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The Bully

The Bully

The bully sat four seats behind me on the bus ride home from school. As usual, he singled me out for ridicule. “Johnson’s too scrawny to get on any sports team.” “He’s so dumb he should be riding on the kindergarten bus.” “Every girl in school thinks he’s a weirdo.”

After taking this kind of relentless abuse for over two years from seventh into ninth grade, something within me finally snapped. A surge of hate took over and drove me to do something that was previously unthinkable.

That Wednesday as the bus motored down the road, I stood up, turned around and stared directly at the bully. Jabbing a finger at him, I shouted, “Shut up you jerk. Meet me on the playground this Friday at 2:00 and we’ll have it out!”

I turned back, sat down, and thought I had just signed my own death warrant.

My oppressor was about six feet tall. I hardly came up to his chin. His resumé included taking boxing lessons and beating up two other students. I had never boxed anyone in my life. He obviously worked out. I was the skinny kid in the TV commercial who gets sand kicked in his face. He strutted around the community with two younger admirer sidekicks. He was loud and quick with insults and comebacks. I was soft spoken and usually thought of potential comebacks hours after the exchange. He exuded brazen self-confidence. I oozed self-doubt.

The bully and his family moved into my neighborhood two years earlier only a few houses down from ours. Our home was situated in such a way that our dirt driveway provided a shortcut to the post office. The bully and his two sycophants used the shortcut on a regular basis. I tried to time their comings and goings to not run into them outside. When I returned home after school, I used to cower inside the house and watch for the trio to pass through to get the mail. Only after they had returned and were out of sight would I dare go outdoors.

I berated myself severely and mentally labeled myself as “weak.” Why can’t I deal with these guys? Why can’t I handle this like a real man?

After the first year of consistent ridicule, I used to look at them through an upstairs bedroom window and think of ways that I could murder all of them without getting caught. I’d dwell at length on different scenarios, delighting in the pain I’d inflict and the heavenly possibility of freedom. Borrow my dad’s shotgun? Find some kind of poison gas? Come out of hiding and whack them with a baseball bat?

One vital source of encouragement for me was the hockey team I joined during seventh grade.

When the season started, the coach named the lines he had made up to play offense and defense. Hockey is so exhausting that you need to change lines often, three on offense and two on defense. To my great delight I was named to a regular rotation in the 2nd offensive line as a left winger. That meant I’d play consistently in every game. We belonged to two leagues, each with their own schedule.

I still have a newspaper clipping with the title, “Johnson scores winning goal!” I loved the whole experience.

For some inexplicable reason, as the third season neared, the bully decided to join the team. When I found out I reluctantly pulled out. My buddies asked what on earth had happened and I made up the excuse that I had to work to save money for college. It was a huge disappointment and only served to further fuel my deep sense of inadequacy and hate.

The Fight at the Playground

Of all my memories of the bully, the fight at 2:00 on Friday is, of course, the most vivid. I had challenged him on the school bus two days earlier on Wednesday. I tried to imagine what the battle might be like. I dreamed of knocking him out with one lucky punch. Pathetically, I tried to teach myself how to box in front of my bedroom mirror. I said nothing to my family about the bully all throughout my years of terror so I couldn’t ask my dad or older brother how to box. I felt completely alone and isolated as I faced this upcoming dread.

On Friday I got home from school about 1:00. I didn’t feel like eating and just sat in my bedroom watching the minutes tick by. My anxiety and trepidation escalated. I could feel my heart pounding. My mouth became dry. I laid back and stared at the ceiling, opening and closing my fists.

The playground was right behind my house. At 1:45 I got up and trudged downstairs, walked through the kitchen, and exited out the back door. Ironically the playground had been the brainchild of my mother who raised funds for the swings, slide, and other equipment. It now became a temporary battlefield.

I crossed the railroad tracks, walked around the left side of the railroad station, and descended the flower-bordered path to the designated area. To my relief, no one else was there. I could only hope that the bully chickened out or forgot. I decided to sit on a swing and try to calm myself a little. It was 1:55.

