What are bullied children like as adults?

Answer by Oliver Emberton:

We’re kicking the ass of the world which bullied us.

At one point as a child, I was dragged to a river where my head was pinned underwater. In the brief seconds when I was let up for air, all I could hear was the crowd laughing.

Eventually I decided my best hope was to pretend I had drowned and stop moving. That worked.

When I was maybe 10, in a school bathroom, a small group surrounded and goaded me into a hopeless fight. I had my head repeatedly rammed into a sink, where the taps cut both my eyebrows open till blood spluttered down my face.

What I recall the most was desperately wanting to cover myself so no-one would notice. I guess I wanted to fit in. When my mother collected me at the end of the day, I literally had my hands covering my bloodied face.

For my entire childhood I pretty much felt continually like most of the outside world wanted me dead – or at least, found me a curious novelty for their own amusement. Like an ant, having his legs picked off under a magnifying glass.

And with hindsight, I can see why. I was a red haired, half-American scrawny little smartarse, with no natural social or sporting skills and a readily provoked temper. My natural comfort zone was learning things – which made school a cakewalk, but made the playground a hellhole.

I’m sure bullying affects everyone differently. But for me, it grew to feel like a thousand furious suns burning in my chest. A source of immense anguish, and immense motivation. In a word: fury.

As I grew older, life didn’t improve much. Physical bullying subsided, but physical bullying isn’t the worst. I recall one of the more popular ladies at school pronouncing to the room: “Imagine the poor girl who has to lose her virginity to him”.

When you yourself are led to believe such things, life can be dark indeed.

My inner fury had some perks though. When I said I had motivation, I wasn’t kidding. Between the ages of 16 − 17 I coded a million lines of software by myself. I taught myself graphic design, painting, the piano. There were things – incredible things – that I learned I could do, but the divide between that and what the rest of the world seemed to think about me had never been so wide.

In my first year at University, I lived in shared accommodation with a group of 6 guys, and above us 6 girls. Although I wasn’t the easiest fit into the group, for the first time, I felt like I belonged to a small circle of friends.

Near the end of our first year together, the guys took me out clubbing, and got me apocalyptically drunk. On purpose, as it turns out. Once I was in a mellow stupor they decided to tell me they’d found a house they wanted to share together next term, but they didn’t want me in it.

Well. The great thing about low points is they’re invariably followed by moving up.

As the years rolled by a couple of great things happened. I started to figure people out. I realised there were books that explain how people work – which for someone who had always struggled with such things was a revelation.

I also started a software business. Suddenly my unusual skills and work ethic were rare and precious assets. Who knew?

Running a business forced me to confront things I was afraid to do, like sell to strangers. I discovered that – far from being a socially inept wallflower I actually loved selling, and adored public speaking. The real world isn’t fair either, but it’s a much fairer game to play than the playground. And the rewards are greater than the fleeting admiration of your peers.

In the decade that followed, I discovered love, happiness, self-worth and prosperity all by myself. The fury which brought me here did not fade, but it lost nearly all of its bitterness. It simply left me stronger.

I’m Facebook friends today with people who bloodied my nose at school. But who they are and what they did doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

They’re not the same person anymore. And neither am I.


Ironically, all the cool kids now follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Read more of me three times a week at oliveremberton.com

What are bullied children like as adults?