Has your childhood bully ever apologized to you?
November 26, 2013 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I was an angry kid at one point in my life. My best friend had moved away and I was unpopular. I became a bit of a bully. There are three people in particular that I treated particularly bad. I want to apologize to them, but does it just serve to only make myself feel better? Has anyone here been bullied and received an apology later in life? And how did it make you feel? I was also bullied. My bully tried to add me as a friend on Facebook multiple times, and I always declined it. I wonder sometimes if maybe he was trying to apologize.
posted by kbennett289 to Human Relations (52 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I had someone apologize to me for bullying me in middle school after Facebook friending me. We are both now 30, and this happened when we were 28 or so. This is what I said to his really sweet, sincere apology (which was a private message to me): "It's really nice to hear from you after all these years. Please don't worry about something that happened in 7th grade. We were kids, and kids are often pretty horrible; it goes with the territory. When I think about middle school, I remember a lot of the fun times we had, and to be honest I don't remember the bad stuff very well at all." I meant all these things: I was honestly surprised to get this message. He was a jerk to me, sure, but when I think of him I have a lot of fond memories of our friendship.

His apology, which was really sincere, made me feel OK, but a little, well, worried about the guy. I felt bad that he was holding on to this so many years later. He was a good kid; he had a lot of troubles in his life (didn't we all; it's amazing to me what we had to deal with when we were so young, thinking about it now) and he took it out on other people. That's something a lot of children do.

I guess I would say that my life, personally, wouldn't have been affected much either way - if he hadn't apologized or he had, I was over it. But I guess maybe the apology helped him in some way. In my particular situation, that's fine, but you run the risk of opening old wounds for people.

Is there some way that you could "apologize" without specifically contacting these people to apologize - say, by donating some toys to a program for kids during the holidays?
posted by k8lin at 11:14 AM on November 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

My bully tried to add me as a friend on Facebook multiple times, and I always declined it.

Take your own reaction to this as a guide: you considered the idea that they may want to apologize to you, and declined anyway. Why? Only you know. But whatever it is that kept you from opening that line of communication can very well exist in the minds of the people you want to contact. Some people don't want old wounds re-opened, even if it is because you are now contrite.
posted by griphus at 11:14 AM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

I did get bullied a little in preschool through middle school. I even still have a scar on the back of my head from the time some kid smashed it against a locker. I don't expect to ever get an apology, because this happened 20 years ago and 6000 miles away.

From what I've heard, apologizing to people you had bullied in childhood is kind of a new trend, and there is no set way to react to it. I can easily imagine someone really appreciating the gesture, or pretending to appreciate it out of politeness, or feeling really obligated, or being traumatized all over again.

Since there is no practical need for you to apologize, your former victims would be doing you a favor by accepting your apology. So I would approach this as if I was asking for a very big favor from someone I barely know, namely, with trepidation and extreme caution.
posted by Nomyte at 11:17 AM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I was a frequent target for bullies in both middle school and high school. I was shy, closeted and a member of a fringe religious group. In other words, I was catnip for bullies. My school life was a torturous, hellish existence that I still have issues with at 40+ years old.

I don't honestly know how I would feel should one of my bullies apologize to me, but I would think that it might provide me some sort of closure and help me put that stuff behind me once and for all.

I suppose I'll never know, though, because I've blocked all of them on Facebook.
posted by BrianJ at 11:18 AM on November 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

I was bullied, but in my Senior year I had an English class that involved a lot of critiquing, and therefore conversation, and one of my bullies was in that class. In one of those conversations he bullies acknowledged that he'd been an asshole and had realized that and changed. Within high school. 25 years ago.

We're Facebook friends currently, and I still have some of that Freshmen and Sophomore year impression of him and am often pleasantly surprised by his contributions.

So, yeah, people can change, and I'm occasionally surprised when I find out that he appears to have changed more than me in some ways.
posted by straw at 11:23 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was bullied a lot in elementary and middle school. A kid I knew in fifth grade got in touch with me to apologize a few years ago. It was really sweet, and nice to hear from him.

The funny thing? He was never one of the worst bullies. Like, he might have said something rude once or twice, but not anything I could remember. The ones who did stuff I can remember never got in touch and definitely never apologized. If they did, I'm not sure how I would have taken it.
posted by brina at 11:23 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know I've seen this discussed on MeFi before, and a lot of people said that no, they wouldn't want their bullies to contact them again. It digs up painful memories, and feels manipulative and disingenuous - more to clear the bully's conscience than to help the bullied person. If one of my childhood bullies contacted me to apologize, I would have a very strong urge to lash out at them in an attempt to retaliate against all the hurt they'd caused me.

If you want to make amends, pay it forward. There are children who are being bullied right this moment who could use allies. Volunteer. Teach the children in your life to treat others with kindness and empathy.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:25 AM on November 26, 2013 [41 favorites]

His apology, which was really sincere, made me feel OK, but a little, well, worried about the guy.

