Would it be a mistake to reveal these things about my past?
April 6, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Could it be potentially damaging to my career or personal life to reveal things that I want to reveal about my past? In particular, it pertains to bullying and its effects on me.

Recently, I have wanted to sort of "come out" to the world as someone who was bullied. I'm over 30 years old now, and it's long in my past (though it does have lingering effects on my behavior, they don't prevent me from functioning quite well in my career, being financially stable, etc)...

What I want to know is - could this, if tied to me personally, have negative effects on my career? My social perception amongst existing peers? New people who I might meet who may run across it? Of course, you'll need to know what I plan to reveal if you want to judge that:

I feel that I have a lot of interesting things to say in terms of the perspective of a bullied child. From the time I was in about 5th grade to the time I was 18 and finally left high school, I was bullied relentlessly. I didn't break 100lbs until I was probably 16 years old. I was short, and frail-style-skinny... I was a "smart kid", and may have come off as cocky because of my word choice, which might've brought it on even more... I spent my younger years mostly associating with adults, and therefore speaking more like an adult...

The bullying was wide ranging... The stuff you see on TV was all there - being shoved into lockers, thrown into dumpsters, having my books knocked out of my hand. However, it often went deeper than that. I couldn't feel safe walking home from school - I had bullies who'd follow me, threaten me and sometimes hit me. I couldn't trust even my friends - who turned on me for a number of years and joined in the bullying. People would play tricks to get other people to bully me - such as writing letters "from" me, "to" a bully... There was a vast amount of emotional abuse as well - daily if not hourly or even more frequent put-downs from just about everyone... I had the crap kicked out of me more than a couple of times... I pretty much spent my entire life in a brain-state of "fight or flight".

As a result, I spent most of my childhood, even as young as 10 years old, feeling suicidal. In high school, I often cut myself (even my parents do not know this) - but not to the level of a lot of "cutters"... mostly just hard scratching with a knife, enough to break the skin but not be a true "cut"...

The thing is - going away to college changed my life in unimaginably good ways, and I've since graduated and functioned well in society. I haven't felt suicidal since those high school days, and I haven't intentionally inflicted pain on myself since then, either.

There are still lingering effects - I have issues trusting people, I am extremely defensive, and I certainly have self esteem issues as it pertains to my physical appearance. However, I do just fine in my career, have been well liked at most any job I've had, etc... so I'm no longer the walking screwup I used to be...

Would revealing stuff this deep be a huge mistake? I have a great desire to write about it - especially in terms of giving people a better understanding kids who end up shooting up their schools, or killing themselves, etc etc... but I feel like it's a huge risk -- both personally and professionally...

If I do it, I don't really want to do it anonymously, and don't know how I would, anyway. I suppose I could buy a domain name and put up a blog about it and pay for anonymity, but I don't really want to "blog" about it regularly -- I'd rather it be a post on MY blog, which is about all sorts of stuff.

End goal? I'm not 100% sure, but mostly I feel I have some insight to provide that nobody's writing about. An added bonus would be hearing from / talking to people who have had similar experiences, and understanding what lasting effects they've felt in terms of their personalities, etc...

Is this a stupid idea?

Throwaway email for questions: closetbullyvictim@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you intend to make writing about bullying a significant part of your career I wouldn't do it.

To do it "right" you'd need to publish a book or two and that probably requires having some pre-existing career in psychology or the study of human development or the like. That is, to be taken seriously you need some deeper bona fides other than, "This is my story, plus my non-professional assessments..."

I think it would be really hard to be Mr. Anon who works in marketing and happens to have side hobby in talking about bullying...

It's not that I think it'd be a "mistake" but at least some of the people around you would be like, "Oh yeah, that's the guy who won't shut about being bullied as a kid..." Because many people were bullied, and it didn't have the same life-altering effects you experienced, thus they are likely to be dismissive.

Furthermore, if you've never sought professional therapy, then that may be a better outlet for talking about your past. With the help of a professional you may realize that the subject isn't as interesting or as useful as you believe...
posted by wfrgms at 10:10 AM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

You don't say to whom you plan to make these revelations, but generally, I can't see that it would be harmful to your career, etc. to admit you were bullied. If you're intent on putting it out there, and you think writing about it might be cathartic, by all means, have at it.

Lots of people were bullied as kids. I was an effeminate, awkward late bloomer, with the added benefit of having my own father be a not-particularly-popular teacher at my small-town school. I was bullied mercilessly, pretty much everything you describe. It was horrible, and I lived in constant fear, faked sick to avoid school, made my poor mother worry endlessly. But everything turned out just fine once I grew up and got the hell away from my hometown.

