(How) should I apologize for bullying?
November 13, 2010 1:25 PM   Subscribe

How should I apologize to a guy I used to bully as a kid? Or should I do it at all?

When I was in junior high I used to bully a kid I went to school with, who was a grade below me. I sincerely regret this and haven't done anything like it since. I have a nice-guy reputation now, and I work hard at it.

I've located him on Facebook, but I'm not sure what to say or if it's even worth saying at this point.

Other info:

- I was also bullied, so I should have known better
- This kid was actually a really nice person
- I'm sorry we weren't friends.

I'll probably never see him again, but I feel like this might be helpful to him. I don't know if it will be helpful to me. I read a previous post about "what to say to a bully who apologizes" and there were some advocating a pretty jerky response. I think that would ruin my day/week/month possibly year (course I probably ruined his).

Have you done this before? How'd it go?

Am I just trying to make people like me because I'm super stressed out? Argh.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (80 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think there is a good answer for what you should do in this case. It seems like the important things to ask yourself is

1) Are you prepared to get a nasty response from him? 'Cause it sounds like you very well could.
2) Do you really know what you yourself want to get out of it? Because it's really about you, not about him at this point.

That is all.
posted by dubitable at 1:29 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi, I got bullied a lot in junior high, but I have long gotten past it. I hope to hell the bullies got past it too. What you plan may seem like a nice thing to do, but are you doing it to to make a new friend, or rid yourself of guilt?

If you still want to get in touch, make a genuine connection with him as a person, not the subject of your former bullying or a black stain on your past. Leave it at "How has your life been?" He may want to open up, he may tell you that he still hasn't forgiven you and never will, or he just may not respond at all.

Honestly, though? I wouldn't bother. Forgive yourself without getting him involved.
posted by griphus at 1:33 PM on November 13, 2010

Oh, and if tells you to fuck off, don't take it to heart and don't judge yourself by it; no one gets out of this world without a rap sheet and you'll never know if he has done things much worse than your bullying him. Some people don't forgive, and you must understand and accept that. You are hopefully as good of a person as you can be now, and that is all that matters.
posted by griphus at 1:37 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should apologize. I think it could be meaningful for him to realize that the person who bullied him recognizes how wrong it was, and it sounds like it's important for you to acknowledge that you did something wrong. You need to go into it knowing that he may not forgive you, but it sounds like you know that. For me, telling someone how sorry I am is an important part of forgiving *myself*.

I have a little bit of personal experience with this. When I was in high school, I apologized to a middle school classmate I made fun of and helped to ostracize from our social group. And recently, in my 20s, I apologized to a good friend I stopped talking to in high school because I was too depressed. In both cases, I realized my actions hadn't made nearly as big an impression on them as I thought they had, but my apologies did clear the air for us to be friendly acquaintances. I think maybe as we grow older we realize that we did dumb things as kids that just came out of how hard it can be to be a kid or a teenager, and of course we regret them, but we don't hold them against each other.

I would tell him your three bullet points under "other info." Good luck!
posted by zahava at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's what I would do:

1) Write him a letter, telling him all the things you want to tell him
2) Wait a week
3) Reread the letter to make sure you still feel the same way
4) Acknowledge your own remorse and grief
5) Destroy the letter

You need to spend some time with your own feelings, because I think you're right that this is more about you than about him. You didn't ruin his life, and if there's anything wrong in his life now, you can't fix it. What you can do is be honest about your feelings and try to forgive yourself. I wish you all the best.
posted by decathecting at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2010 [11 favorites]

If you feel compelled to apologize, do it. It seems to me like the right thing to do. His response doesn't really matter; having done the right thing matters. I think it's great that you wish to let him know you know your behavior was crap, even though you were kids at the time.
posted by goblinbox at 1:39 PM on November 13, 2010

Those three points you made, I'd write them out as a cohesive paragraph and then simply add that you have regretted your past actions and dwelled on them for some time, and that you are now a different person. End by saying that you apologize, and that you wish him a long and happy life.

I wouldn't push for a response and I wouldn't presume to ask anything about him. You blew your chance at deserving answers long ago, unless he re-bestows it upon you in a response.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm... I'm trying to think of what I'd want the people who bullied me at that age to say, if they wanted to do something like this.

Probably something really short and direct, like, "Hey -- just wanted to say I'm sorry I was such an asshole when we were in 8th grade."

And then just leave it at that and drop it. Then if a conversation about other stuff/catching-up conversation started, so be it, but leave that to him.

I have had the experience of middle school assholes seeing me around the hometown and being super friendly and wanting to talk, and while those conversations are always polite, internally I'm like "uggggh leave me alone."
posted by Ashley801 at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

Here is an alternative option:

What about doing some kind of "Good Wishes" or "Forgiveness" meditation or ritual - and then letting the past go entirely? Perhaps you could simultaneously make a donation to an organization (in your name or anonymously, only!) that educates adults and children on these matters as an external statement of amends while you are at it.

If you knew that contacting this fellow would bring nothing but sunshine and happiness into his life, I'd say to go for it. Since the consequences for this innocent party are unclear, I recommend making amends in a different fashion.

My two cents.
posted by jbenben at 1:42 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who didn't get bullied a lot, who who did get picked on a lot by one particular guy: don't do this. I'm a stable, gentle person who preaches non-violence, but if that fella contacted me I'd try to kill him. Some things I guess you don't get past.
posted by YamwotIam at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

I would appreciate such a message from someone who treated me poorly in school. People change, junior high sucks, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the kids who were assholes to me back then are now perfectly nice, worthwhile people.

So just do it. It doesn't matter "who it's about." Kindness and attempting some sort of connection to another person are so rarely bad.
posted by eugenen at 1:49 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really really like what Ashley801 suggested. I'm of the camp that if you've done something wrong to someone, you apologize. I personally don't have a statute of limitations for such things.

However, do it in the spirit of acknowledging your wrong doing and offering your sincere regret. Do not do it because you hope to get any sort of absolution of guilt. Do it for who you offended. He may come back and tell you off. So be it. He may shrug his shoulders and say "no big deal." So be it. You apologize for making his life miserable, not because you want to feel better (even though that may be an outcome).

Previously - similar to your situation
posted by Sassyfras at 1:51 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I ran into someone I wasn't very nice to, twenty years after the fact. I briefly apologized, as Ashley801 suggested. She sniffed, gave me a tight little smile, fingered the cross on her necklace, and said in her best Southern Lady, "Well, it's a good thing the Lord forgives!"

It was perfect. I probably shouldn't have even mentioned it, so she got her dig in, I got served, and we both moved on down the jogging trail. I loved her a little for that response.
We still see each other around town. But I'm not friends with her on Facebook or anything.