This is how I would take anyone apologizing to me for having bullied me back in the day. I got bullied, and it got pretty damn bad at times, but it didn't stick for whatever reason. The adult I am and the adult anyone who bullied me became are two very, very different people than the kids we were, and I would hope that they are not hanging onto the shitty things they did any more than I am hanging onto the shitty things that happened to me. If they wanted an apology, I would accept it not because I thought I deserved it -- it's not like I have a way of telling if a person apologizing to me is a shitty adult or not and the act of apology isn't, as you recognize, an inherently moral act -- but to make them feel better.
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

One guy treated me poorly when we were younger. I ran into him at a bar once and he apologized for it. I knew, through the grapevine, that he had run into some legal trouble previously. I also knew he had gone back to college and was trying to get his life together. That made it easier for me to accept and appreciate what I believe was a sincere apology.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:29 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was bullied and stalked by one girl in particular as a teen and young adult because I sat next to her boyfriend on the first day of school. She followed me from high school to college where she infiltrated every group of friends I had and attempted to thwart all my progress as an individual. I never engaged with her because there was no reason to.

About 6 months ago she took it upon herself to write me a 5 page letter "apologizing" for what she had done to me. But once you read the whole thing through, it was 100% clear that she was doing this only to absolve her guilt and not because she actually wanted to make amends. This child made my life hell for 8 years, and her saying "sorry" extended the pain.

Many of my other bullies have attempted to get in touch, too, even going to the extreme of calling me one of their best friends from school. This is patently bizarre because it's so disingenuous and head-in-the-sand.

The difference here is that you genuinely get that you were being unkind. I think that if you sent a short note to these people you're thinking of, it would be okay. I would say,

"A long time ago I treated you very badly for no reason other than ones I thought made sense at the time. I have been thinking of you lately and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am that I chose to do and say what I did. You were a good and kind classmate and you deserved better than what I dished out. Wishing you the best."

Hopefully it will ring true in ways that the messages sent to me didn't.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:30 AM on November 26, 2013 [48 favorites]

See the 9th Step of 12-step programs: "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

If you have any mutual friends you could feel it out through them and see how the mutual friend thinks it might be received.
posted by larrybob at 11:30 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Obviously it's you who wants closure here, you don't even know what the other person thinks. Keeping that in mind, you could absolutely try apologizing, even if, no, precisely because, it will make you feel better. It could make the world a better place somehow. But if this person doesn't react well to your apology, just let it slide. People are different.

[Sideline of argument: people are also different when it comes to the acuteness of their memory, and how much stuff bothers them long after the fact. Nothing to worry about either way.]

[And a few "previously" links: The reverse; the same]
posted by Namlit at 11:31 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A bully apologized to me a while ago. She explained the roots of her behavior (wanting to fit in with more popular kids ... who interestingly just ignored me without bullying) and that she now regretted it and was trying to teach her children to stand up for bullied kids.

She honestly gave herself a bit too much credit - I was a little hurt by her behavior in high school, but it didn't have much effect on me.

I was touched, but even after I accepted her apology she seemed to want to ... grovel. Talk more and more about how badly she had behaved and how badly she felt about it. I became uncomfortable and stopped responding to her messages. I'm still glad she apologized, glad to understand a little bit of why she was a jerk, and glad to know she is trying to do better, I just don't really want to be in the position of coping with her emotions.

So in short: yes, apologize. Keep it simple and sweet, take responsibility. Express your regret but don't put them in the position of trying to comfort you for feeling bad about bullying them. Unless they invite further conversation, don't continue to contact them after apologizing.
posted by bunderful at 11:33 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would love it if my childhood bullies attempted to apologize to me, if only so I could tell them how repulsive and disgusting they are. Of course it will never happen.
posted by Blitz at 11:40 AM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I was bullied and I just don't want to bother with any of my bullies now. I am not even close to the person I was back then and I still don't think anyone who bullied me has the emotional intelligence or grace to apologize in a way that would be anything but a waste of my time and energy that I would have to respond to some how. It's not that I would be dredging up bad stuff, it's that I moved on so far so long ago that I don't care one way or the next, and it would be weird in the same way that a stranger coming up to you and trying to start any kind of emotional conversation would be weird.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:41 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was bullied pretty badly in middle school.

There are some people who, yeah, it was just a case of kids being mean and people learning social skills. There are other people who were absolutely beyond the pale abusive, and caused a lot of pain in my life.

So, OK, I'm imagining scenarios where both of those types of people write me a heartfelt facebook message to apologize.

Person A "just figuring out there are certain things we don't say to people":

I'd feel just like k8lin said. There are other kids I was shitty to at various points which I regret, and it happens, and that was all half a lifetime ago. I would definitely be open to mending fences and being friends going forward.

Person B "drove me to suicidal thoughts":

It would be nice to get an apology, and I wouldn't feel negative about it or triggered or anything. Again, this was all half a lifetime ago. But I probably wouldn't be able to absolve those people of guilt with a brush-off "water under the bridge" "kids are mean" "of course we can be friends now" return message. If you're looking for a cookie? Sorry. And, no I could probably never be friends with those people. The apology would be welcome and not a burden (and I wouldn't see it as self-serving), but it's pretty unlikely that I'm going to go from "you are the source of my worst memories and have affected the way I see myself and interact with people for decades" to "omg we should do brunch!"