At 2:05 the bully appeared at the entrance with his two sidekicks. Three against one. They drew closer. I walked over, weak-kneed, to meet the bully. “So, let’s get it on Johnson,” he said. “You sounded so brave on the bus. You’re gonna wish you never opened your big fat mouth.”

He stepped closer. I put up my fists in front of me in pathetic defense. We danced back and forth. Suddenly I felt his fist slam into my face and I fell backwards onto the ground. He pounced and held my arms down. I twisted and struggled over and over but couldn’t get loose. He pinned me to the ground. His two followers stood over me laughing and pointing.

I knew I was beaten. Fearing worse damage, I just laid there as he claimed utter, complete victory. A cascade of name-calling and taunts filled the air. After a few endless minutes they decided to leave.

I got up, wiped the blood off my face with my shirt sleeve and limped back home. No one was there. Up in my bedroom, I took inventory of all my injuries and hurts, slumped onto the bed, and drifted off to sleep.

My father’s voice woke me later. “What on earth’s happened to you boy?!” Apparently, my face was swollen and bruised and one of my two front teeth was chipped in half. So the whole story spilled out. He immediately called the bully’s father. I could hear dad’s end of the conversation, “If that d——n son of yours ever says anything to my son or touches him again I’m going sue him and you for all you’re worth. You understand me?!” I was both ashamed and relieved. When my older brother came home, he pledged to beat the c——p out of the bully if he ever bothered me again.

And so the bullying finally, mercifully, stopped but I nonetheless still harbored a mental image of myself as a loser.

Effects of Bullying

Bullying is when a person or group deliberately tries to make someone else feel upset, scared, or ashamed. People often bully others who have any difference of behavior, appearance, culture, race, class, ability, or identity.

There are various types of bullying:

• Physical bullying means harming or intimidating someone physically.
• Verbal bullying means taunting or hurtful teasing.
• Psychological bullying means leaving someone out or saying bad things so others will think less of them.
• Cyberbullying means using social media and mobile technology to harm someone emotionally and socially. [1]

      One of the most interesting findings for me is that bullying can cause serious difficulties into adulthood. An article in “The Conversation,” states that,

By adulthood, we are generally expected to have “got over” it. But the mental health effects of being bullied can be serious and last a lifetime. One study has even suggested that, when it comes to mental health, bullying is as harmful as child abuse, if not worse. [2]    

The psychological impact can actually be as damaging as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psychology Today elaborates,

Although PTSD has traditionally been thought to be caused by a single, life-threatening event (or, at least, an event that seemed to be life threatening), in the case of trauma such as bullying, PTSD can also come about by way of an "accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents. [3]

Tragically, being bullied as a child can also be linked in adulthood to increased risk of severe anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, health problems, difficulties trusting others, insomnia, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, and suicide. [4], [5],[6]  These effects don’t just go away because we get older.


Many years later, during my masters degree studies at seminary, I took a class in psychology. The professor seemed to be very knowledgeable and kind. I decided to visit him and ask for help with some emotional struggles I was dealing with. During one session, the playground fight came up in passing when I recounted my years at home.

As I continued my narration, he said, “Wait, stop right there. Slow down and tell me more about that fight with the bully.” Still ashamed, I responded, “Nothing much. He just beat me up and I lost. That’s about it.” The psychologist pressed, “So he was a lot bigger than you?”


      “And you knew you were going to get pummeled?”


      “And there were three of them and one of you?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “And yet you showed up anyway? Early? All by yourself?”


The professor leaned forward, looked at me directly, and said, “It seems to me you’ve got this thing all wrong. That was a very brave and courageous thing to do. I think you were the real winner that day.”

I sat there stunned. I had never imagined it that way. It was a brand-new thought to me. It was as if someone had just shone a very bright light into my darkened heart.  My mind leaped at the possibility. Courageous? Brave?

      “Really?” I said.

      “Of course,” he reiterated. “No question about it.”

      “You’re sure?”