I'd say if you see them in person sometime, mention that you're sorry. And then get over yourself. But don't write some weird letter that may only serve to remind them of a not-nice time in their lives.
posted by pomegranate at 1:53 PM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you do do this, I would add a sentence in your message to the effect of "Please don't feel pressured to respond; I just wanted you to know how sorry I was." There's nothing worse than an apology that requires something of the recipient, even something as simple as clicking "accept friend" on Facebook.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:53 PM on November 13, 2010 [16 favorites]

Probably something really short and direct, like, "Hey -- just wanted to say I'm sorry I was such an asshole when we were in 8th grade."

I 2nd this. I would cringe to read a long, drawn out remorseful essay on how you've tortured yourself over this and now you're a better person. This desire to apologize is more about you than about him, but I see nothing wrong with that, as long as you're not turning it into some kind of guilt trip for him if he doesn't choose to forgive you. Send him a one-line facebook message; expect him to ignore it, and move on.
The worst that could happen is that he does in fact respond in a snarky or mean way, in which case, that's about him and not about you.
posted by purpletangerine at 1:54 PM on November 13, 2010

Why are you all assuming that he's doing it to purge some guilt? Even the OP isn't sure what his motives are, so I wouldn't bother trying to guess for him. If it was me, I might simply want to apologize for my shitty behaviour because I acknowledge just how much it might affect the victim.

As someone who was bullied through middle school and junior high, I'll tell you what I would want to hear:

-I want to hear you acknowledge explicitly how it was you bullied me.
-I don't want to feel like I need to reply to the message (although I probably would, and positively)
-I wouldn't want it to do anything with you.
-keep it short and sweet, something like:
"I was reflecting on our time in junior high and realised how much I probably hurt you when I did x. I apologise for any pain you have experienced as a result. Looking back, I wish I had treated you better, because I see now that you were a kind person, worthy of some basic respect. Sorry."

Good luck, but don't expect much to come from this. If it were me receiving the message, it would mean a lot to me, and I would probably tell you so, but you may find he reacts differently.
posted by sunshinesky at 1:55 PM on November 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

I got a letter like this a few years ago. It gave me a few moments pause. And then I wondered which 12-step program the sender was in. I got the feeling it was about the author and the author's feeling of guilt, not about me.

So if you feel like you've got to write something to get over your own issues, follow decathecting's advice. But keep up your current nice-guy behavior and don't drag your victim back into this.
posted by herrtodd at 2:01 PM on November 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Before you do this, maybe watch Anger Management, and especially the scene described in the fifth paragraph of the linked article. Of course that's a comedy version of this particular topic, but it gave me an intense lesson about "better not return to old sites".

If you write to him, skip the "I should have known better". It's not about you, it's about him. [also it isn't true. Only those who know the bully-dynamics from within have an urge to bully]

[and also: no, normally I'm not such a huge fan of Adam Sandler]
posted by Namlit at 2:02 PM on November 13, 2010

As someone who was picked on by specific people, I would love if they would have acknowledged this when they friended me on facebook--instead of just ignoring it. However, be careful in your apology to focus on your behavior and how it was wrong and he deserved better, rather than making excuses for it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:04 PM on November 13, 2010

I'll probably never see him again, but I feel like this might be helpful to him.

That's a very condescending thing to think.

Thinking back to the people who bullied me worst in school, I would mainly like to forget their existence. In fact, I have forgotten their existence except for occasions like this when I'm called to think of it. I would not like one of them to try to insert themself into my life again, regardless how unobtrusive and conciliatory the manner.

I do not think you should write the message.
posted by frobozz at 2:04 PM on November 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'd skip it. Who wants to be reminded of something unpleasant from a zillion years ago? You might feel better for apologizing, but how is he supposed to feel being reminded of being a target? You get to stroll away, feeling virtuous, and he's stuck in 8th grade.
Go and sin no more. Make a donation in his name if you really feel strongly about your actions. But unloading your guilty conscience is an act that's calculated to make you feel better, not the guy who gets to hear/read your apologia pro vita sua.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:04 PM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was bullied by a real b*tch in junior high who is now a kindergarten teacher. I would LOVE to know she recognizes that what she did was wrong, has some guilt about it, and will defend others in her role as a teacher. I get the feeling that it wasn't even a big deal to her and THAT is what still irks me 15 years later.

Like some responses above, I would want it to be short and to the point and not expecting any forgiveness from me.
posted by parkerjackson at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was bullied in high school (25 years ago) by two different cliques of nasty girls.

I now have an occasional professional relationship with a couple of the now-women from one group. I'm sure they don't even remember me as the girl they'd target on the netball court, tripping me deliberately to maximise skin-removing impact on the tarmac surface. I would think much more highly of them if one of them said, "hey, I can remember how badly we treated you in high school. I'm sorry, I've grown into a better person".

I encountered the other group of girls at a high school reunion. One of them thought it was hilarious to introduce herself to me as someone else entirely, and didn't take it well when I used my most condescending facial expression and said, "that would be funny if I didn't know you are (Jo Blow)". The worst instigator spent the night glaring at me with her arms folded, which only served to make my night even better. I partied my butt off, and it obviously upset her that I was having a much better time than she was.

I think apologising would be good for your conscience/soul/kharma, whatever you want to call it. You're asking here, so it's obviously troubling you to some extent.

Go ahead, do it, and damn the consequences.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:10 PM on November 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

I was never bullied, so I don't know how I'd feel about that. But if you do it, write it out first, give yourself a week, re-read it, and then decide whether to send this apology. I also agree with the people who said to make sure it's not an apology requiring anything from him, even anything as simple as a response. And FFS have tough enough skin that you can just accept a nasty response from him, if that's what winds up happening.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:18 PM on November 13, 2010

How long ago were you in junior high? I don't know what I'd suggest if, for example, you're fresh out of high school.

I've been away from my bullies for over a decade, so that's given me some time to forgive and forget things that I was probably still sore about as a freshman in college. None of my bullies have ever apologized to me. Some of them friended me on Facebook, though, and some actually interact with me on a regular basis. I see that they are mostly well-adjusted adults now, and that's all the apology I need.

Kids are kids. They're mean because they're going through a difficult time, and they'll do anything they can to feel like they're not the awkward ones. They grow up. They aren't so awkward anymore. That's life. That's actually kind of the annoying part about it because there have been times I wished I could be justified in continuing to hate them. (I'm looking at you, Megan.)

You should probably leave him alone and let him approach you if he wants to. But if you feel strongly about it, you can try friending him on Facebook. Then it'll be up to him to accept or reject. But I still wouldn't make a big deal of apologizing. Just be a decent person to him. Or, at most, send him a message with your friend request that says, "Hey, man, how've you been? Something reminded me of you the other day and I remembered what an asshole I was to you..." and continue as you see fit.

