By Rachel Puryear
This post is to address a question I received, where the asker had a childhood bully who was quite cruel to her, and had publicly humiliated her for several years. The bully was a big factor in the asker becoming deeply depressed and anxious for many years, and the asker’s parents finally switched her from one school to another because of this bully’s behavior. This caused a great deal of upheaval in the asker’s life.
Now, in adulthood, the bully and the asker have both come to realize that they belong to some of the same social circles. The bully has apologized to the asker for her behavior; but now also insists that the asker forgive her, and be her friend. The bully says that she’s changed, and that she’s not the same person anymore that she used to be.
The asker is not so sure. In any event, though, being around her former bully brings up bad memories of the past; and while she appreciates the apology, she doesn’t want to regularly associate with this person, because it’s too overwhelming to be in her presence again.
So, the asker wants to know if she’s wrong for not wanting to forgive or associate with her former bully, even in spite of the apology. This post will give an answer to that question.
It’s great when people can improve themselves, and become a better person. It’s also great when someone is able to genuinely forgive past harms and indiscretions, and let it go. It’s great when people can reconcile their differences, and come to appreciate one another in a new way, and have a new and expanded view of someone else.
However; that outcome is not always realistic, feasible, or even advisable to strive for where there has been a history of bullying and other abuse between two people. That’s not to say that no one with a history of violence and mean behavior can ever change for the better – although it’s not probable, it is still possible in some cases. And while forgiveness and reconciliation can even be healing for many survivors; for those who are pressured into it unwillingly, or tricked into it when someone has not really changed as much as they previously believed, it can do a lot more harm than good.
So, whether the asker should attempt to befriend or even forgive their former bully, depends on a couple of questions: (1) Does the asker want to be friends with their former bully? Is the asker getting something out of that, too, which makes the efforts and risks worthwhile? And, (2) Has the other person (who was the bully) really changed? Are they taking full responsibility for their past actions, appreciating the full extent of the harm they caused, truly remorseful for the pain and damage they caused, and taking any steps reasonably feasible for them in order to redress harm and make amends?
If a person who has formerly wronged someone else has truly changed, has genuine remorse for their past actions, and actually understands and appreciates the impact of their previous behavior on people they’ve harmed; then they will understand if someone they have hurt doesn’t want them around, and isn’t ready to forgive them (and may never be, and that’s okay, too). If this is not true, then the person has not truly changed – if they had really changed; then they would not be demanding forgiveness, let alone new friendship.
So, to circle back to the original question: I’m not convinced that the former bully has demonstrated enough responsibility or remorse for their past actions. This is evidenced in large part by their insistence upon forgiveness, without acknowledging that they caused a level of pain and harm that might make that impossible, through no fault of the person who was bullied.
Furthermore, the apparent benefit to the former bully of making things easier for her socially now that she and the asker have friends and contacts in common suggests that the former bully is motivated by self-serving reasons, rather than genuine concern for the person she bullied. If making amends is to a bully’s benefit but they also show remorse and take responsibility for their behavior, it would be one thing – but there’s nothing here to suggest that the former bully is acting for anything other than her own benefit. Accordingly, I think the person who was bullied can shut the door on their bully, and not feel the least bit bad or petty about doing so.
Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to recognizing harm we’ve caused, and also taking responsibility for it. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo