Advice from the Trenches: Bullies — the Reality Show

bullyDear C and Dr. B;

I have known my mechanic Tom for many years now and we’ve had some good talks. He’s always reminded me of someone from my past and it was quite a surprise when I realized recently who it was — the school bully who used to torture me on the playground. As it turns out, Tom actually was a bully when he was younger.

It’s funny, because my mechanic is a really nice guy now, a good dad, a hard worker. We each have a very different way of looking at the world, but he respects me and finds my opinions interesting. I suspect that 35 years ago he would have probably been making fun of my clothes and giving me a bloody nose. But now, we find that the differences between us make for good conversation, and when he talks about the past, he’s ashamed of how he acted.

I got to wondering what would happen if bullies or abusers and their “victims” were brought together after a lifetime of experience. If they didn’t recognize each other, do you think that they could become friends? I think it would make for a better reality show that most of the crap out there.

Billy not Bully


Dear Billy,

You’re right – this would be a much better and healthier message than the superficial NON REALITY junk shown on TV. But I’m not sure it would work out as well as it did with your mechanic.

I have seen many reactions by abusers and bullies when confronted – denial, outright outrage, telling them it didn’t happen that way or that their accuser was crazy – and none of the outcomes were positive. I think that a better way is to take the AA approach – write the letter, but don’t send it.

It’s heartening to know people can change and grow, but not all do. Some people have been truly traumatized by their childhood bullies and for them, just growing out of it is simply not an option. They would probably be further traumatized by the reunification. Forgiveness is a cultural buzzword, and we would like to believe that it always applies, but it doesn’t. For the human psyche, some things are unforgivable. – Dr. B

C says: I must concur with Dr. B’s assessment of confrontation. No one wants to have a ghost from the past suddenly appear, pointing a bony finger of blame. If your abuser is still an asshole, you could find a gun in your face these days. And what if your nemesis has had an epiphany and taken on the cloth? You’d feel pretty silly confronting a nun.

Your mechanic friend may remind you of your childhood bully, but he is not your childhood bully. That makes a huge difference. Just as ex-spouses can never really be as impartial toward each other, I think that a bully and his/her victim will never be impartial toward each other. They might work at being friends for the sake of the camera, but sooner or later, the buried feelings would surface.

Could you bring a bully and victim together in a reality show without either of them realizing who the other was? Not unless someone had a really good plastic surgery job. If an experience has hurt deeply enough to stay with you for so many years, the perpetrator is burned into your sense memory. It’s not just the looks, it’s the little things – the way they tilt their head when they say a certain word, the way they look at you, the scent of their skin. You remember.

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