In today's interview, we will hear a personal story of how to overcome bullying.
Bog Haegele is the author of the personal finance blog The Frugal Fellow. Bob reached out to me after reading my interview with Andrea of Saving Joyfully where she told her story of growing up abused. He told me briefly about being bullied as a young child.
It got me thinking about bullying. It happens all of the time to both adults and children. It's now a part of the social media culture as well. Called cyberbullying, it's taken on a new and dangerous form. We hear far too many stories of suicides from teens who have been bullied via Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and other social media platforms.
Bullying seems to be part of the culture created, mostly, but not always for men that build up the tough-guy, macho image as the model. Intimidation (bullying) is often a part of that culture. Though it may seem innocuous at first glance, when it turns into bullying, it goes too far. And it's far more common than it should be.
So, when Bob offered to tell his story, I was honored to give him the platform.
With that, let me introduce you to BobHaegele to tell his story.
How to overcome bullying
Tell us a little about yourself
Hey there, I’m Bob Haegele, and I’m 30 years old. By day, I work in healthcare and IT. By night, I run a blog called The Frugal Fellow. I’m a big fan of music and go to concerts as often as possible, plus anything outdoors. I’ve been trying to meet more locals through Meetup. And I’m working on being a big traveler starting next year!
You reached out to me after reading one of my interviews. You said you endured something you wanted to share to help others. Tell us what that was.
Sure. I was always the quiet, nice kid. Or at least I appeared to be on the outside. The truth is I have a bit of a temper, which is not a great combination when dealing with bullies.
For as far back as my memory takes me, I recall enduring a pattern of bullying. To be more precise, I would say it started when I was around six years old – the summer before first grade.
At such a young age, we don’t have much of a social circle. At this stage in our lives, friendship is more about proximity than it is about shared interests. We hang out with the kid “down the block” because the fact of the matter is that we don’t know any better.
I really wish I had.
I ended up spending most of the first few summers of grade school with several of those kids down the block. The group consisted of around eight kids, many of whom I saw just about every day during the summers.
It seemed harmless enough, but there were some major red flags that I probably would have spotted if I hadn’t been so young and naive.
Early signs missed
For example, the one who I considered the ringleader of the group would often call my house. There were no cell phones back then – and we were just kids, of course. As soon as he got me on the phone, his first question was usually “Did you get anything new?”
See, this kid’s parents rarely bought him things. Though all of us in the group loved playing video games, he never had a game console that I can recall. Conversely, my parents spoiled me back then, so I had several consoles and games to go with them.
There’s nothing wrong with asking about new games I may have gotten; that is normal conversation. But that was all this kid cared about when he called. He wasn’t interested in me as a friend; he only wanted to come to my house and play with the things his parents never bought him.
If I didn’t have any new stuff, he wasn’t interested.
Being the “nice” kid
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. Remember how I said earlier that I was seen as the quiet, nice kid? While these are often venerable traits as an adult, when you are a child, these traits can be construed as signs of weakness.
And that is exactly what happened with this group. Sure, things may have seemed normal on the surface. We would mostly hang out at each other’s houses, go to the park, play baseball in the streets, and so on. You know, typical kids’ stuff. And I guess it almost was typical. Almost.
But it wasn’t normal. At least not from my perspective. They almost always ended up taking advantage of what they saw as weaknesses in me. They would take turns slinging insults, and before long, the whole group was ganging up on me.
This was not a back-and-forth or merry-go-round of insults; instead, I was made the focal point of the entire group. This was no longer just for laughs; it had quickly turned into bullying. With no one on my side, I was defenseless.
Nowadays I might be able to handle it. I have much thicker skin now and wouldn’t let such petty insults get to me. But back then, it was very hurtful. As I said, this started when I was only six years old.
I think, at first, it was no big deal. But because I was quiet and shy, I never stood up for myself. Of course, that was what enabled them to keep doing it, and doing it, and doing it.
Because I never stood up for myself, it kept getting worse and worse.
And so, there came a day when it became too much to bear.
Taking a stand
I don’t remember much about the details of that day. I think I willingly or unwillingly blocked some of it out of my memory. What I remember is that it was seemingly just another summer day.
We were playing baseball outside as we often did. Then, as was also typical, the bullying started.
But this time, it was going to be different. I couldn’t take it anymore.
