Former and self-professed "mean girl" Jennifer LaFleur was fortunate. Her high school art teacher knew that what Jennifer really needed wasn't more self-esteem, a common error among those who work with youth. Like most serial Bullies, Jennifer's cure came in part through seeing her own dominating behavior in the theater of other lives, so her teacher made her a peer advisor for younger mean girls. Jennifer saw herself in their selfish and cruel eyes and saw the light.
But this wasn't the only ray of unbecoming light that brought sobriety. Jennifer crossed paths with Debbie, a more powerful bully, giving her the gift of insight and humility. Still, it wasn't till after high school that Jennifer self-diagnosed herself as a full-fledged bully, a fact she hid from her mother.
The Canadian psychotherapist, who was not reared in an abusive home, began the difficult work of making amends for her past sins and transgressions. She called Tracy, the girl she drove from class by coercing 10 other girls to sign a contract to hate her. "I know who you are," Tracy said, seconds into the phone call, stunning Jennifer. Does anyone forget the name or even the voice of their tormentor?
"I explained to her that it was me who had the issues, not her," Jennifer said during her compelling interview with the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC). She even flew to America to have lunch with Tracy, making her apology more genuine and life-giving. Jennifer shatters the "All-bullies-have-low-self-esteem" myth when she admits, "I was selfish and self-centered, which stops you from having sympathy and empathy."
This former tormentor now helps Targets of bullying and children who bully--a hard nut to crack. Most kids are unwilling to admit they bully even when confronted with a mountain of evidence, she says. And she laments that one of the hardest parts of her job is to get their parents to admit it as well.
She says Bullies have high self-esteem derived from wrong values. They base their esteem on power and control, not merit or achievement. She says Bullies need guidance using their power for good. They need to experience how good it can feel to help people instead of using that same power to harm them. And if your child is the Target of such a Bully, please resist the well-meaning intention of helping the Bully complete this difficult task. Such an effort sounds "Christian," but is often met with great frustration since you probably lack the prerequisite power or respect in the life of such a kid.
And if you are among the minority of parents with the humility and courage to admit that your child is a Bully, consider enrolling her in service work, preferably in another country where there is a language difference. This fosters humility through dependence upon others for daily help, and at the same time allowing her to help others, which can aid sympathy and empathy.
Among the numerous myth-shattering lessons to be learned from this reformed mean girl is that when we think of the common facial expression of the garden variety Bully, we must disregard the misconception that it is a frown born of dangerously low self-esteem or an Inner Broken Child. Rather, it is a sardonic smile, born from self-love, self-admiration, and the pleasure and entertainment some receive by dominating and humiliating others. If an adult behaved this way, we would call such a person a sadist, criminal or both. But for some reason we cannot bring ourselves to make the same clarifying judgement when dealing with an adolescent, who statistically is headed toward a life of crime. We are not being compassionate when we think and behave this way. We're being ignorant and worse, derelict in our duties as adults, allowing harm and abuse to take place unabated under our very nose. We may fool ourselves but not God, who requires us to stand against such injustice.
Bullying: The only form of intentional abuse that we tell the most vulnerable among us to "just ignore."