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When I was at school, I received quite a lot of verbal bullying. This waxed and waned over the years, and generally it was patchy enough that I could put up with it in the long term, even if in the short term I had some miserable days. But there was one guy, who I’ll call Brian, who was very persistent. Even when we left school at 18 and most of my peers had long since grown out of this sort of behaviour, Brian was actively seeking out chances to put me down and show his contempt.

It’s 10 years later and I am soon to be attending a school reunion. There are some old friends who I’m excited to be seeing, and a load of other acquaintances that I’m less bothered about, but with whom I’ll be happy to chit-chat and catch up a little.

Then there’s Brian. I know it’s silly, but I still get a little tight in my chest thinking about the fact that I might end up bumping into him. I have no idea how he will react to seeing me – I’m guessing that he has probably grown out of the bullying, and even if he hasn’t, I’m more confident now in brushing off that sort of crap. Weirdly, what I’m more worried about is that he might cheerfully come up to me and ask how I’m doing, either forgetting or ignoring the way he behaved towards me in the past. If that happens, I’m really not sure how I should react.

  • I don’t feel that I have anything to gain from a confrontation – I’m unlikely to have any contact with Brian beyond this, and I strongly suspect that bringing up the bullying will not resolve anything and could make me look petty to others who are present.
  • The idea of being friendly towards him as if nothing has happened bothers me.
  • I also don’t want to spend the whole day actively avoiding him, as that would interfere with meeting other people.
  • I want to have a clear idea about what I might say, as I know that if I’m caught off-guard, I may end up making bitter comments or creating awkwardness.
  • My ideal outcome would be to end the conversation as quickly as possible, without being confrontational, but also without being false – I don’t want to pretend I like Brian when I don’t.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Nov 11 '17 at 1:30
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    This is great. I had this happen to me recently. The guy, then, was peer pressured into starting a fight with me. It ended with me pummeling him on top with the art teacher pulling me off of him. All the kids who wanted him to do it were sitting on the fence watching. Anyway, I ran into him working at a Starbucks, and he served me coffee. I was looking good, and he knew who I was. I've never really told anyone this, but I felt great that day. I guess my advice would be, focus on doing what's right, be kind, work hard, and you will pass him by one day as a better man. – user2322 Nov 11 '17 at 19:13
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    Also, just for the sake of it, if your curious, the leader of the group that pressured him into doing it, I saw her too. She is an animal control officer. Kinda weird endgame... – user2322 Nov 11 '17 at 19:16
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    @Strawberry it's not happened yet, but I'll try to remember to add an update when the time comes! – user2390246 Nov 13 '17 at 17:51
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    @Strawberry Turns out he wasn't there, or at least I didn't see him. Boring answer, but I'm fine with it! – user2390246 Dec 16 '17 at 19:19

13 Answers 13

110

Time changes everything. He may be embarrassed by his past behavior, he may have forgotten, he may have even thought you were in on the jokes and not hurt by them.

What matters is now. If he's friendly, then let it be. Who knows, you may have a new friend. This happened to me at a reunion. People who gave me a hard time in school are now some of my best friends. It's the past and it's best for YOU to let it go. Holding onto old hurt feelings takes energy from your life that you don't need to spend. I'm saying this from experience. I had a hellish existence growing up with a hearing impairment, autism, and neuromotor issues from brain damage. I was walking around with a HUGE bull's-eye on my back. But, people age and mature.

If he's still a jerk, then that is a reason to ignore him now.

As for his past behavior, don't confront him, don't ignore him, and you don't have to engage him at all. If he wants to bury the hatchet, let him. If he treats you like an old friend, let it go and make a new friend. Don't focus on old wounds, let them heal. It's better for you, which is what matters.

Don't let him be the focus of your reunion. Have a good time and don't overthink it.