If grade-school comes up in conversation, I don't hesitate to tell people that I hated school as a kid because of bullying, and among my friends, anyway, it appears most had similar experiences. We were all just weird, and frankly, I will always prefer the weirdos. I like knowing these things about people I like -- it makes me understand them more to see them as vulnerable, like me. I don't, however, seek to actively bring past bullying up.

I can't imagine anyone judges me poorly knowing this about my past, but who knows. All of us acknowledge that, though distant, childhood bullying probably plays some continuing roles in our self image, confrontational skills and esteem issues.

All that said, though, I would avoid putting specific details out there on the internet about cutting or suicide attempts or the murderous fantasies your childhood self had about those bullies. You never know how your current colleagues will respond to that sort of thing, even if it's long in the past, and once it's on the internet, it's there forever.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2009

If it's just a post on your blog, I don't see how it could have any effect on your career ... but then, I don't know what your career is. But I'm kind of confused about what it means for you to "come out". I hope you don't plan to announce to all your colleagues that you were bullied, because that'd just be weird. It's not like everyone assumes you weren't bullied. People at work don't really care one way or another, I'd imagine, and it'd be weird for that to be a part of your public identity in the same the way that sexual orientation can be.
posted by creasy boy at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2009

I agree with wfrgms for the most part, except maybe for the last bit about it not being interesting or helpful, as that's impossible to know unless you actually right and publish something.

It sounds as if the writing itself might be theraputic for you. Why not break this into separate issues, i.e. should I write about this; should I publish; should I do so anonymously? You don't need to answer them all the same way.
posted by jon1270 at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2009

I don't think it's a stupid idea. I think it is natural to want to "come out." But the big questions remains unanswered: how to do it, who to tell, how you present it, etc.

I have a chronic disease. It's not visible from looking at me or interacting with me. So I need to decide to tell people. I often do tell people, whether it is an employer or a new friend, or some stranger at a party. (I recently met someone at a party who was doing research on my disease, MS. So we chatted about that.)

It's nice to be comfortable talking about that aspect of myself. But the two key things are (1) that I am comfortable about it, which makes the person I'm talking to comfortable, and (2) that the person hearing me understands what I'm telling them, and has a matrix for processing it.

People --- especially employers --- are used to hearing certain kinds of personal information. They know how to deal with it. Specifically, they know about hearing that someone is gay; they know how to hear that someone has an illness or disability; they may know how to hear that someone is Jewish and will need to take certain holidays or limit work on Friday afternoons.

But there are other kinds of things where the reaction might be, "why are you telling me this?" For example, what if an employee walked up to me and said, "I just wanted to let you know that I was raped when I was a sophomore in college. It's an important aspect of my life." I'm not sure how I'd react to act. I guess I'd take a deep breath, thank them for telling me, ask them if they expected it to effect their work in any way, or if there was anything operational that I needed to know in terms of how I relate to them, etc.

Ditto for other personal experiences of violence. The question is, "why are you telling me this?" If it's just who you are, great. But if it's that you're still in the middle of a healing process and you need me to participate in that healing process, then that raises more red flags.

If you wrote something on the Internet, or a magazine article or a book? I wouldn't see that having negative consequences at all. I wouldn't worry about it. Sharing yourself is great.
posted by alms at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

In what way do you envision it harming your personal and professional life? I would imagine that a lot of people can identify with the type of physical and emotional bullying you describe; I know I had a lot of that in my junior high years especially, and I think if I regarded it as something I needed to keep as some sort of dirty secret that that would keep it alive and actively venomous in my mind, something still capable of reaching out across all the intervening years to taint and hurt me. Being able to address it casually - through stuff as shallow as sharing a laugh with other folks about horrible junior high experiences, or occasionally commiserating with someone else about some of the truly painful stuff - somehow lessens its power and makes it something I can regard as part of my past and not something still looming over me in the shadows and demanding a spot in my conscious thoughts at all times.

It can certainly be overdone, and yeah, you probably don't want to focus on it exclusively - both because that could lead to you becoming perceived as "that person who won't stop talking about being bullied" and because maybe there could be a point where you passed through "catharsis" and into "unhealthy dwelling" ... But if you're really only talking about discussing it in the occasional blog post in amongst lots of other things you cover I don't think it has to come across as excessive or damaging, depending on how you frame it. Lots of people have been bullied. If the fact that you were one of those people comes out in the occasional blog post, I don't think that is necessarily a harmful thing and perhaps it could even be a helpful thing.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:29 AM on April 6, 2009

Point 1: Everybody thinks that their past gives them some unique insight into human behavior that the world would benefit from hearing.
Point 2: Some people really do have a unique insight, and they become famous and/or influential.
Point 3: People who "come out" in this fashion, making traumatic events of their past into an important part of their identity, provoke both respect and ridicule: respect from those who sympathize, ridicule from those who think they should just get over it already.
Point 4: If you are in the U.S., then bullying is pretty securely on the get-over-it side of that spectrum; I think you'll get a lot more ridicule than respect. (Can't speak for other cultures.)