Whatever you do (or don't), let him have control of this situation. You took that away from him when you were kids. Show him some respect now.
posted by katillathehun at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2010

Please don't do this. I ran into my elementary school bully not too long ago, and he tried to apologize. All it did was make me angry - angry that he was trying again to inject himself into my life, angry that he thought an apology would make up the damage he did to me, angry that he brought back all those memories.

I think you're trying to make yourself feel better about what you did, and that's understandable, but don't do it at his expense.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not friends with the people from my past who've hurt me, but the couple who have attempted to contact me later and apologised at least have my somewhat grudging... well, I wouldn't say respect; I've forgiven them because it's better for me if I do so, but there is a an acknowledgement in my heart that they have grown and changed and possibly aren't the same person they were when they hurt me. And there was no "I'm sorry if I hurt you" or vagueness; in their apologies they acknowledged their actions and said they were sorry and had continued to regret them, without excusing or justifying what they did.
posted by lemniskate at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the record, I find the situation where someone who bullied you in school now wants to be friends on Facebook and catch up and such to be presumptuous. We weren't friends then, we're not friends now, and the attempt to change that always feels self-serving to me. Oh, you're sorry? Good for you, then. I accept your apology. I still don't give two shits about you, so please go away.

At best, I would accept the friend request and send a few messages back and forth for the purpose of confirming that you are an ass and I definitely turned out better than you.

The best possible scenario for this would be that we ran into each other in person, you apologized in a sincere way and then backed the fuck off.
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you do this, I would say something like "You probably couldn't care less now, but I realize that I was quite a jerk to you and some other people back in junior high." I wouldn't like someone to imply that it would be a weight off my shoulders or that I was still traumatized by the experience. If it were true, I'd feel weak ashamed, if it were false I'd feel angry and condescended. If the guy has gone on to a healthy life, he probably never thinks about you. Do him the favor of assuming that is the case.
posted by bluejayk at 2:43 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi there,

You mentioned you were bullied too. What would you want to read as an apology from someone who bullied you? What would they say to you that would make that apology feel genuine and heartfelt? That might be a start.

I think that if you write something like that it would be hard for anyone to find fault with that (without being too wordy). You're not looking to become his friend, and so long as you're not looking for him to absolve you of anything then there's no harm here.
posted by fantasticninety at 2:46 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

How long ago did this bullying take place?

The most appropriate time to apologise is RIGHT AFTER you do something that upsets someone. The longer you leave it, the more you actually have to do (not just say) to make things right.

If this took place over, say, a year ago, the apology is all about you. It's about making you feel better. It's about making you feel less guilty. And while it might have the added side effect that the other person feels better, that is by no means a given. I had to spend years sorting myself out after high school. Getting an apology from one of the people who bullied me now would simply be an insult. Them saying a few words will not undo anything. It wouldn't help. Having anything to do with someone whose interaction with me was 100% negative would simply be another 100% negative interaction. I don't need that.

Over time, for the most part, I've forgiven the people who bullied me. That's because it was about me making myself feel better. It's not about them at all.

Consider this: what will you do if it backfires? What if you upset the person in question all over again? How are you going to sort THAT mess out?
posted by Solomon at 2:54 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

For a lot of great reasons mentioned above, I would not send him a message. But if you decide to do so, do not friend request him - send him a message without friend requesting him. Let him keep that ball in his court.

I had some teasing here and there, but was never really bullied. But in middle school, an 8th grader tormented a 7th grader on my bus (we were in the same grade. went to elementary school with him, but wasn't friends with him because I wasn't really friends with boys back then). A friend and I decided we had enough of the eighth grader bullying him twice a day, every day, and we went to a school counselor to report it, because the 7th grader wouldn't it himself. He was too scared/shy/nice of a kid. It mostly stopped after that. I tried to look up the bully with hopes of seeing that he's become a failure at life, but he has an incredibly common name, and my curiosity searches were futile. He may very well have grown up to be a decent guy, but even though I wasn't personally on the receiving end of his bullying, I would want to cuss him the fuck out, at bare minimum, if I ever ran into him.

That's great that you've moved on and changed. That's great that your friends think you're one of the nicest people you know. But it isn't up to the kid you bullied back then to give you acknowledgment or validation that you changed. I would recommend that you leave this person alone, and not interrupt where he may be in life.
posted by raztaj at 2:54 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 26 years old and well past my elementary school and junior high bullying. That being said, if I were contacted by one of my old bullies, I'd tell them to go fuck off. I don't live in that world anymore, but I'm not going to help you assuage your guilt. I've done some stuff that I feel remorseful for in the past. I'm not going to help my bully feel better and atone.

For my bully, he sent me home crying, blackmailed me, tortured me, turned my friends against me, and basically made a few years a good living hell. I don't care if he was just a teenage boy being a boy. Fuck him. Seriously, fuck him.

I say don't do it.
posted by SNWidget at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I got a letter like this a few years ago. [..] I wondered which 12-step program the sender was in. I got the feeling it was about the author and the author's feeling of guilt, not about me.

I agree-- it's easy for these kinds of things to come across that way. And while an apology is nice, making too big of a production about your feelings to someone who likely doesn't care much for you at all isn't just a creepy imposition, but may also send him the fresh insult of your presumption (however accurate it may be) that he still remembers you. (Even though he almost certainly does remember you, he would no doubt rather be seen--and see himself--as a grown man and not that kid you picked on.) To avoid putting him in either icky position, I'd make your apology very brief and informal, something like:

"Hi [Name],

I noticed your name on [whatever Facebook page] and wanted to tell you how sorry I am that was such an asshole to you back at [school name]. It's embarrassing for me to even think back on that, and I would take it back if I could."



Finally OP, don't beat yourself up over this. Jr. High was an awful time for so many of us, and it seems as though you grew to become an empathetic adult.
posted by applemeat at 3:11 PM on November 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

Just don't do it. As you can see, the responses here range from "I wouldn't mind" to "I would be so angry as to want to kill the former bully." You won't do a lot of good if the guy is over it, and you may really hurt him if he's not. There is no great outcome here, only neutral to bad ones.

Do what you need to to move on without getting in touch.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:16 PM on November 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Contact him, but don't mention bullying. Just be nice. A person I knew in high school, who was kind of mean to me did this a couple of years ago. We now have a great relationship in Facebook. I am happy she did this, since she is really a nice person now that she has grown up.
posted by fifilaru at 3:27 PM on November 13, 2010

How much of a bully were you? That part of this question is way too ambiguous, and it might make a difference.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:28 PM on November 13, 2010

There is no great outcome here, only neutral to bad ones.

