Inside One Bully’s Heart

Inside One Bully’s Heart

In 4th grade I transferred from a down-to-earth, almost all-Jewish neighborhood public school to a Christian prep school in the wealthiest section of Baltimore. I had no idea how to dress, how to act, how to talk, how to keep my head above water socially as well as academically. I was bullied relentlessly, most cruelly (for some reason) by the daughters of 2 judges, Cassie and Trudy.

B”H, by Middle School, while I was still teased quite a bit, I had found my own small group of friends (the nerdy crowd, but b”H, I finally had a crowd!) And by Upper School all of us had matured a lot, and the bullying stopped completely. But that pain, of being the bullied outcast unable to protect herself, is a pain I will never forget. So last week, tears came to my eyes reading a bullied child’s letter to her tormentor that appeared in Family First and tears returned to my eyes this week reading a different bully’s response.

The bully writes:

I read the first paragraph of your letter and my heart skipped a beat. It sounded like you were talking to me. After reading the specifics of your story, I realized you were not, but there are plenty of people who could have written similar stories about me.

The letter opened up a flood of memories of those years back in school. Ironically, the place where I made your life miserable was the place I could escape my misery. My mother was an emotionally abusive woman. She always yelled at me. She said terribly hurtful things to me. And I was never allowed to defend myself. I had to stand there listening to her tirades.

I never knew what would set her off. I recall one summer morning when I upset her (my room must have been a mess) and she started screaming at me, “I am capable of making your summer miserable, and that’s what you clearly want, so that’s what I’ll do.” And that was one of the few times she kept her word.

Or the time she told my father (in front of me) that I should have never been born–because the sink wasn’t scrubbed out. Or the time she got mad and took her house plants, stomped to the porch, and threw them over the railing.

I remember her lying in bed for days on end. She would not attend any family events during that time and she told me tearfully (I couldn’t have been more than ten), “Your mother is very sick.”

Twice, I saw her attempt suicide. Many times she would get mad and leave the house. We never knew when she would come back; sometimes it would be a couple hours later, and sometimes the next day.

My father was a well respected Torah scholar, but he was never there for me. In fact, he considered it bittul Torah* to speak to me. Thrown into that mix was an older brother who used to take advantage of me. This was my day-to-day life at home.

But you couldn’t have known. In school I was popular, smart, and very witty, and you were the target of my pent-up anger.

This letter is in no way intended to excuse the pain I caused you. You were an innocent bystander who happened to be there when the going got tough. I guess it’s an explanation on my part. But it isn’t enough to take away the pain I caused you, and for that, I apologize.

Sincerely, Your Former Classmate

* Bitul Torah- Wasting valuable time that could be used learning Torah.


  1. it is true that sometimes the bully in school is suffering terrible agonies at home.
    it is also true that more often, the bully in school is simply someone who knows how to manipulate people in order to get the feeling of power they crave. they come from “normal” families, without tragedy or strife, and simply are too eager to go after the power they crave. and oftentimes their parents were equally bullied by them at home; unable or unwilling to take the strong stand needed to help their child see the damage they cause by running after their craving for power and control….

    • Helpful mom

      Can you elaborate Tamar? My daughter has. Even. Ullying at school. It is so hard for me to even say that, after all the years of positive parenting, listening, validating, setting limits, thati put in… She has a few issues and gets it and speech, but otherwise we ara normal family…. Loving… We do get angry, stressed out… But not more than my friends it seems. What have I done wrong?

      • i would be more than happy to discuss this with you in private. ask chana jenny to give you my email address.

        in general, we all have difficulty seeing ourselves from the “outside”. many times what we think is “setting limits” is not effective with this particular child and requires a different interpretation…

        you havent’ done anything wrong. you must not berate yourself, and you must believe that this is the journey meant for you and your child. as long as you try to do your best, to improve, to grow, then you can believe that you have not failed..

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