So I really think it depends what actually happened back then, and what you expect. If you really deeply tormented people and now want to be friends, I would say that is unlikely and you should proceed accordingly. If you were the bratty friend who always picked fights over who was Mario vs. who was Luigi, yeah, we're probably good, no worries, proceed accordingly.
posted by Sara C. at 11:42 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I wrote about just that, here and here.

I was initially mad about it. I had struggled for years to put all of that behind me, and he goes and drags it up just to make himself feel better. But the truth is, we were both kids and we we were both failed by the adults around us. His apology helped me realize that, and more importantly, let go of a little bit of that boxed up rage I still carry.

But, your question isn't about me and him. The person you're looking to contact might have different feelings about it.

I'd say go and do it. More people should apologize for things they messed up. Just don't expect absolution and cookies and rainbows.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:42 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

My homophobic high school bullies put threatening notes in my locker, called me at 3am to call me horrible names, and once apparently put a sign on the wall in our school (I never saw it but was told of it). It kinda fucked me up.

Living in the same town I grew up in, I see one of the former bullies around occasionally. When we were about 25 or so she started trying to approach me on the street and I always avoided her, I think I was actually either still afraid of her or just not ready. A few years later I saw her at an LGBQ event, I guess she finally came out. That made me feel very empathetic towards her, but you know, I still wasn't ready to hear her apology. She stopped trying after awhile and I was glad for that. It's been many years and it doesn't hurt anymore, but I still don't want to talk to her.

Anyways, yeah, I don't think there is anything wrong with apologizing. But they don't have to accept your apology--they don't owe you anything. As long as you keep that in mind, and don't expect anything in return, then go ahead.
posted by epanalepsis at 11:44 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

An apology many years after the fact really wouldn't mean much to me. I'm a different person now than I was when I was bullied. I've worked through it and am okay without their involvement; they can work through their own stuff without my involvement.

I'd be much happier if someone who felt bad about their past bullying behavior chose to help bullied children who are in need now.
posted by creepygirl at 11:52 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was bullied in middle school, and it affected me deeply. I was also very surprised, when years later, two of the bullies approached me to tell me that they secretly admired me. I won't say it relieved anything in the situation - I just felt they had figured out a new complex way to bully. But in the longer run I am thankful they did it, because it made me see things in a new perspective.

From the other side: in high school, I became a bully. And much later on I apologized. I have to say, the apology did not relieve me of guilt. At all. I still feel guilty and stupid. But I did tell the guy I was guilty and stupid, for whatever that is worth. He was not generous about it, and he shouldn't be.

What I can do and what I do is to take this very seriously in conversations with my children, both when they are bullied and when they are the bullies. I cannot change my past, but I can help form their future. A large part of the problem when I was a child and a teen was that adults found bullying OK, or at least "part of reality"
posted by mumimor at 11:56 AM on November 26, 2013

As long as it is a single note, short and sweet, I don't think it will be received incredibly poorly. Perhaps not well, but you probably won't cause anyone any serious pain with a couple of sentences about how you were thinking back to your school years and have come to realize that your behavior was completely unacceptable and you'd like to apologize, wish them well in the future, and leave it at that unless they take steps to continue the conversation.

Keep it to the single note, and anyone who faults you is kind of an ass in their own right.

I agree with the other posters that say that there are probably even better things you could do, but if it's a choice between a simple apology and nothing, I'd say the simple apology is the better way to go.
posted by wierdo at 11:56 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't care about my bullies. I don't remember their names or faces, and I have no interest in them. If one of them contacted me to apologise for no reason, it would be fine, but I honestly don't think i'd care too much, unless they were someone that I still had to deal with regularly.

On the other hand, someone I barely remember once reached out to me to thank me for something I did for them years previously. I had forgotten the incident until receiving that email, and I still cherish it- the fact that I made a difference to someone. It still inspires me to keep behaving in those ways. So if you wanted to reach out to those people with something good about them in your apology, I think that would do a lot more for them.
posted by windykites at 11:57 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

In college (college!) a classmate of mine was incredibly mean and nasty to me over a disagreement within a club we were both members of. He also sent a horrific email to both me and the club's advisor (also my academic advisor) which left me in tears. Years later at a Homecoming game, he got really drunk and sort of apologized to me (basically all he did was admit that he had been an ass).

I didn't really know what to say, and it felt awkward. My opinion of him hasn't changed - I still think of him as an ass. And we don't currently talk and are not friends on Facebook.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:57 AM on November 26, 2013

I was bullied (though I didn't call it that, I said "made fun of" b/c so many other kids had it worse) pretty much daily from nursery school through high school. None of them have attempted to speak to me since, partly b/c I'm sure they all think they did no wrong and partly because, the joys of not being on Facebook! However, if any of them - and there were many, I've forgotten probably 90% - attempted to apologize to me? First I would laugh, because I wouldn't believe it. Second I would take it as proof that they are just as full of themselves today as they were 20-30 years ago. I would say (though not to them) "You thought you could break me then, and you think I remember you now?? How inordinately high your estimation of your own impact is, and how pathetic you still are."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:12 PM on November 26, 2013

i was horribly bullied in middle school. by the kids at school and by my own brother, who was trying to be cool, since we were the new kids in a school where most of them had gone there since kindergarten. i was an overweight, nerdy kid who read a lot and who didn't really fit in anywhere, and it was a small, incredibly conservative country school - i was chum at a feeding frenzy. i'm 38 now, and i can still remember everything they did to me.

