. He got impatient, started shouting and came into my room to fetch me. I was afraid of the shouting and when I saw a clear path past him, out of the room, I bolted.

I ran across the hallway and into the room opposite, slamming the door shut and leaning up against it. He banged on the door, demanding that I open it and come out: I didn’t move or respond. He broke through the door, breaking it from its hinges. I think at that point I had broken down in tears: my memory is not clear. I think my mother must have intervened because he left and I was able to return to my bedroom, wedging the door closed with a screwdriver driven into the door frame.

I stayed in my room for weeks, even months, only venturing out occasionally during the day when I knew it was only me and my mother at home. I don’t know what went on outside my own little world during that time but eventually, because I’d not been attending school, social services became involved. I was taken, rather unwillingly, to see a couple of child psychologists.

They spoke to me as to a young child, completely failing to make any kind of connection with me. I think when I did respond to them I was monosyllabic. There was never any indication that they had any insight into how I was feeling and I wouldn’t have been able to enlighten them given my alexithymia. I knew I couldn’t go back to that school, but I couldn’t even explain the reasons inside my own head. Not for years, until I eventually learned to identify and put names to my emotional experiences.

You’ll notice I haven’t described, except in the broadest terms, what bullying I suffered. If I do retain any detail about it in my memory I am unable to access those portions of my life. Approaching where they are locked away triggers warning pangs of fear even now, nearly 30 years later, and I back away.

I know I still have issues that stem from being bullied. Any teasing is immensely hurtful to me. I’m often afraid to be as expressive as I’d like to because I expect to be ridiculed. Even though I often don’t show much feeling, particularly negative emotions, I make an effort to give nothing at all away about how I feel unless I’m somewhere I feel comfortable. I’ve suppressed some aspects of myself for so long I wonder if they’ve withered away.

Most days I don’t think about that period of my life, and I’m happy about that. However the recent activity centering around an awful article on ADN that casts bullying in a beneficial light has brought old feelings back up towards the surface, unsettling me. I hope I’ve explained here why I fail to see anything positive about bullying.

UPDATE: Starting to wish I’d not written about this: it’s triggered stuff I’d rather not have to deal with. It’s too late now: the damage is done and I’ve got to let the tears and residual anxiety pass. Get on with my life. But we can never completely leave our past behind us.

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15 thoughts on “Bullying: Resurrecting Buried Trauma

  1. Take care of yourself. You have built a life despite those bullies. I agree with you there is nothing good about bullying. I hope writing this doesn’t cause too many memories to surface.

  2. I relate to a lot of this. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I know from experience what it’s like to go through bullying and I know it’s not fun. Thank you for sharing, I hope you have a great day.

    • While it’s awful that anybody can relate to such experiences, it is some comfort to know that people understand: thank you. Today involved a big slice of chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream, so it definitely counts as good!

  3. Reblogged this on The Asperger Blog and commented:
    I hope Karen Sisto has read some of the responses to her article 10 Perks Kids with Autism Get from Bullying and sees that there are no perks that result form it but rather how much of a lasting impact bullying can have on the lives of victims and the memories and traumatic experiences it can trigger, as detailed here

  4. Hi Alex. I keep restarting my attempt at a response to this.It’s been over half an hour now,but as soon as I go to type my thoughts,I lose them. I want you to know that I read this. I relate deeply to your pain and anxiety. The ADN post was such a shock. I hope that you,me and all the many others so upset by it, can quickly put the lid back on memories that are just too painful. This is stilted,clumsy and took an hour altogether.It doesn’t say much (my head won’t let me) but it is my attempt to connect with you in appreciation of what you wrote,and how you feel. Much love xx

    • I completely understand the struggle to express your feelings in response to a post: it’s happened to me countless times. Sometimes the emotions defy your attempts to put them into words. I really appreciate your empathic connection. Love, Alex. xxx

  5. Reblogged this on bunnyhopscotch and commented:
    More on the topic of bullying, another eloquent piece from Alex.
    While the fires rage on, the people who have promoted that terrible article (by a self-proclaimed experienced and successful ABA therapist) are stolidly refusing to back down… When will the self-proclaimed autism-focused ‘support’ programmes, practitioners, organizations, etc start to actually LISTEN to us autistics? Or are our voices invalid to your ‘higher order’ interpretations of who we are and what we feel and what’s good for us?

  6. I also have Asperger’s and I was also severely bullied all 12 years of school, myself. And I also had a hard time explaining the situation and why I was scared to death to go to school as well, and both of my parents literally became violent with me to force me to go to school despite my severe panic attacks. Once, my mother physically dragged me out of the house while I was in the middle of a panic attack, pushed me into her van, drove me to school, and parked in front of the school building where everyone could see us out the windows, and said she wasn’t moving until I went to school. And when I started to beg and plead with tears streaming down my face for her to please not do this to me, she started to honk the horn of the van and refused to stop until I got out and went to school. I had to get out of that van while everyone was watching me out the window, including teachers, and walk towards the school with red, puffy, teary eyes, just to get her to drive away. Then I bolted down the street as fast as I could run in the opposite direction that my mother drove. But she saw me do that, so she turned around and chased me, and dragged me back into her van, and pushed me into the school building. The entire time, she kept yelling in my face that she “knew” that the only reason I didn’t wanna go to school is because I was lazy. I tried to tell her I couldn’t take the bullying anymore, but she just kept swearing at me and calling me a liar, and saying that I was lazy. I literally NEVER lived that day down. Never. Even after I graduated, when I would run across people I went to school with on our college campus, they would point at me, call my name, and remind me of that day. I never respected my mother ever again, and I attempted suicide a couple of times because of the whole situation and the fact that no one helped me and no one even listened to me. And when I see those people even now, at 36 years old, it immediately triggers panic attacks. So, Karen Sisto, do you wanna tell me about the advantages of that?

    • Thank you for sharing this awful, traumatic experience. Perhaps if people become more aware of the harm this kind of treatment causes it might help prevent it happening to others in the future.

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