      “Could not be more sure.”

      I involuntarily sat up a little straighter. My mouth curled into a slight smile.

      The professor had completely reframed that old encounter.


Since that visit, I have learned a lot more about “reframing.” Psychology Today explores the term:

One of the skills to develop as mature, resilient individuals is that of reframing. To reframe is defined as “placing something in a new frame.” When we change our point of view on any given situation, the facts remain the same, but a deliberate shift is made in how we see it. [7]

Another author adds:

Luckily, we have a very powerful ‘technique’ available to us called “reframing.” Reframing involves identifying our unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with more positive or adaptive ones. [8]

Some of the keys to reframing include:

1.     Observe your negative thoughts. You can’t reframe your negative thoughts until you first identify them. Negative thoughts are those that drain your happiness, confidence, and sense of wellbeing. You can’t stop thinking negative thoughts, they have to be replaced with more positive ones.

2.     Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” Rather than feeling victimized and dwelling on the unfairness of the situation, you can gain back some positiveness and control by exploring what you might learn in order to increase your joy.

3.     Challenge your assumptions. Ask yourself, “Why am I interpreting the situation this way? Are there other ways of viewing it that would be more helpful? How would an empathetic, caring friend view this experience?” [9]

4.     Consider forgiveness. Forgiveness is important but not the way we usually define it. Forgiveness is for your benefit, not the other person. It has nothing to do with them. It is an ultimate act of self-care. It does not mean that you have to treat the offender as if nothing happened. It doesn’t absolve the bully from responsibility. It is not “letting them off the hook.” It does not mean you have to reconcile with the bully. It does mean that you are choosing to release yourself from the debilitating effects of anger and hate. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice. For awhile, you may have to re-affirm that choice quite often. Forgiveness can take time and you may need someone’s help to get there. Considering all the baggage that the word “forgiveness” carries, it would be far better to replace it with the words “Letting Go.”

Ways to Reframe Bullying

Bullying is very serious and should be treated as such. It is not simply a normal part of life and growing up. It is as big a deal as a serious car accident or a crime.

It is not true that you should be able to simply “get over it.”           

Don’t blame yourself for what happened. It was not your fault.

You are not responsible for taking on the bully any more than you would be for taking on someone who robbed or assaulted you.

It never was about you. It was about the bully’s insecurities and fears that he/she was trying to overcome by hurting you.

Bullying happens not because you are weak but because the bully is weak.          

Your only responsibility is to get enough help to rid yourself of the problem. [10]

Make getting well a high priority. Consider talking with a professional counselor. Identify specific areas where you need assistance and are having difficulty.

Realize that even though you cannot change what happened, you can take back control and make good choices today based on self-respect and self-compassion.

Reject the bullies lies that might still be playing in your head and replace them with the truth of who you really are. In the eyes of Christ you are of infinite worth just as you are.       

Build enough friendships to give you the support network you need.

Learn how to live in the present and not the past. The bully forgot about you long ago so don’t allow them to occupy any space in your head today.

Be patient with yourself. Small steps, consistently taken, will get you to a better place. [11]

Claim Jesus’ promise in Luke 4:18-19:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Notes and References:

[1] KID POWER, “Face Bullying With Confidence: 8 Kidpower Skills We Can Use Right Away,” September 28, 2017,

[3] Psychology Today, “Child Bullying Consequence: Adult PTSD,” May 15, 2011,

[4] Ibid

[5] Very Well Family, “Long-Lasting Effects of Bullying,” October 17, 2021,

[6] Very Well Family, “10 Ways for Adults to Heal From Childhood Bullying,” September 12, 2019,

[7] Psychology Today, “”Reframing,” Linda and Charlie Bloom, December 14, 2017,

[8] SCRIBD, “A Practical Guide to Reframing Your Thoughts and Making Yourself Happier,”

[9] Ibid.

[11] Ibid

Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The GiftThe Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Kim has recently started an exciting new ministry to teachers at, which is currently accepting donations.

Photo by Ryan Sepulveda on Unsplash

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