i don't talk to my brother (for that and for other reasons). and if i ever see the kid who tortured me relentlessly and hocked a loogie into my face again, i'd be incredibly inclined to find the nearest baseball bat and accept the assault charges.

leave it, and them, alone. find other ways to assuage your guilt. go volunteer or something, try to be a better person now, try working at some kind of bullying outreach in a high school. some people have no problems reliving that shit in their head on their own, and they don't really need you to help pile it on.
posted by koroshiya at 12:13 PM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I do not wish to have any contact with any of my K-8 classmates. I would be upset by an apology message, and I don't believe it would have any positive effect in my life.

Maybe this could vary based on how long the bullying went on, what kind of things it involved, and what age you were when it happened. In particular, if it was long-term, I really urge you to not make any contact at all.

Also, please consider carefully why you do not want to accept a Facebook friendship from your bully, but think that you should reach out to the people you bullied. What is different about those relationships? If you can't think of a very compelling reason why the people you bullied would feel differently to the way you feel about your bully, then again, I would suggest no contact.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:23 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it depends on the kind of bullying and the age at which it happened.

I was bullied in middle school -- name calling, playground pushing and so forth. If I heard from those kids with a sincere apology, I'd be touched and respond with a nice message and probably accept a friend request on Facebook.

In junior high and high school, I was absolutely tormented by a group of the pretty girls. They made up a boyfriend at another school that I dated for like a year before they told me it was a joke. In high school, I was targeted repeatedly by cruel "friends" who made my life a living hell and frankly informed a lot of the cynicism I still carry. Their bullying nearly got me kicked out of high school and college at one point because they were all willing to swear to rumors they started about me. I have no idea what can possess some people to take pleasure in being cruel to others. If any of these women reached out to me, even with an apology, I'd probably not resist the urge to tell them to get fucked and to leave me out of their attempt to atone for whatever bad karma they generated finally kicking their ass. It would honestly pick open a scar and, if this is the level of bullying you did, please just leave these people alone.

Seriously, I'd rather get picture Christmas cards from all my exes and their beautiful families.

If you want to atone, join in on anti-bullying campaign by blogging, writing or volunteering with kids who were like you in after school activities. Now that we're all adults, we can look back and see why bullies were bullies (anger, problems at home, insecurity). It's not enough tell bullying victims to stand up for themselves, the root of the problem is that bullies are hurting and I think you're just the kind of person they might need.
posted by mibo at 12:30 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unless you are willing to actually do something - and I mean physically DO something - there isn't a point to this apology. Saying sorry is easy for you say, it doesn't require much effort on your part, and it is small in comparison to the pain caused.

Instead, pray for this person, wish them well, and leave them alone. Then take some actions of restitution - volunteer to mentor children or hell go and clean up a public park with the mindset that this action is to atone for your actions. Your sense of regret will make it to this person some way or another, and you will be able to move past your guilt too.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:33 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was bullied pretty severely in the 8th grade, so much so that I changed schools (and thrived after that).

I met one of my tormenters at a bus stop a few years later. I was much larger than him by that point. He looked nervous.

I didn't say anything. I just wanted to move on and forget about it.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:36 PM on November 26, 2013

I was bullied all through school. A teacher actually saddled me with horrid nickname I had until I left for college and never saw those people again. I am grateful I've never seen them again. If they tried to reach out, I would avoid them. For me it was all very, very bad. Night terrors bad.

The feeling that you have about not wanting contact with someone who bullied you is that exact feeling these other people will have if you reach out to them.

If you were not a truly awful bully and if you now share some common interest with these people, instead of apologizing, consider approaching them about this interest and then, through your actions and conversation, demonstrate that you are now a nicer person. If they turn you away, you have your answer.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:37 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been apologized to by one kid. He was one among many and I'd mainly made my peace with my adolescent years and the people who made them hell by the time he said anything. It was nice to hear that someone thought about the effects of their behavior back then. I think that if I was still consumed by the damage done by those years, I might feel differently.

That said, most of the people who I'd identify as tormenting me back then are in jail. I'd like to thank my mother who follows the police blotter in my hometown for letting me know that. I find the connection between their behavior as adolescents and their behavior as adults instructive.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:50 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes. I was doing mindfulness meditation and ended up spending a lot of time thinking about the meanest thing anyone ever said to me and thinking about the meanest thing I ever said to someone. It was a girl with whom I went to summer camp, who I teased for no good reason at all. She ended up going to my high school a few years later and we were cordial to each other and she friended me on Facebook, not sure why. A few months ago, I was thinking about it a lot, and I ended up writing her a Facebook message to tell her that I was sorry and that my behavior toward her didn't have anything to do with her personally but that she probably knew that already and has long since moved on and I just wanted to say sorry but she wasn't obligated to reply. I hadn't talked to her in years, so it was out of the blue. She did reply, and we had a nice exchange.