Just wanted to add that I, personally, would probably have a positive reaction to this if done right. I'm one of those people who (although I believe in forgiveness and envy those people who can forgive without any action from the other person) finds it extremely hard to forgive with no apology. So if this were still rattling around anywhere in my mind, even back in the furthest reaches where I hadn't thought about it in decades, it would help clear it out. That's just me.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:29 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd be interested to see the gender breakdown--and age (i.e. how many years since the bullying occurred) corresponding with this thread's interesting mix of responses.

I also think this might be relevant, and also how severe the bullying was. For me, I'm female, this all happened to me ~15 years ago give or take, and none of it was ever that damaging. It made parts of my day crappy, made me want to avoid certain classes or parts of the school, but I was never physically assaulted, still had friends, was still generally happy.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:31 PM on November 13, 2010

lots of advice, going in several different directions. My $.02...

... if you decide to say anything, do not send a friend request. You can send a message to someone you're not friends with. Simply send a message. Regardless of the background, even if we were pretty good friends, I'm really not interested in renewing acquaintance with someone I went to grade school with, unless (a) something has come up which makes me want to know them again (they've gone to work with me or married my cousin) or (b) we were really like BFFs and we've at least stayed in touch to some degree. The total number of people I feel this latter way about from my 12 years in school are between 2 and 4 depending on my mood. I'm not cold about them or anything; it's just that after 30+ years, these people are no different to me than the other several million people circulating around the planet. We could talk about the old school for about 30 minutes, and "do you remember..." and then it's no different than any other stranger who has spent decades developing a life that has nothing in common with mine. Some I will like, most I won't.

About the bullying, was it just typical school days jerk ass kinda stuff or did you do something REALLY awful? I lean toward apologizing in a short and sweet manner - I can't imagine being offended or re-angered by something like this, but to be honest, if one of the kids who called me "fatty" in 5th grade contacted me about this, I'd be borderline amused/concerned that this person even remembered, because honestly, I don't remember the individual names of hardly anyone who did this. And yeah, I'd assume they were dealing with alcoholism or some other mental disorder. And I would thank them and be nice, but I'd not want to maintain contact.

But let's stipulate that there was this kid named Kevin who called me such names, and in the course of normal life (not one of these FB reachbacks), I ran into Kevin. Let's say he ended up working at my company. While I'm big on apologies, and would try to be gracious if Kevin said something about the names he called me, I would not feel that he was being evasive or anything if he DIDN'T. I would tend to assume that Kevin at age 43-45 or however old he is now is a totally different person. He could be better, he could be worse, but the statute of limitations has totally run down on the names he called me when he was 10-12 years old.

OTOH, if Kevin killed my dog or something, I'd be inclined to call it unfinished business, and an apology would be needed before we could work together in cubicle 1A and 1B. And I'd want to know what's changed - has he gotten therapy and/or found God? And from there, if I were in regular contact with this person, I would base my current opinion about him on how he conducts himself NOW.

TL;DR I think you have to make your own decision; there's not a one right answer. Be prepared for it to not feel like as much closure as you might expect, and odds are vanishingly small that this will turn into one of those great friendships, even if the other side is cordial. This has more to do with how life moves on and not much to do with how well they accept your apology.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:33 PM on November 13, 2010

I have sent and received amends letters on facebook for high school BS. I think as long as you aren't trying to guide the other persons reactions and that you plain old say: "I was an asshole to you, there was no way you deserved that, and to this day I'm really sorry for it" and then let it go, I don't see any harm in it.

That said, before I send anything like that, I run it by someone whose judgment and kindness I trust, because I have a history of being ... tone deaf, to put it charitably, even (especially) when my intentions are good.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:33 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's interesting that the responses seem to be split down the middle evenly between "do it" and "don't do it." This may be just personality differences, but after talking to my partner about our different responses in this case, I think it also may depend on the severity of the bullying.

My partner was bullied very severely -- physical attacks all of the time, taunting, relentless harassment -- and he said there is no way that any apology would be taken well. No matter how it was worded, it would feel like an asshole from the past was trying to impose on his life again, and was either being condescending and presumptive about likely scars from the bullying (if the apology was thorough and somewhat flagellating) or flippant and selfish (if the apology was too brief and/or offhand).

My bullying felt bad at the time, but was of a much different caliber. Basically a few people always made fun of me or harassed me physically when I happened to be around them. But it only lasted a year or two, and they didn't seek me out -- I could avoid most of it by simply avoiding them or keeping my head down when we were in the same place. If they came up to me now and did the one-sentence "I know I was a bit of a jerk to you in school; sorry" thing then I'd actually appreciate it, and respond positively. I wouldn't think they thought I was carrying some major load from then, but it would be nice to have someone acknowledge that I wasn't the one in the wrong there (which is always how it felt at the time -- "forza's such a nerd, she's bringing it on herself" etc etc).

So, YMMV, but one thing that might be worth thinking about is precisely how severely you bullied him. If it was closer to what my partner got, probably best to stay away; if it was more what I got, an apology might not hurt.
posted by forza at 3:34 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in the "Do it" camp, and also advocating a quick, simple note acknowledging and apologizing for your past behavior. You don't need to go into the complex psychodrama of why you did it - that's for your therapist. All you have to tell this person is that you have thought on your actions and you regret them, and that you feel apologizing is the right thing to do.

As others have said, make it explicitly clear that you're not trying to become friends, you're not fishing for forgiveness or even a response. He has no obligation to respond at all. If he does, and it's good - congratulations. If he responds with venom and vitriol, well, delete that message and move on.

Just the comments here show that your old victim's response could be anything from forgiveness and reconciliation to a total mental breakdown. It is a crapshoot, this kind of thing, but if it's what you need to do in order to be good with yourself, then you ought to do it. Just always be aware of the delicate nature of what you're attempting.
posted by MShades at 3:35 PM on November 13, 2010

I'll probably never see him again, but I feel like this might be helpful to him.

Another anecdata point: an apology from someone who bullied me would not help me in the least. It's been years, and I'm no longer the person they needed to apologize to.

I don't wish any harm on anyone who bullied me, but I also don't wish any further interaction with them. As others have noted, an apology after many years is primarily for the benefit of the apologizer, and I don't have any interest in making someone else feel better about bullying me.
posted by creepygirl at 3:40 PM on November 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

As someone who was bullied a lot, I'd be incredibly annoyed. Firstly, that they were bringing up all that stuff I'd very much like to keep buried in the past, thank you, and secondly, because an apology now is clearly all about you, and has nothing to do with me.

Placing yourself in their life again, when it's not about them but about you, well, you've done quite enough already. Making them the object of whatever issues you have going on again?

Yeah. Incredibly annoyed.

Please don't do this.