So what did I do? I walked up to one of the kids and punched him as hard as I could. I was still a kid myself, so I don’t think I hurt him badly. It likely hurt my hand more!
But it didn’t matter. Whether he was actually hurt or not, I had finally taken a stand. Everyone was stunned. Not knowing what to do, I just walked away. No one chased after me.
That was the last time I ever saw any of those kids.
Everyone who knows me talks about how nice I am. That’s the first thing anybody says. And I am! But no matter how kind someone is, if you push them hard enough, for long enough, they might eventually break.
That’s what happened to me. I’m not perfect.
But what I learned from that situation is that I should have either stopped hanging out with those kids much sooner, or told an adult, or something. I shouldn’t have continued allowing them to bully me when it made me so upset. That was my mistake.
Did you tell your parents? Teachers? Other authorities? If so, what were the results? If not, tell us what was going through your mind?
As I alluded to above, I never really told anyone much. I mean, they heard bits and pieces. For whatever reason, I remember that one of my sisters was aware of the one kid being particularly interested in what “stuff” I might have acquired.
Later on, in high school, I was sent to the dean’s office with another kid who was in the marching band with me. The bullying continued there as well. I think band kids generally have a reputation of being quiet and nerdy – similar to myself – but these kids were not.
They may have had the appearance of being nerdy on the outside, but they were loud and obnoxious, unlike me. I think I also blocked out the details of what exactly happened in that situation as well, but apparently, it boiled over to the point that it became obvious it was a problem.
I’m not sure if it was due to that particular incident (it probably was) but the bullying did eventually stop before I graduated from high school. Still, it lasted for 2-3 years, which was more than enough to cause some trauma.
I can’t say the exact number of years I endured regular bullying since I never wrote it down or anything. But I would say it was at least five.
How did you finally get it stopped? How did you overcome it?
The unfortunate thing for me is that I tend to be non-confrontational. As a result, I never stopped the bullying until it became utterly overwhelming.
I did detail that above, but for me, I was only able to stop it by finally standing up for myself or when the school administration got involved. In other words, it was only when it really got out of control, and something had to be done.
Ultimately, though, adults don’t tend to bully each other which is very much a relief. I would say I escaped it more than I overcame it. If bullying were still an issue in adulthood, I can’t guarantee it wouldn’t still be a problem for me. I still have that outward appearance of being quiet, shy, and nice.
How has that affected you as an adult?
Those who know me, even in the blogging community, know that I struggle with anxiety. The anxiety is of the social variety, and for that reason, I attribute most of it to the trauma I endured in the form of bullying.
Eye contact is difficult. Once I get to know someone, a lot of the anxiety fades away.
But it’s still there. It’s like asthma – there are things you can do to manage it and lessen it – but it never entirely goes away. That is the reality that I face on a daily basis. All I can do is deal with it and manage it to the best of my ability.
What would you say to anyone who has or is experiencing bullying now?
Firstly, it’s unlikely that you are entirely powerless against bullies.
Per the kids on my block, I could have easily just stopped hanging out with them. Or I could have told my parents. There are a lot of things I could have done, but instead, I let them keep bullying me. Don’t let it get to that point.
The second situation was a little more difficult because the bullying happened as part of an activity that I didn’t necessarily want to leave. But even in that case, telling someone is important. As a kid, it can feel like you are a “tattle tail” but the reality is that you need to do what is necessary to defend yourself. Your mental health may be negatively impacted if you don’t.
Thanks, Bob for sharing your story. It's such an important one. I'm sure it wasn't easy to tell. It took a lot of courage. I know there are thousands of people who will benefit from your sharing it. To the person, everyone I've interviewed in this overcoming adversity series has told their stories to help others dealing with something similar.
On behalf of all of them, I say thank you.
Though Money with a Purpose is mostly a personal finance blog, one of my greatest desires is to help people. The tagline is knowledge to help align your money with your life. If our lives are a mess because of trauma, tragedy, or another significant life event, it will be hard to keep things aligned.
Once again, virtually every person I've interviewed will tell you that overcoming their particular challenge allowed them to live a healthier life, both personally, professionally, and financially.
So, to all of you, I say thank you! To all scheduled and future interviewees, I say thank you in advance.
Now it's your turn. Have you ever experienced bullying? If so, how did you overcome it? How did it change you? Do you know someone who's experienced bullying? How can you help them overcome?