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    +1. I had not considered it that way, but that's definitely an ideal to aim for. I'm not entirely sure that I would be able to pull it off, but well done that you were able to move forward and gain some friends despite the past! – user2390246 Nov 9 '17 at 17:54
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    "If he treats you like an old friend, let it go and make a new friend." I think there's a lot of wisdom in letting go of the anger, and the power of forgiveness, but suspect (don't know for sure) there is nothing much of value in pretense, which is how I interpret the line. – anongoodnurse Nov 9 '17 at 21:06
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    “If he’s still a jerk, then that is a reason to ignore him now.” I think this is a very important part of the answer, and could do with being expanded on. I agree with the rest of the answer - if the person is being sincere. But a lot of child bullies grow up to be bullies, and seeing whether that’s true in this case before, say, becoming friends with them might be wise. Many bullies can be fairly nice to one group (the cool crowd, for lack of a better word ;) ) and cruel to others. Sometimes bullies change their mind about who’s in the cool crowd - but don’t change fundamentally. – Obie 2.0 Nov 10 '17 at 8:56
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    These are good words. Also please consider that if a person has PTSD, eliminating unwanted and intrusive negative feelings (about childhood bullies) may take more than a simple act of the will and may not be rooted in simple bitterness or in holding a grudge. To heal old wounds from PTSD usually requires deep investigation into the past traumatic events in order to reprocess them. Until this is done, the sufferer can experience “recapitulation,” when events trigger implicit trauma memories to arrive, without any sensation of recall to bring awareness that the feelings are sourced in the past. – Sojourner Nov 10 '17 at 18:25
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    This happened to me. I was getting a drink after work with a friend, and standing next to me at the bar happened to be a guy who I used to have a rather hostile relationship with. He recognised me and immediately said he felt guilty about how he used to treat me, and wanted to apologise. He seemed really sincere, so we shook hands and agreed to put it behind us. We chatted for a bit, exchanged gossip about old mutual friends and what they're up to these days, and went our separate ways. As much as I disliked that guy before, it felt good to see he'd changed, and to let go of the grudge. – anaximander Nov 14 '17 at 11:04
53

If it were me I would just practice what I would say. I didn't have this with my class reunion, but oddly I ended up with someone from my home town and had some angst over his class reunion. The point is I decided what I would say, rehearsed that and had it ready. It need not be complex.

Hi,it's nice to see you are doing well. If you can excuse me, I have some people I knew in high school I want to go catch up with.

And then you just walk up to someone else you actually care to talk to. If he persists or come back around you can add to that something like this:

I am not really interested in rehashing high school with you and we weren't really friends, so I would just prefer that we not talk about any of it. Thanks

And again, exit.

You do not owe it to him to hear him out, make him comfortable nor does it serve any purpose to tell him exactly what you think of him. This just shuts it down. You can ignore anything said to you. I don't even recall what was said to me. I had practiced enough in my head I knew what my reply for anything would be, so no need to actually pay too much attention.

You are right though. I have never heard of someone showing up to the reunion and continuing a long ago bullying pattern. I am sure it must have happened somewhere, but it's not typical to see. What is more common is people acting like they always liked you and have no clue why you don't love running into them.

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    Solid advice @threetimes, and I upvote. But I did not really understand this part: "I didn't have this with my class reunion, but oddly I ended up with someone from my home town and had some angst over his class reunion. The point is I decided what I would say, rehearsed that and had it ready." – English Student Nov 9 '17 at 17:26
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    @EnglishStudent I had the same confusion (why rehearse for what someone else is going to say at their reunion?); eventually after multiple readings I understood. What [threetimes] means is that they did have this issue with a reunion they did attend; only it happened to be not the class reunion of [threetimes] but that of someone else from their home town. So, before attending this reunion about which there was some angst, [threetimes] decided what to say, rehearsed saying that, and was ready. Does that make sense now? – ShreevatsaR Nov 9 '17 at 20:30
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    Nice! Being well prepared is certainly the way to go @Ayt Ayt. – English Student Nov 9 '17 at 22:06
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    @EnglishStudent Sorry, that's the part I tried to clarify: (Assuming that [threetimes] is female) what she's saying (as I understand) is that she also went to his class reunion, and it was she who had the angst about going there (because they are from the same town, there are probably people in common). So she prepared in advance for what she would say, when she went to his reunion. Does that make sense now? And yes I agree, it's great advice! – ShreevatsaR Nov 9 '17 at 22:13
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    Oh yes, I am sorry for that part being unclear. I meant my husband. I ended up "with" meaning marrying, common local phrase. He offered for me to skip the reunion, but I didn't want to allow this person to still make my life uneasy even years later, so instead I worked out how to handle them. – threetimes Nov 10 '17 at 13:48
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I have had this happen to me, so I'll pitch in.