On a personal note, I discovered that one of my main grade school bullies, one who made life a daily living hell, had a whole shitload of issues going on, which explained a lot. And while I understood his motivations for passing the victimization along or wanting a situation of his own which he could control, unlike those other parts, well yes -- it all made a lot of sense. But in the end, he was still an irredeemable asshole to me when I hadn't done anything to him whatsoever. Would I appreciate an apology from him now? Not at all. A 'sorry' isn't going to do anything at this point. All I want from him would be for him to continue to stay the fuck out of my life. (Not to project my own situation onto yours, of course.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:59 PM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Have you had any contact with this person since then, and how long has it been since said bullying? If it's 10+ years, I'd say let it go; he's either put it past him or is likely to think it really weird.

When I was 14, I was really not good to my first boyfriend-of-the-time, and a few years after our relationship imploded, I contacted him to acknowledge that I had treated him quite badly and I was sorry. I didn't try to excuse my behavior as young & stupid then (I was a 14-year-old at the time, of course I was young and stupid, but that doesn't mitigate the hurt I caused). I said I had no need of reconciliation or even response, and I meant it.

He received it somewhat coolly, we had a few small-talk exchanges and haven't spoken since. But I'm glad I did it, and I think I would be even if he had been angry, because it was completely about me and feeling like MY self-image was better for realizing I was a jerk and admitting it instead of wondering if he thought I had completely forgotten being such a jerk or thought I was justified.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:04 PM on November 13, 2010

I wouldn't do it either. The girls who tormented me in Jr. High/High School can go take a flying leap for all I care. A few of them have contacted me over the many years since and apologized, but it really feels more like something that you do for your own peace of mind, rather than a real apology that's about the person to whom you are apologizing. Let him be, it's likely to just bring back bad memories.
posted by gemmy at 4:25 PM on November 13, 2010

Am I just trying to make people like me because I'm super stressed out? Argh.

I haven't seen anyone address this question, so I'll give it a stab. A tentative, 'I am so not a psychologist or other mental health professional' kind of stab.

I recently attended a presentation on bullying prevention and intervention by Elizabeth Englander (director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center), and one of the things that she said was the the kids who both bully others and are/have been bullied themselves are at increased risk for negative mental health outcomes (including suicide) vs. those who are in only one category. So it would not seem surprising to me if external stressors (whatever's going on in your life now that's making you feel "super stressed out") wouldn't cause unresolved feelings and memories to surface from that previous time in your life. Despite it being an AskMe cliché, you might want to consider seeing a therapist who could help you look at those feelings, in light of the current stresses, because my suspicion is that even if you got a super-positive response from the person you bullied, you won't actually feel better now, since that isn't the whole of it anyway.

You can't "make people like you," as I'm sure you know, and anxiety about others' feelings towards us is, I would guess, a definite legacy of the unsuccessful social choices you and those who bullied you made as kids. The desire to secure social status and power is at the root of why people bully; it is often the most popular kids who do torment others most. So if you're still worried about whether other people like you (i.e., your social status), you may still be under-confident in the social skills that we practice and develop in childhood and adolescence. (I know I, as a result of the childhood bullying I experienced, am definitely still never able to fully trust my social skills and do have severe anxiety about social status.) Really, I think this urge of yours to apologize has everything to do with you and what you're feeling currently, and it would be of much greater help to you to work on your feelings, rather than wanting to bring in the other person from your childhood, because I think that might actually help you feel *better*.

To answer the 'should I contact them' question more specifically, well, personally, I'd be in the 'leave this alone already' category. Like so many here, I experienced bullying as a child, and one of the joys of adulthood for me, anyway, has been that *I don't have to see those people ever again*, except on my terms. The school structure we have, where children can't escape those who torment them, gives no safe haven, and I would feel that the long-awaited safety of adulthood would be shattered, exposed as an illusion, by being contacted by one of those people by their choice, not mine. I don't particularly care if they feel sorry now; probably they do. Most adults are not quite as cruel, I hope, as children, since they are less insecure. I forgive them, freely, but I would want them to leave me well alone.

Obviously, others' feelings would differ, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to offer apologies to those we have wronged, but sometimes that impulse would do more harm than good, and as it's not possible to know in advance whether the person you wish to contact would be of the 'sure, apologize' or 'don't bring up past traumas' camps, I'd say err on the side of not-possibly upsetting whatever measure of peace they've gained since middle school.
posted by lysimache at 4:26 PM on November 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Basically, what you are proposing to do is an incredibly narcissistic act. That it attracts you shows you haven't gotten up trying to control others.
posted by rr at 4:34 PM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I vote for apologizing. He has either gotten over it, forgotten it completely, or has a huge hole in his life because he felt abused. You can't know until you find out. I vote for taking responsibility for things.

But I do agree that you should keep it brief, sincere but not anguished, and make it clear you have no expectation that he should respond, but that if he does, you are ready and willing to listen. What you DON'T want to do is burden him with any feeling like he has to forgive you or console you.

Also: It's okay if you're doing it more for you than him. It's still the right thing to do.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:41 PM on November 13, 2010

As you can see, the responses here range from "I wouldn't mind" to "I would be so angry as to want to kill the former bully."

I'd be interested to see the gender breakdown--and age (i.e. how many years since the bullying occurred) corresponding with this thread's interesting mix of responses. ...which to me seems to hint that men retain a more "fuck off and die" attitude toward their bullies than do women?

Well, I'm a woman in my 40s, completely well-adjusted and happy with my current life, etc. etc. A few years ago my classmates from junior high/high school had a reunion at a bar close to where I lived at the time. Like, a 5-minute walk away. When I received the invitation (probably sent out to everyone in the class) from the organizers of the event, a group of girls that I had hated at the time, I was surprised at the way seeing their names brought me right back to being an angry and unhappy teenager, decades after the fact. And in my case, it wasn't even physical bullying, just your run-of-the-mill "girlish nastiness" (ignoring, talking behind your back, that kind of crap) that some people mention above. And I had completely forgotten about them until that invitation.

I didn't respond, and I didn't go. I was annoyed at them for choosing that particular venue for the event, too (which is totally irrational and my problem, I know), and avoided going near that area that day. I really didn't want to run into any of them.

So to add some data to this interesting thread, I am a woman, I am old enough to know better, and yet I would still probably tell those former bullies to fuck off and die. Even after all these years. I'm very petty and unforgiving that way.

To the OP: I vote "don't do it."
posted by misozaki at 4:43 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My first thought was that, yeah, it'd be nice to know if the kids who bullied me eventually realized how awful they were. But really I don't want any of them to contact me. I'm happy with the physical and social distance between me and them.

And it might come off as condescending to think that your apology would make anything better for him. Not only is the damage done, but it implies that you still hold some sort of power or dominance over him.

Probably the best thing you can do is continue to strive for kindness toward everyone. If you feel like you need to right this specific wrong, consider some sort of way to pay it forward by volunteering or getting involved with a school. There are kids being bullied right now who could use a friend or mentor.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:00 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't. I was bullied and ostracized throughout junior high and into high school. It made my life a living hell, and it was only the occasional weekends I spent away from my hometown that helped me through my teen years.