I am glad I did. I would like it if the girl who picked on me growing up would apologize. But that's just me. Also, as mentioned before, sometimes there are other ways of making amends that don't bring the other person back into it, if it's an unwise thing to do. Trust your inner wisdom and be honest with yourself about your motives and what you're trying to achieve.
posted by mermily at 1:03 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The person who bullied me also molested and raped me (and slapped me around and other more normal bullying behaviors). I spent years sitting in a therapist's office saying crazy sounding things like "why didn't he just apologize?!?" He never apologized but in his own way he tried to make amends. He often resolved certain problems for me that he typically heard of third-hand since we rarely spoke. I no longer hope for an apology. I know some of his backstory and why things went bad the way they did. I think he sincerely regretted hurting me. I eventually let it go -- "forgave him," so to speak. We remain not close but I hope he finds happiness. Nonetheless, I want nothing to do with him. I see no good coming of that.

A brief apology might be okay but unless you plan to make amends of some sort, I agree with the people saying that apologizing is potentially just about making yourself feel better, possibly at the expense of more harm to them.

FWIW, from the other side of the coin: I am 48. I make a lot fewer apologies than I used to. I went through very public withdrawal from medication on an email list where I could not keep my feet out of my mouth. I wrote many sincere, heartfelt apologies during that time. The result: I became the list scapegoat and people would lash out at me without real provocation, then expect me to apologize to them in the face of their assholery.

I am not a big fan of apologies. Most of the time, if someone is fucking up, they are doing so because their life currently sucks and/or they weren't raised right/didn't know better. If they are generally well behaved, I think it makes more sense to smooth things over and suggest they are suffering foot in mouth disease, it was a misundestanding, etc. If they are genuinely a chronic asshole, they may apologize to save face publically but will continue to be an asshole. Few people really, truly mean it when they apologize. So I don't put much stock in apologies, plus I am skeptical of their social value given my very negative experience with writing sincere apologies. I think it is best to simply avoid the chronic assholes, no matter what nice-sounding things they say, and it is best to just be understanding, patient and compassionate with others who happen to be human and just can't always get it right rather than being all high handed and holier than though.

I am probably banned for life from the email list where I went through withdrawal. I got off all the medication, which was not supposed to be possible, and I am getting my life together, something that is also not supposed to be possible. Last time I ran into them, some of those folks still hold it against me that I could not keep my feet out of my mouth many years ago while heavily medicated, in constant pain, etc. I have no plans to grovel before them or try to regain their so called respect. In my case, it closes doors on some avenues of things I would like to do with my life. I will either find another path forward or let those things go. People who are so unforgiving and ugly to me given what I was going through are welcome to nurse their petty grudges until they die. I want nothing to do with them if I can avoid them.

Similarly, you were a kid going through a hard time. Someone, somewhere likely failed you or you would not have been bullying anyone. Either you have sincerely changed for the better and won't behave that way again or you are looking for some cheesy means to feel ok about yourself without changing. Either way, I personally see little purpose to an apology. If you have sincerely changed, I suggest you forgive yourself and let it go. They may never forgive you. Or they may not particularly remember you. If they aren't currently a part of your life, it probably does not much matter either way.

I look upon such experiences as research into how not to live. Just don't do it again. If you want to in some way pay off this spiritual "debt," rather than helping bullied kids, perhaps you could try to help the bullies themselves. From what I have observed, they are usually hurting pretty badly and just taking it out on unfortunate bystanders. Perhaps trying to have compassion for someone like that and help them cope differently would help you forgive yourself and prevent others from being victims in the first place.
posted by Michele in California at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with those who say it depends on the circumstances and they may or may not appreciate or accept your apology.

Personally, I have never been really severly bullied in the way that some people here describe, but there was one guy in middle school who used to make fun of me consistently for being overweight. There was a period during which this was a big deal for me. I eventually told the school counselor about him and the school actually removed him from my classes. If that guy tried to friend me on facebook, I definitely would not accept it, but if he somehow got my information and sent me a message saying he was sorry or that he had grown as a person or what have you, I would probably feel positively towards this, and happy that he wasn't a jerk anymore, since the world needs less of those.

One other thing that I do remember was that my family used to have week long reunions every year. There was one year that my cousins, led by my brother who tended to be kind of a jerk to me, kind of ganged up on me and made fun of me a bunch. The year after, one of my cousins actually apologized to me for this and said that it had been mean of him and he was sorry. I appreciated that and it made me feel like he was a good person who cared about me.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 2:09 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was apologized to by one of my (many) bullies; he paid the money to send me a very kind apology message on FB without bothering me with a friend request first. The apology was sincere, owned his bad behavior, gave a little insight into his motivation for his choices, talked about the negative consequences of his bullying for _him_, and asked nothing of me. It was along the lines of "It was terrible behavior, and I knew it was terrible when I was doing it, but for reasons that escape me, I chose to do it anyway. I had hoped my actions would make me feel powerful and strong, but they never did. I have regretted them ever since. I apologize completely, sincerely, and unreservedly; I hope you have done better things with your life since than I did then."