You could really make yourself look silly doing this. Please note that I'm not saying that I would find you silly, or that you should be considered silly. I just think that you will be considered silly.

So if you seriously want to do this, then make sure that you really have something original to say. Are you sure you do? How many books on bullying have you read? How are your opinions different from the current consensus of psychologists? What specific steps do you recommend that school administrators take to improve things, and how are your recommendations different from those of other experts? If you don't know the answers to these questions, then find them out first before you decide what to do.

Like jon1270 says, there's no reason not to write about this (for yourself at first). And there's no reason not to get active in whatever anti-bullying movements are out there. But be wary of "coming out" with grand public statements, at least until you're very sure of your ground.
posted by equalpants at 10:32 AM on April 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

wfrgms is probably right. What, exactly, do you hope to gain here? Relief? Absolution? Understanding? Seriously, talk to a therapist. For most people, especially those that aren't your family or close enough friends that they basically count as family, this is way too much information. Most people really just don't want to know. All they want to know is whether you've got your issues and past under control, and even that only to the extent that it might affect their interaction with you. The specifics are not only irrelevant, but distracting.

You're all but asking to be labeled as That Guy Who Won't Shut Up about how horrible his childhood was. You're already coming off as pretty damn impressed with your own suffering. Seriously, lots of people had childhood experiences which were a lot worse than yours. Most of them don't feel any compelling need to Tell The World about it. I myself had a pretty rough time in junior high and high school--not related to bullying, but nonetheless traumatic--but I generally assume that most people aren't interested, and more to the point, neither I nor they will benefit by them knowing the gory details of my admittedly rather unimpressive bout of youthful angst.

You are not a big screaming deal. Most people aren't. The idea that the world just needs to hear your story is wrong the vast majority of the time, especially if you aren't doing something productive/artistic with it. We're doing just fine, thanks. Unless you've got something more interesting to say than the mere facts of what happened to you, do everyone a favor and limit this to your therapist, family, and close friends. What you risk by making a big deal out of this is being defined by what happened to you twenty years ago rather than by what you're doing now. I know I sure as hell don't want that for myself, ergo I only talk about that sort of thing when I'm absolutely sure the person I'm talking to wants to know, which usually means them asking to hear it. On preview, what equalpants says.

If you need to find an outlet, do so. But airing your history in public is generally a bad idea unless you fall into one of a few exceptional categories which don't seem to apply here.
posted by valkyryn at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2009

I think that if you actually speak up about it, how it effected it you and how you emerged from the ashes, it would help others. I don't think you have anything to fear. It could very empowering when you share this from the stance of strong warrior survivor rather than from the vantage point of victim.
posted by watercarrier at 10:44 AM on April 6, 2009

Your employer and your co-workers are not your therapist. They're not even your friends. If you make a big deal over this, the implication may be taken that you want special kid-gloves treatment because your history of bullying victimization makes you cringe when shouted at, or etc.

Unfortunately, it's not so unusual. I suggest you find your emotional refuge away from the arena of work, where maintaining a slight hard shell of impersonal distance is probably wiser.
posted by zadcat at 10:44 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think that if you just post about it on your blog, assuming your blog is not a professional blog, it's unlikely to have much of an impact on anything. People post all sorts of things on their blogs, and lots of people had troubled childhoods. Unless you are much more famous than I would imagine you are, only your friends will care, and they will be sympathetic.

I wouldn't bring it up directly at work. Your colleagues are not your therapist, and they don't really need to know you have difficulty with trust issues or why. If you happen to have 'difficulty trusting others' show up on your annual review, you might mention it then, but keep it brief, and don't use it as an excuse, but as background information from which you expound on the subject of how you are working to improve that aspect of your professional behaviour.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:51 AM on April 6, 2009

At my place of work, people would be supportive, probably extremely so. Some of our staff's side projects have touched on extremely personal issues, and nobody has thought that to be inappropriate. Do you have a mentor who knows you professionally whom you could ask? Could you tell your current boss your plans, mostly just for her information, and then as a quick aside say that you'd appreciate knowing if she thinks this is a bad idea, and that you're open to any feedback or thoughts she has moving into the future?