A couple years back, one of the bullies contacted my mother, saying he wanted to call me and ask for forgiveness (evidently he was on some sort of 12 step plan), and my mother told me she'd given him my number. I still wish that she hadn't, and I was incredibly angry with her for doing so.

The thing is, I was in a very, very positive spot in my life. Excellent job, fiance, good friends, and I was finally, after many, many years of being miserable, able to say that I was happy. Hearing from that pigfucker pulled me back down, reminded how horrific my life had been, and how much, on a daily basis, I had honestly wanted to die. It took me fucking weeks after the call from him to get back to anything like the positive feeling I'd had before I found out he'd be calling.

Don't call him. You were a shit when you were younger, and he's under no obligation to make you feel better about the person that you've become. The only thing that calling him will do is force him to deal with shit that you caused. Let it go, let him get on with his life, and try to find some other way to make yourself feel better about the shitty things you did as a child.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:20 PM on November 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

As someone who was severely bullied while I was in grade school, it'd probably depend on the bully. There were a few kids who bullied me to the point of physical violence and who literally made my life a living hell. I still have nightmares about it. If any of them tried to apologize to me, I'd probably tell them eff off, to be quite honest.

But if it was just someone who picked on me casually once or twice I might be receptive if I felt they were truly sorry.
posted by katyggls at 5:22 PM on November 13, 2010

You may want to listen to this podcast:
Facebook Friends Enemies
I heard it on NPR last year...
posted by jack.tinker at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2010

I got second-hand apologies in my mid-twenties from the church girls who harassed me as a teenager. That was kind of okay; I'd be friends with them if they asked, on Facebook (they haven't.) Honestly, I was kind of weird and only around them for a year before going to college; it was mostly none of us knowing how to act, and so they acted like bratty teenage girls sorting out small group dynamics in a challenging situation. It kind of helps me to know they feel bad about it now; I worry about their kids less.

But, I would probably be really tempted to throw a drink in the face of those (now 35-year-old) 6th grade jerks who screamed "HEY, SMPA, HOW HARD DID YOUR MOM HIT YOU THIS TIME?!?!" across the playground at 2nd grade me as I tried desperately to get to the portion of the yard I considered "safe." I really don't care about their issues and the only thing I can hope is that they suffered a lot for how they treated me (this continued with successive classes of kids for several years; my birthmark is highly visible.) Same goes for the kids who harassed the special ed students I was friends with, incidentally. I hate to say "die, die, die," but, well, yeah.

I favorited Ashley801's answer, for what it's worth.
posted by SMPA at 6:26 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a good life. When someone reaches out like this I guess I'm just glad their life is improving, too. Also, if they're apologizing, and doing it without making it my problem to respond to, it means that the person who was an asshole in grade school doesn't exist anymore.

I didn't have any grade school bullies that sound as bad as the ones some people had, or maybe just compared to my home life they weren't so bad, but other people (adults) who were terrible to me when I was a child have apologized and although it didn't magically make me love them, I was glad for the apology for my sake and for theirs.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:41 PM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was bullied in high school. The best "apology" I got wasn't an apology at all: It was when one of my chief tormenters saw me working at Walmart and said, "hi, how are you doing? It's so nice to see you!" and we chatted for a few minutes. It made me feel like he'd grown up and entered the real world. Anything else would have been awkward.

In college, several girls I'd gone to high school with were in some of my classes. Another girl (not from my high school) came over to me one day and apologized to me, saying she'd been talking about me behind my back with them and it wasn't nice of her and she was sorry. That was very awkward because I didn't know about the talking and so I felt bad.

If I were you I'd donate to some anti-bullying campaigns, like NOH8. (Even though it's an LGBTQ thing, it's still anti-bullying.)
posted by IndigoRain at 7:50 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, I was about to say pretty much exactly what small_ruminant was going to say. I wasn't much bullied, and I didn't do much of my own, but it would still be a nice thing if I was to apologise or to receive an apology.
posted by wilful at 8:05 PM on November 13, 2010

On the one hand, we have people saying, "this might be nice." On the other hand, we have people saying, "this would utterly devastate or enrage me." It sounds as though, if your goal is to help him rather than to help yourself, there's little potential upside compared with a lot of potential downside.
posted by decathecting at 8:13 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If he remembers you - and this is a big if, as kids who are mocked are usually mocked by a lot of different people - he's so over it. He so doesn't give a fuck. He will either say to himself "Huh. Weird." or tell his other bullied friends from school about it and they'll all laugh at you. Your asshole
behavior has helped him to become the strong
person he is today, and aside from that he really
doesn't care about you.

So I guess my answer is, don't bother. Let him alone to live his life now, since you couldn't do it then. That is kinder than an apology.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:19 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't get into details about type/length/extent of bullying but even if you did, I think a lot of the comments here illustrate that it's impossible for the person doing the bullying to realise the impact they're having on the person they're tormenting.

What may have seemed like gentle teasing to you at the time may have been making the other person suicidal. It's probably more unlikely but on the other hand, someone being regularly physically intimidated may have used that as motivation to succeed in school or work or life just to send a "fuck you - I'm stronger than you" message to the bully."

I'm not going to advise one way or the other but I would suggest reading the various perspectives in these comments *very* carefully before making your decision as there are some strong arguments both pro and con.

I will note that your comment that "I'll probably never see him again, but I feel like this might be helpful to him" does set off some major alarm bells about motive and intent so keep that in mind as you decide as well.

But ultimately, you'll decide one way or the other and then life will move for you and for the other person. I always think of a time when I was faced with a difficult decision (in that case, whether to move to a different city or not). A wise aunt of mine said "There rarely are right or wrong choices in life - just choices. So make your decision and then move on, doing your best to not play the 'what if?' game with the other option."

Same thing applies here.
posted by Jaybo at 10:23 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

you know what? i really appreciated it when one of the people who was horrible to me in school contacted me and apologized. my first reaction was to tell them how much their bad treatment of me had scarred me for years, but i didn't. i replied and said something like "thanks."

some people do not get over the treatment they were subjected to at the hands of bullies, and some do, and others kind just live with the resentment. for some people, hearing that the bully feels guilt and remorse, is part of the healing.

because it would never even cross my mind that some of the people who were horrible assholes and beat me are anything but horrible assholes who are mean to their children, or coworkers, etc. so hearing that some of them did grow out of it is a good thing.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:02 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the big rift between the do-its and don't-do-its depends on the perspective of the kid you bullied.

1.) Was this kid tortured mercilessly by a lot of people throughout his schooling, or was your bullying "campaign" fairly unique in his life?
2.) How long, extreme, and personal was your bullying?