It actually helped me a lot, and I'm glad he did it. But if he had asked me to respond, or tried to explain away his actions or rationalize them, it would have been much worse than if he'd said nothing at all.
posted by KathrynT at 2:14 PM on November 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

I've been bullied, as a kid and as an adult. I hope I haven't bullied anybody, but kids can be real jerks, or just stupid. I'd feel better if somebody who was unkind to me apologized. It would also give me a chance to be gracious, so that's a plus.
posted by theora55 at 4:47 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently got an apology Facebook note from someone who had bullied me a few years back as adults, not as kids, and it felt very self-serving -- that she wanted me to know that she realized she'd been a bully and that's not who she is and so on and so forth. Even in her apology, I felt like she had totally missed the point of why what she'd done had been so damaging.

I didn't appreciate her barging in on my mental bandwidth to make herself feel better -- I didn't and don't need to think about her, whether kindly or unkindly, or why she felt the need to apologize now. I felt intruded upon and angry, versus gracious or forgiving.

I didn't respond and I won't respond.
posted by littlemisslaika at 5:46 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was bullied pretty much all through school.

I'd actually appreciate an apology from any of my former bullies, if it were sincere. I've had a couple of my former bullies send me Facebook friend requests, but it was pretty obvious they were either fishing for some kind of "d'awww, that's okay!" kind of glossing-it-over absolution from me, or had forgotten completely that they were so awful to me, and I don't need that. One person even went through a weird born-again-Christian phase where they were apologizing to everyone about everything, but it was clear that they were in the throes of "I am as but a sinner and I need to apologize because that's what a good Christian does, amen." I didn't acknowledge that either.

But a really simple, "hey - I've realized I was a shit to you, and that was bad of me and I'm sorry; you don't need to write back, I just wanted to let you know I realized that" would be awesome. I've heard too many other people try to remind me that "bullies are wounded and that's what makes them like that", but that just feels like the victims are supposed to just suck it up and take it, and vanishingly few people ever acknowledge that "yo, that was a bad thing for you to go through and you didn't deserve that". So, yeah, if it were a short and sincere apology, I'd want it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:04 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't get me wrong, I would absolutely welcome an apology from a childhood bully, but not in a warm and fuzzy way. I feel 100 percent sure these people have not spent one second thinking about or regretting anything they did or said to me in all the 20 years since my childhood (while meanwhile it's no doubt part of the difficulties I've dealt with every single second since childhood). I cannot have the naïve belief like many people do that all children are innocent and sensitive no matter how they behave. But I would love it if someone apologized to me. It would be a great and wonderful opportunity to reject and hurt this person as much as possible and I sure would use it.
posted by Blitz at 6:30 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was the very bullied fringe member of a group of popular girls in a grotesquely competitive middle school. I spent all of 7th grade hiding in the bathroom during lunch so I wouldn't have to sit alone in the cafeteria on the days my "friends" decided to torment me and expel me from the table in front of the whole school. They were girls who were products of their environments; they each had neglectful or otherwise abusive parents. I was a desperate-to-be-liked bookworm and therefore a very easy target. I understood at the time and understand even more acutely now that they were behaving in a way that was expected of them, that this was how they proved they were superior to other people, and that this was the image of beauty and power that their own fucked-up Long Island parents presented to them.

On Facebook, I see that a lot of those girls have sincerely grown up and done a lot of good with their lives. Many of them have adorable, sweet-looking children. If one of them wrote to me, apologized, and said that they were going to be a better example to their children than their parents were to them, I'd be glad to know there's a chance these mistakes aren't necessarily passed down to the next generation. But more importantly, if one of them wrote to me in a way that made it seem she was only doing it to make herself feel better, I would be okay with that. I'll always be a little bit damaged from having been a punching bag for three years, but I don't wish anyone ill and I wouldn't wish anyone else to spend time kicking herself for things she did as a kid. Maybe it's too generous of me that I'd be willing to let someone make an apology to me to get some peace of mind, and I should instead say, "Nope, you don't get to decide that you get to feel better now," but I honestly would hope that it eased her conscience somewhat and let her get past it the way I have.
posted by pineappleheart at 7:27 PM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

There were a couple of bullies in my high school who sent me apologetic screeds 25-or-so years later. In both cases my reaction was roundfile and block. Those people do not matter any more.
posted by jet_silver at 7:32 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you do something wrong, and at some point later either 1) come to the realization it was wrong when you didn't know so previously, or 2) are willing to acknowledge that wrongness,

Whether that person, entity, animal, or inanimate object is capable of comprehending it, accepting it, or appreciating it or not.

You make your wrongs right. You don't leave them wrong just because the person you wronged won't respond in an acceptable manner.

You also don't get to demand their forgiveness. You accept what you get, and you move on.

The ball's in their court. Once you've done your part so you're "even", that's that. Neither owes each other anything further.

As for some of those answers up above... I wish you peace, and hope you choose to seek it, because some of those reactions aren't, by any stretch of the imagination, mentally healthy for you.
posted by stormyteal at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ugh, no. I won't even accept FB friend requests from former bullies of FRIENDS. Yeah, I remember you and your homophobic, hateful ways, and how you pushed my buddy around....etc. No thx.