Meet and greet him like you would any other from way back when

If he has grown up by the slightest amount he will be slightly ashamed and uncertain how to handle meeting you. If he is not, pity him - but don't give him any attention. You don't have to, anymore. I remember very well that just meeting my friends and schoolmates brought me back to how it was, I was suddenly very much the same person I used to be. It surprised me. However, I was also able to notice this change in me and "hold on" to my new persona, or my evolved/experienced self, if you will. As you, I was bullied to some extent at school, but fortunately through college and later years I found my place, my voice and my self confidence. Your self confidence, which you won back in the years after school is there still, and will remain there. Trust it. The best way to test it is to meet your old nemesis with a blank sheet. If you can do that, then you have risen above it. The old feelings were very near to me, but I was in charge.

In my case, the person who had bullied me came up to me and apologied and shook my hand. I said - in essence - "thank you, that is more than I expected and it means something to me, all is forgiven." It was a very profound moment for me. Later that evening when I had returned home I kept thinking about it, I shed some tears. I called my mother and we talked about it. And I am a grown man. Weird how stuff from the past still can impact the present. The main point is that even if he was a bully and you were a victim, that is no longer the case, unless you let it be the case. Just hang on to the present state, you are a grown man, your self confidence is within you and within the things you care about and the things you have created - it is actually not possible to hurt it. Your feelings are going to be all over the place - to acknowledge ones feelings is something a "centered" person must do. Your feelings are your feelings, they are not you, the core of you is not as fragile as it was. For the new you, it is possible to be sad, hurt or afraid without caring about appearing weak.

My advice is: Meet him like any other person, but don't hang around unless you want to. Go talk to someone whose story you'd like to hear. Maybe he'd like to talk to you. Maybe that's ok. Maybe he is the same dickwad he used to be. You know now the world is full of dickwads, he is not special in any way, he is just like the others. No point spending any time around him.


edit: I wrote this as if you were a man, since I am one. If you're not, everything still applies, just replace the pronoun with one of your choosing.

9

My ideal outcome would be to end the conversation as quickly as possible, without being confrontational, but also without being false – I don’t want to pretend I like Brian when I don’t.

You can do just that. Look up ways to exit a conversation and you can engage in small talk about what's changed in profession, school or life and easily end it, since this is your ideal outcome with him. You said there are other people you look forward to meeting, so you already have one easy exit, "Hey, I'm going to go say hi to Jane ..." and there's nothing awkward or unusual about that.

Just a final thought: my high school bully was physically violent with me multiple times. I never got to see him again because he committed suicide. It could be a bully has a lot going on in his or her life that causes them to act out that way. I never wished to see him, until I had heard that he had passed. Then I realized that I missed an opportunity to be gracious to him and let the whole situation go. It may not feel good to do that at the time, but it might be an experience you later are glad you did. Just consider it; I'm not suggesting being gracious. But it might free you for the rest of your life.

Besides, he may not even be there at the reunion.

  • 1
    "Besides, he may not even be there at the reunion." If he actually has shame or regret over his actions, there's an even stronger chance he won't go. Or possibly go just to apologize, but that might be a bit hopeful – user3316 Nov 9 '17 at 22:11
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An alternative point of view. How much do you really want to be attending this reunion?

As someone who was profoundly bullied all the way through school (and I mean all the way, from age 5 until I left at 18, with daily physical, verbal and emotional abuse), getting away was by far the best thing for me. I used to come home at Xmas and go out at New Year and bump into the same people, and although we were old enough for there to be no active bullying, the same undercurrents were still there. Then my parents left town, and there was no reason to go back.

Facebook was around by then, so I still had all these people on FB. I deliberately hadn't friended (or accepted friends invites from) the worst bullies, but they still showed up in my feed because people on my friends list knew them. As you do, I was FB friends with a lot of people who were only really acquaintances; and most of them had been bullying me at some point over my childhood anyway.

It was about 5 years ago (and that makes it 20 years since leaving school!) that I did something about this, which was unfriending them all. Of course for most people that's no big deal, but for me it was about why I did it. I finally accepted that it was OK for me to completely cut away this part of my past and everyone associated with it, and I didn't need to still let it bother me. I now have 4 or 5 people from school on my Facebook who I genuinely want to keep in touch with, and that's it.

Might they be decent people now? Might they even want to apologise? Possibly. I don't care. They are not people to me - no, actually, they're less than people - and they do not occupy my head any more. Giving them a chance to show they're decent people now would be for their benefit, not for mine, and it's taken me 20 years to accept that it's OK for me not to give them that space in my head.