I'm in the "do it" camp, but that may be because my experience as a bully-target was short-lived and didn't define my childhood.

I was tormented by a bully for a couple of months in junior high. It was terrifying at the time but it was kind of an anomaly in my life -- I didn't have a long, traumatic history of being picked on, and I was pretty happy and social throughout most of my schooling.

If my former bully wrote me on Facebook with a brief "sorry I was such a dick back then, I don't know what I was thinking" kind of message, I'd be impressed. I don't need, expect, or even particularly want an apology, but I have to admit that if I got one, it would feel nice. Not "nice" in some emotional, cathartic, or vengeful way, just in a simple momentary appreciation of civility -- like when someone flashes their headlights at you to say "sorry I just cut you off, that was totally my fault." It's over and everyone has moved on, but the acknowledgement is a nice touch and shows some effort to set the record straight.

But again, I can say this because I'm not particularly traumatized and I don't harbor any major grudges.

Personally, I think that someone who was severely and chronically bullied would be even *more* appreciative of a genuine apology -- but it seems that a lot of people here disagree. From the tone of the "don't-do-it" crowd, I get the sense that the chronically-bullied either 1.) still actively hate/fear their bullies many years later or 2.) are still traumatized enough that even a conciliatory gesture would be harmful.

You may want to consider this distinction before making your decision.

If you do decide to write him, I agree with what several people have said -- keep it short and simple. A brief acknowledgement of your bad behavior is better than a long heartfelt apology. Don't focus on your feelings of guilt/remorse, don't try to explain or justify or excuse, don't offer to make it up to him, don't imply that you would like him to forgive you or be your friend now. Just acknowledge it and move on with your life.
posted by Alabaster at 12:13 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the tone of the "don't-do-it" crowd, I get the sense that the chronically-bullied either 1.) still actively hate/fear their bullies many years later or 2.) are still traumatized enough that even a conciliatory gesture would be harmful.

Could I just point out as one of the "don't do it" crowd that I certainly don't actively hate the people I wrote about above or harbor any form of grudge, and I certainly am not traumatized about what happened years and years ago. I just... don't care. I actively don't care about these people. I don't care if they've become successful, I don't care if they've become saints in the intervening years, I don't care if they're happy or miserable now... And I don't care if they're sorry or not. I just don't want to have anything more to do with them. At all. So I was being somewhat hyperbolic when I wrote that I would tell my former tormentors to "fuck off and die," because in reality, I would probably just sort of tell them to just get lost or something in a civil enough way.

If that means I can't get over my past, then maybe it's so, but I think people's emotions are much more complicated than "I still hate you and am forever tormented by you, former bully" and "I totally forgive you, that's so kind of you, thanks for apologizing." But this is just how I see it, and I certainly don't mean to speak for anybody else here.
posted by misozaki at 1:00 AM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I disagree with everyone who says not to make this about you. I would go the other direction and transparently make it about you. Don't water it down, don't "politely apologize" and don't talk about being a better person now. Don't say, "I thought it might be helpful to you."

Instead, admit that you have a guilty conscience. Admit that it eats at you. That you feel bad about it. Admit that by holding the power of forgiveness, he actually has power over you. Turn the tables a little. Be a humble supplicant to him, not a friendly equal. You be fragile this time- and yet, don't guilt him into forgiving you.

I would say something like, "I was wrong to bully you like I did. I was stupid and I've learned since then. I'm sorry that I can't ever take it back. You're a good person - It was a mistake that cost me your good opinion of me, and I feel that loss. I wish you well."

Don't be friends. Don't expect a response.
posted by Nixy at 2:37 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I haven't read everyone else's responses. I was bullied in elementary school by one particular person and ended up meeting her again several times when we were adults. It always ticked me off that she tried to be friendly without ever having acknowledged how horrible she had been.

So, if you're going to be in contact with him at all, I would certainly be in favour of apologizing first.

For myself, I would appreciate an apology from this person, even if it came out of the blue. Be prepared for the guy you bullied to feel differently, though.
posted by bardophile at 5:51 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll probably never see him again, but I feel like this might be helpful to him. I don't know if it will be helpful to me. I read a previous post about "what to say to a bully who apologizes" and there were some advocating a pretty jerky response. I think that would ruin my day/week/month possibly year (course I probably ruined his).

You don't know if it will be helpful to him and you don't have interest in contact with him again. You also wonder if he will react in a way that will make you feel bad.

Don't contact him. Write a letter, burn the letter, and make a donation to support school counseling services in the school or district where you grew up. Your victim does not have the responsibility to absolve you of your guilt.

note: I was bullied. I see those girls on Facebook. I'm only friends with one of them, and her apology was part of a larger choice on both our parts to re-establish a friendship as adults. The others? I have no interest in hearing from them.
posted by catlet at 7:36 AM on November 14, 2010

One way to write something like this selflessly is to say, upfront, that you don't expect a response -- immediately absolving the guy of any responsibility to make you feel better.

Dear X,

I am writing to you to apologize for bullying you when we were kids. Before I do that, though, I want to make clear that, from my perspective, you have no responsibility to me. You do not owe me anything, whether you accept my apology or not. I wronged you; you didn't wrong me.

And I don't want to compound my wrongs by guilting you into forgiving me or even replying to this email. Reply if you'd like to (I would love to hear from you), but please don't feel any obligation to write back to me. And please note that, unless I hear from you, saying that you'd like to correspond with me, I won't bother you again.

Here's what I want you to know: I remember what I did you you. I know it was wrong. I know you are and were a good person who didn't deserve to be treated the way I treated you. I am deeply sorry I bullied you.

I hope that my actions didn't have a lasting impact on your life, but I know that being bullied as a kid sometimes does just that. If you want to write back and yell at me or anything, please do. If you want to do that without me replying, let me know. I will respect your wishes. If you have any questions, let me know that, too.

Finally, I hope that you are happy and healthy, and I wish you nothing but the best.


posted by grumblebee at 9:21 AM on November 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was bullied relentlessly throughout elementary school and junior high. If I heard that some of my tormentors were living with remorse, that would please me enormously. It would mean that maybe, possibly, those people aren't continuing to inflict their misery on the rest of the world. I shudder to think of what their children's lives must be like.

(One person's experience, etc.)
posted by corey flood at 10:04 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Am I just trying to make people like me because I'm super stressed out?

Yeah, that's the part that keeps sticking out for me. If you're "super-stress out" right now, you're probably not in the best position to be sending emotionally wrenching notes to strangers on Facebook.

But if you do, take Ashley801's advice and keep it very short. Writing multiple paragraphs just seems like another way to make this about you rather than the apology, which should at most be something simple, "Hey, I just wanted to say I'm sorry I bullied you in junior high and wish you well today." Anything more only increases the imposition. Then drop it. If you get a negative response, ignore it.

