Warning: This post contains mentions of abuse, depression, disordered eating, and self-harm.
It's an unfortunate reality that, in life, some people may end up becoming bullies or mean girls.
While they sadly might stay this way throughout childhood and/or adulthood, people who demonstrate bullying habits could choose to change their attitude at any point in time.
Redditor u/pocoschick asked past bullies and mean girls what led them to leave this behavior behind. Here are some of the powerful responses that were submitted.
1. "I got a job as a video game tester and worked with people who were bullied when they were younger. We'd tell stories, and things I found funny they found traumatic and mean. As cliché as it is, I never thought about it from their perspective or thought my behavior was bullying until then. Helped me see it from the other side. I'm much more empathic now. Pretty ashamed about my behavior when I was younger."
2. "I just had a teacher that I really respected who talked sense into me. I was one of those jocks who picked on the weaker kids who can't really defend themselves in order to make the crowd laugh — a really shitty thing to do really. It was never anything too physical or over the top, so parents or others never got involved, but I know that I made life a pain for some individuals while in elementary school. Anyhow, this PE teacher of mine took me into his office after hours one day and explained that I should try to use my authority better, and that while it might feel good to make others laugh on someone else's behalf, it feels a lot better to be an overall good guy."
3. "I was a mean girl — cheer, popular, thought I was better than everyone else. During summer break in high school, I went to camp. I was bullied by some of the other girls there so relentlessly. From hazing, to emotional bullying, to humiliating me, and lying to get me in trouble. It was bad. After that, I changed. Wish it was earlier."
4. "I was essentially bullied at home by family, and I took it out on those around me. Thankfully, I had some friends that let me know I was being a dick, and I apologized to the people I hurt. I'll always hate myself for the way I acted, and I don't think that will ever change. I still catch myself being a grumbling asshole sometimes, but I will never let myself be who I used to be."
5. "Over time and with new experiences, I stopped hating myself and my life. Then, I started seeing value in my existence and realized I actually impacted people. Happiness, for myself and others, became my reason for living. My middle school health teacher used to tell us that bullies are hurting, and that's why they bully."
7. "I became shy after a bit. I just realized that, 'Hey, I'm not better than any of these people by any means. I'm just below them.' Now, I help anyone I know who gets bullied or at least try to."
8. "When I was still quite young (early teens), I realized I was modeling my behavior on one of my parents and that they were a very obvious bully. I took immediate steps to redefine myself as a person who carefully avoided that abusive tendency."
9. "I used to be really mean and bully two kids in my class in primary school. I wasn't OK mentally, and to be honest, I was taking out my stress on them (I still feel guilty). When I started middle school, my mental health got worse, my depression and anxiety gave me an eating disorder, and I started self- harming out of guilt. I'm in high school now; I'm a lot better, I haven't self-harmed for months, I go to therapy, and I found good friends!"
10. "I had a hard home life, and I took it out on people at school. My family was working class, and we moved to a middle class area, so I was already treated like an outsider anyway. Once I left home, I started therapy, and I'm a lot better now. I still have a bit of a temper, so if people push me too far, I can still get nasty, but I can apologize and recognize if I was in the wrong."
11. "For more than a decade, I was a bully until people began to ignore me. The popular mean girl became a ghost. I got sick of my toxicity and started to treat people right. I now have a few (but real) friends. I acknowledge how bullshit I was before in order to embrace the better version of myself, but I'm not proud of who I used to be."
12. "I was on the road to being a bit of a bully at a young age. I was a big kid and would toss my friends around a bit. One got really mad at me one day and told me off. It was a sobering moment where I realized maybe other people were not finding it as fun as me. Pretty much stopped it all right there. I think I was 12."
13. "Growing up I was bullied and a bully in fifth through eighth grade. It was like fighting for a space in the pecking order for kids. It was super toxic behavior, and I didn't really recognize it. I stopped in high school and did my best to make amends with the kids I hurt."
14. "Properly dealing with and accepting the trauma, it made me ashamed to harm others and gave me the mindset of treating others how you'd want to be treated, because there's no telling what they had to endure in the past."
15. "I was bullying a kid at lunch, throwing stuff at him. A massive-to-me football player walked up and said something like, 'You think picking on people is funny? How would you feel if I picked on you?' And he slapped me. I was 14 and realized right there it was not my job to make people's lives harder, that there is always someone bigger and badder than you."
16. "I had mad mood swings in middle and high school and anger issues learned from my father. I could be the nicest person one minute, then the cruelest b*tch ever. At 19, I was diagnosed bipolar. Been on meds and gone to therapy since then. Took another eight years to really level out. I still cringe and feel disappointment when those memories pop up again randomly. I have apologized to those I have hurt in those days. Most people are understanding. Some have apologized for bullying back. Some can't forget or forgive, and that is OK, too."
17. "I was putting down others to fit in with the 'bros.' Eventually, I found a new group of friends who are very supportive, many of whom are queer. Realized I'm queer myself. Realized I had a lot of internalized self-hatred, low self-esteem, people- pleasing tendencies, and bitterness from trying to fit in as a child. Realized that we should just let anyone who isn't harming anyone else live their life and enjoy whatever weird shit they're into."
18. "I was a mean girl because I needed to survive high school. I had some really good friends when I was younger, but then in junior high, this girl started picking on me, but then wanted me in her group. I became part of her group so that I wouldn't get picked on. She was a horrible friend who told everyone my secrets and just made me feel horrible because of things she made me do to my old friends."
"I finally went to band camp in the summer before grade eight and made amazing friends that helped me get out of that old friend group. I found real friends who were loyal and kind to me, and I never looked back. I feel horrible about all the mean things I did, and when I see those I wronged, I try my best to apologize, although I do not blame them for still hating me."
19. "I got bored of it. It wasn't fulfilling to make fun of other kids."
20. "Growing up and maturing definitely put an end to my behavior. My mentality just changed when I left school, and it all seemed so silly looking back. I cringe at the way I was. But one particular person made me realize many things about that time in my life. Four or five years after school, I ended up working with a girl I went to school with who I’d been particularly mean to throughout. The moment I saw her I thought of all the things I’d said about her, how I would virtually encourage everyone to laugh at her. But she was friendly and warm toward me. I didn’t bring it up until one day we got to talking about school, and she opened up about how hard it had been for her, how she struggled for years after with her mental health because of how much she’d been bullied."
21. "I went through some serious trauma with losing my parents and moving into foster care. I switched schools multiple times, and after meeting so many people, I realized it was easier to help people by relating to them with what I’ve been through rather than shit on them and tear them down even more. With all the shit I had to deal with, I didn’t want someone to pick on me because it would’ve made things worse. And I couldn’t do that to someone else."
If you're a former bully/mean girl, please tell us how you decided to better yourself in the comments below.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and/or clarity.