You don't know what people's lives are like now, and what you'd be doing by intruding and inevitably reminding them of a painful time. So: don't.
posted by dovesandstones at 8:58 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot depends on the severity and type of bullying. I was severely bullied during one hellacious year in sixth grade. So severely that I have lasting psychological trauma from the events of that year, including a pretty debilitating inability to trust people, make new friends, or be emotionally vulnerable with anyone, even members of my close family. There were a couple of kids who seemed to make it their mission in life to tear me down every single day. A few even repeatedly assaulted me. If any of those people tried to contact me in any way, let alone apologize, I'd just be reminded all over again of the trauma they caused me, which would be much more painful than any satisfaction an apology could bring.

On the other hand there were also kids who maybe called me a not nice name once or twice, but their bullying didn't progress beyond that, nor was it constant. If one of them tried to apologize, I'd probably be open to it.
posted by katyggls at 9:21 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was lucky in that my childhood bullying was horrible to a sensitive kid, but nothing really destroying. I forgave all those kids a long time ago--or the ones who I didn't pay back in kind in the following years, who are repaid under the rules of vendetta, like all uncivilized peoples have done. Someone who really ruined someone's life out of many years of focused horribleness? Best accompanied by abasement, if not belly-ripping.
posted by LucretiusJones at 10:47 PM on November 26, 2013

You know what I really want from the people who bullied me when I was younger? I want them to quit trying to dump their problems on me and stay the hell out of my life.

If they have regrets, that's unfortunate. But they can work them out on their own time - preferably from a few thousand miles away.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:37 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

A girl from school messaged me on facebook to apologise for bullying me - apparently her son was being bullied and it all because a little real for her.

I don't remember anything about her, not really.

So I felt sad for her, more than anything. I don't remember her being particularly awful (unlike either the boys who bullied me at the time, or later years). And she was upset and sad. So I told her that it was okay, that I hoped her son would come through it okay, and that I was fine now.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:25 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes. A few months ago I posted an entry on my blog about being severely bullied in middle school, then posted the link to Facebook. Without using names, I wrote about incidents that I still remember nearly 15 years later. One of the guilty parties messaged me on Facebook and apologized sincerely, saying he now talks to his young daughter about treating people right because he used to be cruel to others. I respect him so much, and his apology was so appreciated.
posted by thank you silence at 4:22 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wasn't bullied in childhood, but I was harassed and threatened and occasionally beat up in high school. With the exception of one asshole who, several years later, while working as a border guard, pulled my mother and I over and had her car searched meticulously, I don't remember any of their names or faces. They are just a faceless, undifferentiated mass of crappy high school experiences, the details of which have gotten mercifully foggy for me in the intervening 25 years. It's all left a lasting mark, but an apology would be meaningless, I think. They meant nothing to me as people, as I assume I meant nothing to them. If an apology came to me from that group of people, I would just ignore it.

On the other hand, there are a few people I was close friends with in elementary school who kind of turned on me in our first year of high school. It didn't even last all that long, I don't think (this, too, is a little foggy!) but it really, really hurt me, and shook my confidence, and, I think, laid the groundwork for the later treatment by that other mass of kids. We never discussed it, and eventually they were all friendly to me again, even if we never regained a close friendship. I've connected with a couple of them on Facebook, and really enjoy seeing what they are up to. From them I actually would welcome an apology, or just a conversation about what that was all about.

Similarly, a very close and dear friend was really awful to me about ten years ago, like, really awful. It ended out friendship after a long and horribly drawn out piece of drama. About a year ago she sent me a very thoughtful, specific and detailed apology. I wasn't really sure how to answer her, because what happened between us has had a lasting effect and I'm still struggling with the fallout. I recognize that the effects, though, are separate from her actions, and I'm working through all that stuff in therapy, but the note happened to come at a time of particular difficulty so I just didn't have any spare room in the ol' heart for offering forgiveness. I also felt like before offering forgiveness I would have to let her know just what a lasting impressions she made on me, but didn't feel like opening the old wounds with her. So, I haven't answered her, though I might still.

Maybe you should reach out to the person who bullied you to see what it is like to be on the receiving end and let that inform your decision.
posted by looli at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2013

I was badly bullied all through high school. It wasn't just constant teasing and humiliation, it was also physical at times. It was pretty awful. Two bullies from two different schools directly and spontaneously apologised to me face to face when I ran into them at college (on separate occasions). I was grateful they did so and, since my life was going really well, and I hadn't really been tortured by the memories of the bullying or carried too much of that emotion forward with me, gladly forgave them. One simply said she was sorry she had been so mean and that she had grown up a lot since. The other told me that my intelligence and the fact I was so different and eccentric and clever meant he and the rest of the class didn't know what to do with me and therefore punished me for being unusual and articulate - traits he said he now admired. This guy and I eventually became quite good friends for a while. In my case, I really was over the bullying and while I was appreciative of the apologies and the grace with which they said sorry, I was also pretty much over the whole experience so I wasn't carrying hurt and anger into the conversation. I honestly felt it showed maturity and authenticity for them to offer this up. I certainly didn't need or desire an apology and was a little surprised to get one but I remember being impressed with both people for the courage and decency they showed in owning their mistakes.