So would I go to that reunion? Hell no.

  • As said OP, there are quite some he wants to see, that "Brian" is the exception. But for a general purpose question (more than the specific case of the OP) I agree. – Walfrat Nov 10 '17 at 10:47
  • @Walfrat is right: personally, I would see this as a defeat as I would miss out on what would otherwise be a positive experience. However, the answers aren't just meant to apply to me but also to other people who might be in similar situations, and for that reason, I appreciate your providing an alternative view. – user2390246 Nov 10 '17 at 11:08
  • @Graham: You can actually block people on FB and you will never see anything about them, even if it shows up in friends timeline or whatever. For all intents and purposes, at least on FB they won't exist for you. – Tom Nov 10 '17 at 14:01
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My suggestion is to approach the situation like a meeting with a professional acquaintance (but less formal, for sure). Or, to use another picture, imagine Brian was trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner (my advise obviousy doesn't apply if you are rude to salesmen).

Be polite, greet him if he greets you, maybe even engage in smalltalk, but else, concentrate on those people you actually want to meet again and keep him on distance and remain unapproachable. The only exception is, as in anongoodnurse's excellent question, if he genuinely wanted to apologize.

This way, you are not rude and minimise the risk of a confrontation. If you are rude, you may ruin the evening for you also, and I don't think that he deserves that much attention and expletion of energy from your side. You may even make him appear to be the victim in this situation. If he is confrontational, just smile and leave him alone.

Furthermore, you don't need to wrap your head around what to say - just the standard stuff like "Hello", "Thanks, I'm fine" (maybe even skip the "How are you?" to end it even earlier), "Have a nice evening". If he wanted to apologize - it's maybe possible, but in this special case I would trust myself (i. e. you yourself) to find the right words and such a discussion you might not want to cut short.

3

To answer the part of your question in bold; if he approaches you in a cheerful manner I think you should call him out on his past behavior.

Oh hey Brian. God, what a dick you were in high school. I'm sure you grew out of it, but damn man, (had to get that off my chest for a minute). How have you been?

Here you acknowledge his past behavior to you, taking away the awkwardness you might feel and giving him an easy chance to a quick apology so you both can exchange some smalltalk and move on quickly.

If he does end up being a bit of a dick still, you can say he hasn't changed much after all and just turn away.

  • I very much agree with this one. Even more, you can ask "Why did you treat me like that? Do you know how much damage you caused?" This could help bring you closure. – axsvl77 Nov 14 '17 at 14:41
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You just brush him off and ignore him. Like you said, you outgrown the problem and you will not gain anything from talking with Brian. Simply respond to his question and move along with any conversation you had prior to that. Being rude in this case is the right answer.

3

About 25 years ago, there was a guy in school who used to bully me from time to time – at other times however, we were something like good friends.

2 years ago, I met him again and we chatted a bit together. Later in the conversation (he always was a big TV fan) he mentioned the TV series "My Name Is Earl" where the main character had a list of persons whom he was about to apologize. He told me that if he had such a list, I'd be on it as well. It was not a big deal, but meant a lot to me.

  • Did he use that situation to actually apologize to you? Or did he just say that he has thought about apologizing? To me those are quite different things. – Kaspar Scherrer Nov 15 '17 at 13:43
  • @Cashbee It was clearly meant as an apology, and it sounded quite honest. – glglgl Nov 15 '17 at 14:18
2

High School reunions have a weird way of putting us right where we were socially and emotionally then. It's the only experience your classmates had with most of each other, so... I can see a bully wanting to relive his days as "joking around".

But you're an adult now. Maybe the bully is, too. Maybe he was put in his place and has regrets, but you'll never know if you simply ignore him, unless that's what you've decided to do no matter what.

I would advise you to be open to a conversation with the bully if he approaches you. If it's superficial and not forthcoming, you can say something gentle, like, "You don't remember much about our interactions, do you?" You can excuse yourself at that point, not having caused a scene. Or you can risk talking about it. You're a different person now, and this is definitely a vulnerable spot to be in. But you have the potential to be asked for forgiveness.

Please keep in mind that I neither was a bully nor bullied in high school, so I don't speak from direct experience. Mostly I speak from the hope that people change.

Good luck.