If I were considering hiring you, and I came across an essay of this nature, the character you reveal there would shape how I would see you, but it sounds like you'll be sharing this in a mature way. (You might proceed slowly and get feedback on something before deciding whether or not to make it public.)

In general, your taking the time to share the impact of your childhood with others in a thoughtful, positive way would likely increase my respect for you. For example, someone I know met a prospective person to date, and googled her name, and found a well-written, revealing essay about her mastectomy. As my friend considered dating this woman, it was a huge positive to know this person was a caring, thoughtful, self-aware, articulate person.
posted by salvia at 11:13 AM on April 6, 2009

equalpants makes a good closing point, why not get involved in bullying prevention/education campaigns in your area? If you feel you've got special insight to share, that's the place to do it, not through some grand "coming out" at work.

If you make a big deal of it at work and talk about it a lot, that's really overdoing it I think. No one wants to hear about your issues all the time in the workplace.

But if you're out in the community, getting involved and sharing your perspective, that will help you feel that you're really using your experience to make a difference. And you can mention it to your co-workers without making them groan.

In short, it's ok to mention it in the workplace, but don't overdo it or let it define you. The community is your outlet, not the workplace.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2009

I would have to agree that bringing it up in relation to your workplace wouldn't be that great of an idea, but if you really feel the need to get it out and somehow make some sort of difference, you could always volunteer to go talk at a school assembly.
Nowadays, bullying in school is taken more seriously, and there have been quite a few anti-bullying campaigns cropping up. Google a bit to see what I mean.

I think it's good you want to do something with your experience instead of "stuffing it". If you even touched one kid, you'd have made a difference.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2009

I would keep it as separate from the workplace as possible unless you're applying for a job where you would work with people who have been abused.

I work in customer service for a financial company and (particularly during the recession) there are some ANGRY AMERICANS calling us rather frequently. I disclosed my shyness during the interview and it turned into a rather big deal. They called my references and asked whether it had impacted my performance at previous jobs.

The less said about your personal life, the better.

Having said that, you should write about the experiences in your personal blog all you want - just don't put your full name or a ton of identifying information on there.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:10 PM on April 6, 2009

Boy there are a lot of harsh responses and cynics.

Do it.
Don't second guess yourself.

You could approach it as a book or you could post something on your site, or set up a new blog on Blogger or Wordpress and post anonymously or at least separately if you wish.

Remember that a lot of people who are famous for some sort of expertise weren't necessarily trained in that field. Some were, but don't let it stop you if you don't have a psych degree.

Sure, everyone has a past and everyone has opinions and perspective. But you just never know who might be touched by your experience. I wrote a piece years ago about a life experience that eventually led someone to forward comment about how what I had gone through touched her life and made her feel less alone.

Point 4: If you are in the U.S., then bullying is pretty securely on the get-over-it side of that spectrum

Which is just another reason the OP needs to do this. Bullying needs to be more carefully understood and on a level that's going to make people understand the impact on people's lives. What better way than to demonstrate that impact; to humanize and put a name and human being behind it? People here have mentioned clinical texts and people with stuffy degrees, but in many cases, people relate more to regular folks.

And because you're just a regular person who happened to have gone through a lot of trauma and emerged functional, people might be really inspired. I think the fact that you are mostly okay now, and doing well in your career will blunt any potential negative reactions. You've shown your strength and everyone goes through something.

So follow your heart on this. It might touch and inspire someone, and when you get that comment or email or note that you have, trust me you will be floored.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:24 PM on April 6, 2009

Not sure why it would matter in your worklife unless you make a point of harping on about it. Blog all you like, but I wouldn't make it an issue at work unless there is a very specific reason to do so.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:26 PM on April 6, 2009

follow-up from the OP
People seem to be talking about me talking about my past with coworkers etc -- if possible, I'd like to get a clarification in there: I only intend to write about it, and post to my blog etc... I have no intention of talking about it at work, or telling random people. Perhaps "coming out" was a horrible choice of words - what I really meant was that I'd be "outed" if anyone ran across my blog posts... it's a revealing part of my past that very few of my current friends, and none of my current coworkers know. I wouldn't be actively trying to tell them about it -- I just figure they'd likely run across it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2009

I don't quite understand why you're contemplating revealing your traumatic past to your co-workers. What purpose would that serve? A momentary commisseration, maybe. There are many people in your workplace carrying deeper, darker secrets from their past with them.