I have also sent a couple of apology emails to people I felt I hurt (in relationships) in the past a few years after the fact. As an apologiser, I think it helps to keep it short and direct and to avoid going into too much detail or background on why you behaved as you did or the issues you were facing at the time. Also, I wrote both of those apologies without expecting replies and said so in them. In one case, I got a kind reply, in the other I checked with the person first to see if they'd be upset to read an apology note from me (if it was likely to bring back painful times/thoughts). If you do write, stay away, perhaps, from anything that reads as self-justifying or self-pitying. A simple "I recognise now that I behaved really badly and wanted to acknowledge how hurtful and unfair that was" may be enough. It was important for me to know I sent those apologies without any expectations at all and that I'd feel okay if I never heard back: for them to be sincere and to work, I needed to view it as something not conditional on my apology being accepted.

I might be in the minority, but a sincerely expressed and open hearted apology that demands nothing in return seems like a graceful act to me. But I'm an easy forgiver and I don't hold grudges so YMMV. If you are worried about bringing back old wounds you could always open the message with a short 'I'm writing to apologise but if you feel it's painful to read this, feel free to delete it' or try to see if there is another way to approach this person indirectly (not sure how -- do you have any mutual friends you could sound out about whether this person would appreciate an apology? send a snail mail letter with your name clearly on the envelope flap so they can choose whether or not to open it?)
posted by JayAlfred at 1:33 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd say it depends on how heavy the bullying you did was, how often, for how long etcetera. If it was just a few times when you name-called somebody, then it's likely the targets will be more receptive to your apology and dismiss it as typical children behaviour. If on the other hand you made someone's life hell on earth for years, I'd say this is much less likely to happen.

Personally, the only bully of mine I ever forgave was one that apologized {and did so in a written manner which he had no idea I'd have access to} a few months after his behaviour had started and then proceeded to change his ways around me, actually starting to protect me from the other bullies. If one of them actually came forward and apologized to me now, ten years later, I frankly would not give a damn about it- what is done is done and either you realize it's wrong immediately and do your best to fix it {the way the guy I wrote about did}, or you just live with it. After all these years, I'd see it as a way of making themselves feel better- what damage was done will be there with me in the future, just like it has been with me throughout my teenage years. Of course, this is how I reacted- I'm not a person with a great inclination to forgiveness when I see nothing in it that's about the wronged party. Other people's reactions may differ greatly though.
posted by opalshards at 5:22 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi all,
I just wanted to say that the response to this question was overwhelming. It made me realize we all have our bullies. All of your answers were helpful. I wanted to provide a tiny bit of background and also let you all know that I did message her, and I have not received a response. And I'm ok with that. I honestly just wanted her to know I am aware of my actions, and I feel bad about it, but I wasn't looking for absolution.

I took the advice many of you gave. I kept the message short. It said "Hi, I wanted to let you know that I have been thinking of you lately and the way I treated you when we were children. It seemed ok at the time for me for reasons that I have realized were wrong, and I am very sorry. I hope you are well."

And now, to address all of the wonderful, heartfelt, and sincere answers that you all posted...wow! The MeFi community is pretty amazing, and this is proof. To those of you that suggested I reach out and stop bullying when it's happening...well, right now I don't work with any kids, as I am in grad school. But I used to lifeguard in the summers and spent a good bit of that time enforcing my own personal anti-bullying policy. (haha...bullies were punished by not being allowed in the pool for ten minutes). I know it was stupid, but it was my own little way of using my adulthood to let kids know bullying is not ok.

My first day of kindergarten I rode the bus. My mom waved bye to me and I got on to ride the mile to school. I left crying and was terrified to go back the next day because I was bullied so badly. I was adopted from South Korea, and my school district was 99% white. I was made fun of a lot growing up (just a couple kids). Of course, I have thick skin now, and honestly, I can't say that the bullying really traumatized me as an adult. But I can say it definitely affected how I treated others when I was young. One of the boys who bullied me just stopped one day. I was crying and he turned to his friend and said something like, "we should stop. she is crying." And he never bullied me again. The other kid, though, continued. When I cried to my dad, he said to me, "I think maybe ______ has a bad life. Maybe his dad is mean to him. Maybe he doesn't have a good role model teaching him right from wrong. You just have to be stronger than him and walk away." I think my dad gave me a good lesson, and I hope to god that other children who have been bullied were able to have the support that I had.

This girl that I have been thinking of lately happened to get caught in my crosshairs as I was dealing with being unpopular, friendless, and alone. It was wrong. I don't ask for pity, sympathy, or forgiveness. It was fucked up and wrong. My purpose of apologizing to her was to let her know that she was special enough in my life to remember decades later. I have no idea what she's doing in her life now, but wouldn't it be nice to know someone out there cares about you without really knowing you anymore? So, anyway, that's why I did it.

Bullying is very real problem, and I hope that all of us who have been affected in some way by this problem can deal with it in positive ways as adults. Thanks again for all who answered. It helped me decide what to do and how to do it.
posted by kbennett289 at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

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