If you want to write back and yell at me or anything, please do.

I dunno, that sounds like giving permission, which the former victim certainly doesn't need, and to me implies the bully is still trying to keep some form of control.
posted by mediareport at 11:13 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I dunno, that sounds like giving permission

Maybe there's a better way to word it. My point is that if my former victim needs to yell at me, he can do so without fear that I'll retaliate. In other words, if he wants or needs it, he can have the last word.

That really is something that's IS in my power. I can accept "You were a fucking asshole who made my life miserable" without writing back (if that's what my former victim wants) or I can choose to reply, putting my need to defend myself -- or to apologize for a second time -- over what my former victim wants or needs.

I think it may be worth the OP's time to read through my letter, in my previous post, and have an honest reaction to it. Not because my letter is good, and not because it's the letter he should send. I obviously like it, but that's me. And I may be failing to see some things.

But if he doesn't like the idea of my letter, he should ask himself why. What does he object to? By asking that, he may learn something about himself that will help him decide what to do. If my approach is flawed, WHY is it flawed, but from the point of view of the victim and the bully?

For instance, what about my idea of "write whatever you want in reply to my apology and I won't respond unless you want me to"? How does the OP feel about that? What if his former victim says, "You have no IDEA how you made me feel, asshole"? The OP mentioned that he himself was abused. So will he be okay with NOT replying "actually, I do know how you feel." Or what if the former victim writes, "I don't believe you've changed"? Can he accept that rebuke, even if it's not true? It may be what the victim needs to say in order to heal.

Is the OP prepared to listen to ANYTHING from his former victim without responding or justifying? I'm not saying he should. I'm saying it's worth his time to think about this, because if he's not, he should write a different sort of letter than if he is. Or maybe not write at all.

I suggest he lets himself react to ALL the suggestions in this thread, not just mine. In the end -- unfortunately -- he must base his actions on his own best judgment, not on his victim's. Why? Because he can't know whether or nor his victim would like to hear from him BEFORE making contact.

And there's no consensus in this thread from former victims of abuse. If he doesn't make contact, he risks not helping someone who could be healed by an apology; if he does make contact, he risks damaging someone who would rather leave the whole thing in the past.

There's no perfect one-size-fits-all solution. He needs to make a choice, based to some extent on his own needs, but (in my opinion) one that leaves the ball in the victim's court, giving him an out if he wants it.
posted by grumblebee at 11:32 AM on November 14, 2010

My point is that if my former victim needs to yell at me, he can do so without fear that I'll retaliate. In other words, if he wants or needs it, he can have the last word.

I understand; I just think that's all implied in a short, simple message: I'm sorry and wish you well. That both leaves the ball clearly in the former victim's court and gives him an out if he wants it, without a big text dump that might seem a bit overwhelming coming out of the blue.
posted by mediareport at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2010

My point is that if my former victim needs to yell at me, he can do so without fear that I'll retaliate. In other words, if he wants or needs it, he can have the last word.

I understand; I just think that's all implied in a short, simple message: I'm sorry and wish you well.

I don't mean to take over this thread, so I'll quit talking about the merits and problems with my approach after this.

I agree with your point that my letter might be overwhelming. But one thing that causes me a bit of anxiety, when I hear from people that I'm not sure I want to hear from, is not knowing their intentions in terms of future email exchanges.

If I ignore them, will they go away? If I ignore them, will they keep writing me? If I respond, will they go away after THAT? If I respond, will the assume I'm opening a door for further exchanges?

Maybe I'm alone in worrying about stuff like that. But I appreciate it when someone who contacts me out of the blue makes it explicit that the ball is in my court -- in terms of whether or not there's going to be further communication between us.
posted by grumblebee at 2:03 PM on November 14, 2010

I was ostracized and teased (no physical harassment) from 1st-8th grade at a teeny tiny (31 kids graduated 8th grade) private school. Every day, for 8 years, with the same group of kids. Some would be intermittently nice to me, but there was a core group of about 18 that just never let up. It has had a profound impact on my life and while I may not think directly about it every day, or even every month, the repercussions are affecting me to this day.

I fantasize about running into them, what they would say to me, if they'd be all faux-nice and pretend it didn't happen and maybe I'd have the opportunity (and cojones) to say, "You know, you were awful to me. For eight years, I was in hell, and that's on you." Or maybe they'd beat me to the punch and say, "Hey K, you know I was awful to you at school, and it was wrong/I really regret that. Sorry."

But that's never happened, and probably never will. But if it did, yeah it might bring up some unpleasant memories for a while but then maybe, just maybe, I could move on a little and leave that part of my past in the past for once.

TL;DR: Short sweet acknowledgement and apology could be very appreciated.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:16 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't do it. This is all about the power dynamic. You had that power as a bully, and now you have that power still, as you've chosen the moment, manner, and content of that message, and are sending it his way unsolicited. If you ever met him out in a bar, and he confronted you, then yeah, that's your moment, apologise as sincerely as you can. But I wouldn't do it like this. As people said, lots of potential downside for him, not much upside.
posted by iivix at 1:33 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another vote for not doing this. He's probably spent the last god-knows-how-many years trying to forget your very existence for the hell you've put him through. Bringing back those memories, on the basis that it'll make you feel better, will do nothing for him.

You're better off forgetting he exists too and letting him live his life without having to re-live the trauma that you subjected him to.
posted by mr_silver at 4:56 AM on November 15, 2010

If you are on Facebook and your former victim is on Facebook and you have friends in common then he knows you are on Facebook too (x and y are now friends with bully! Bully likes x's post!) and has chosen not to contact you. So don't contact him.

The most you should do (maybe)? Wait until one of your mutual friends makes a post either about the past or about poor judgment, or something else tangentially related. Wait until your ex-victim posts a response to that comment. Wait for some other responses. Then respond to the original post "Yeah that was so long ago! I can't believe what a jerk I was back then and how many good people I hurt."
posted by mikepop at 7:43 AM on November 15, 2010

I would say don't do it. My own perspective as someone who was bullied as a kid: I'm over it, and although hearing from a former bully out-of-the-blue wouldn't make me "relive the trauma", it would definitely piss me off.

I wasted enough mental energy on my bullies as a kid without suddenly being put in a position where I feel bad because they have this emotional burden of guilt that I'm suddenly somehow responsible for not assuaging... because although I am sincerely over the bullying, I can't think of a single bully from whom I would accept an apology.
posted by usonian at 10:08 AM on November 15, 2010

You can count me out. As mentioned:

Some say: "Oh, that would be nice, thank you."

Others say: "Oh, No! Please do not re-open those old scars."

So, please evaluate the cost... and do not do it. Especially not on Face-book.

(but if you run into this person at random on the street (without witnesses) then a bit of humble contrition is nice).
posted by ovvl at 6:03 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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