However, you do have a story to tell, and you may help some people by telling it. Why not consider putting it into an article and shopping it around? Bullying has been in the news a lot in recent years, and your story could emphasize how there is no way for a child to just ignore it or get over it; that many times they feel so alone and terrified and tired of the abuse that suicide seems like the only answer. You could explain how your only salvation was finally getting out of school and that there were no magic solutions before that; you only survived because you managed to hang in there until you got out of a very toxic situation. The ultimate point of your piece could be that the "blame" for bullying often falls on the victim; such kids are told to tough it out, ignore it, etc, and that's rarely possible. Your story could implore parents/educators to recognize the symptoms of bullying and to help children who are subjected to it. Quite frankly, all the counseling in the world isn't going to change the attitude/behavior of bullies (IMO, anyway), and you might want to encourage parents to simply remove their children from such situations (change schools or home school). You know better than many what would've helped in your situation. Would it have made things worse if your parents complained to the principal? Would the bullies pick on you even more because the principal told them to lay off? Would you have preferred to be transferred to a new school?

If you simply want to vent after all these years, then maybe a blog post is the way to go, but if you not only relate your own experiences and also offer solutions - things that you would've wish had been done when you were in school - you could possibly sell a story that could help a lot of other folks.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2009

Write about it to the world, but don't talk about it to your coworkers in particular. There's a huge spectrum of revelation that runs from actively keeping it a secret to telling everyone about it all the time. You want to be somewhere in the middle.

Lots of people have hobbies that include helping out causes that they're passionate about. As long as you're not saying anything that would cause people to doubt your competence at work, there's no reason not to try to use your experience to help others. If this bullying still causes you to cut yourself, or has turned you into a lifelong alcoholic, or gives you panic attacks during the workday, I wouldn't reveal those things, because they might cause people to lose confidence in your ability to handle everyday stress. But if your writing is along the lines of, "I went through this difficult thing, and I had a really hard time for a while, and here's how I got over it, and I hope this will help anyone going through it or trying to support others who are going through it," I say go ahead and write about it.
posted by decathecting at 1:35 PM on April 6, 2009

I think you may overestimate quite how much time your coworkers spend searching for your blogs - chances are they would only ever come across them by co-incidence and even then people will be like I never knew that about X and forget it again. Fact is people don't really care - they will note it in passing but it is a far too common experience for anybody to be really bothered by it. As long as you do not say things that will cause people to doubt your ability to do your job/would discredit you and your employer go and blog away.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:17 PM on April 6, 2009

For me, this immediately brings to mind Mark Pilgrim's blog post, Addiction Is... from several years ago. Dunno if you know who he is, but he's a blogger and author, muchly about technology and software development. Anyway, he came to my attention with that blog post, which had nothing to do with most of his other blog posts. I can only imagine he felt a need for the catharsis, and decided to do it on his blog.

I thought it was wonderful and amazing, and it kind of defined, or illustrated, or demonstrated, what was possible. You can be a well known blogger and author, about Python and other languages I know nothing about, and then get up one day and write that blog post, setting loose all your demons, and people will respond positively. His story, and your story, IS interesting to many people. I think it's wonderful and amazing.

However, he was fired for it.

Doesn't mean you'd be fired for writing a cathartic blog post about your painful past. And I don't think anybody should be.

It just seems to me like maybe, if you're interested in sharing your bullied past with people, you might just share it with your friends. If there is any doubt in your mind, don't write it on the internet where people will be digging it up on archive.org for decades to come. Unless, of course, you want them to. Just be clear with yourself on your intentions. If those aren't your intentions, open up to people who have become close to you. It might bring them closer.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:05 AM on April 7, 2009

You own your past, so use it in whatever way will help you. You're not very likely to help or inspire others unless you're a particularly talented writer or have a truly unique perspective to share. But I don't think you are likely to see negative professional or personal repercussions either, so it doesn't hurt to put it out there. Do it because you want to, and if others find some value in it, then so much the better.
posted by Chris4d at 11:07 AM on April 7, 2009

And I meant to say: I don't remember the particulars of why Pilgrim was fired. Were the grounds that he admitted to illegal behaviors that he had engaged in while employed by the company? Or was it just for perceived negative attention? No idea. You were bullied *on*; you didn't beat people up ... there would be no reason for you to be fired and I didn't mean to imply that you would be! I'm particularly devil-may-care about these things. I think I just meant to point out that some attention you receive *might* be negative. Hopefully not from your employer. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:24 AM on April 7, 2009

This MeFi thread reminded me of your question. A guy with some horrific bullying experiences writes about it on his blog; reactions are, even on MeFi, somewhat "mixed"...
posted by equalpants at 2:51 PM on July 17, 2009

« Older What happened to PMI?   |   Does anyone know anything about using quinacrine... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.