2

I think what you have to consider here is that there is no catch all answer. There are a list of answers here that range from embracing him and forgiving him to blowing him off to not going to the reunion at all, and they are all valid options.

The bottom line is, you were the victim of Brian’s bullying you. That means you have the right to proceed with this reunion in the way you see most fit. You have to determine what you want and that is going to be based upon your own character. As others have pointed out, maybe he will be apologetic, maybe he will be the same jerk from your youth. In either circumstance you need to be prepared to handle it the way that will give you the most satisfaction and closure.

Maybe you decide to be gracious and decide to forgive him, even if he doesn’t ask for it.

Maybe you feel the need to let him know he was a jerk and that his antics left an impact on your youth, even if he seems like a better, changed man.

Maybe you both act like nothing ever happened and become best friends.

Maybe you act like you don’t even remember his name and act totally uninterested in interacting with him.

Any option is valid (well, short of getting violent) and you just need to determine what will give you the right type of closure.

Good luck!

1

Freedom is what you make of what has been done to you.

As a person who has had certain things done to him while at school, things I did not appreciate and did not ask for I do know what you went through

You should absolutely take this opportunity to see this person again. If for no other reason as to get personal closure. He may have changed or he may not have.

Know that you have nothing to feel bad about, you did not do anything wrong. Take this opportunity to mention to this person what he has done to you and how it made you feel, he may have feelings of guilt as to what he did, if he does, give him the opportunity to apologize.

If you can forgive him, this you do not do to free him from his guilt but just so that you can find closure.

  • This; the one purpose of the reunion for everyone should be to get closure on pain that ended long ago. – axsvl77 Nov 14 '17 at 14:42
0

All through my school years, I was picked on, but not for the reasons you might think. I was a devout Christian and the Holy Trinity was as real to me as anything you can see, hear or touch. I was commanded to turn the other cheek and I did. The mindless unwashed ones saw this and took full advantage.

One small fellow in particular got in the habit of abusing me all the way through high school. He would approach me with a kind of anger that would well up inside him and erupt out from him like hot lava. He acted as though he were the deliverer of holy vengeance and that I was the trashpile deserving only of his hatred, anger and abuse.

I went to college and lost my faith, in exactly the way most young people do. Not in that angry "questioning god" way. Just the realization that God wasn't an old bearded white man flinging lighting bolts at the evildoers. The logic that the bullies had gotten away with it, without being destroyed by God, was a crucial reality I had to accept.

When this happened (very quickly after I arrived), I began to have dream alternate versions of confrontation with the little fellow. Most dreams had me pinching his head off like a live shrimp. Other dreams had me choking the breath out of his body or smashing his head on the floor.

I had these dreams 2-3 nights a week for two years.

Then one day, I began to realize that as I progressed at college toward my engineering degree, that with each win, the recurrence of the dreams lessened.

Then I began to win in life, and the dreams lessened yet more. A new, exciting job with great work and pay, a little less. An intelligent, committed and beautiful wife, a little less. Healthy, strong, intelligent sons, a little less.

I'm definitely not rich. By some standards, I'm barely middle class. But whatever space I'm in, I own it. Whatever I do, I do my best and enjoy the fruits of my work. I have a great career and home life that's peaceful, fun, healthy and secure. I have plenty of days without fear and although the dream is still clear in my memory, (as far as I know) it has left my sleep.

I went to that reunion, and he was there, and held out his hand as-if to try to erase the past, make something different that has never existed. I looked at his hand, saying nothing. I was nauseated by the mere thought of touching his flesh. His wife watched, a look of confusion on his face. I knew she couldn't know any of it - how else could she have married him?

Reunions, apologies, prattling small talk. None of this is compensation, reward, new beginning. None of it erases what was and gives you back what you lost. If there is an answer, it's so stupid that it defies understanding by you.

Survive and thrive by being a better you. Go further and farther than they can ever imagine. Be someone they never knew and can never know. Be someone they would want to apologize to, would like to "have a beer with", but can't because you are gone from the world of fools and idiots. Evict them from your planet.

And remember, never, ever to visit on another human being the hell you survived. You have an obligation to help others, because you know. You have precious, painful knowledge and you've got to help others like you, especially when you see it happening. No, they won't understand your help. But if you can plant a seed, then you might be responsible for their escape the same way you are responsible for your own.

protected by NVZ Nov 10 '17 at 22:21

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