Confessions of a Mean Girl

Here’s something you probably won’t hear a lot of aspies say: I was a bully.

Being teased and bullied is a painful reality for many young (and some not so young) people with autism. So it’s no surprise that I was teased and bullied as a kid.

Just a few of the many humiliating experiences I remember from childhood:  In first grade, I offered to share my kickball with the kids in my neighborhood and they promptly gave it to the German Shepherd who lived across the street and laughed when ripped it apart. A few years later, the kids at the swim club flushed my favorite t-shirt down the toilet. It had my name on the back in sparkly letters so when it was fished out of the clogged plumbing everyone knew exactly who it belonged to. In sixth grade, the biggest smelliest boy in the class trapped me in the coat room and kissed me.

Each time, I took what the bullies doled out and told no one. Like a lot of kids who are bullied, I assumed that I had done something to bring it on myself. If it was my fault, I figured it was up to me to fix it.

My solution: becoming a bully. It didn’t happen overnight and it certainly wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided that from now I’m going to torment other kids. It wasn’t fun or gratifying.

It was an act of self-preservation.

When you’re an aspie, especially an undiagnosed aspie left to fend for yourself, school takes on a survivalist aspect. You’re the antelope and the bullies are a pack of hungry lions. That may sound drastic, but when you’re a kid who has little idea how social group dynamics work, it’s easy to feel like the whole world is out to get you.

For years I put up with the bullying because I didn’t know how to stop it. It never occurred to me to tell an adult or ask for help. Aspies aren’t very good at asking for help. On top of that, I was a little perfectionist and keeping quiet seemed easier than calling attention to my failure to stop the bullies. Because that’s what it felt like to me: a failure. When I looked around, I saw lots of kids who weren’t getting bullied. I didn’t know what magical attribute allowed them to skate through life without being tormented. I knew I didn’t have that ability and I blamed myself for not knowing how to get it.

So I kept trying to figure it out and the bullying continued, on and off, through elementary school. I had a small group of friends in school, which granted me some immunity, but the playground, the bus stop, the walk home from school and playing in my neighborhood were often sources of outright terror.

After that big stinky boy kissed me in sixth grade, he told some other boys that he was going to make me his girlfriend. When one of the boys ominously repeated this to me, I had no idea what it meant. It definitely sounded bad from the way he said it. I could tell by the way he laughed at my stuttering response that he enjoyed seeing how scared and confused I was.

For the rest of the school year, I made sure that I never went in the coat room alone. I waited–often hiding out in the girl’s bathroom–until I was certain the stinky boy had left to walk home before I left to walk along the same route. I constantly watched my back and spent that whole spring living in fear. The school year ended uneventfully and looking back, I think he forgot all about his idea of making me his girlfriend. But at the time, it felt like a very real and scary threat.

At some point during that year, I started to realize that there was an alternative to being afraid all the time. Or maybe being afraid all the time made me desperate. Whatever the cause, one day, when one of the mean girls in the neighborhood said something nasty to me, I said something nasty right back.

It felt good. Maybe too good. That’s how a bully is born.

Soon, instead of just saying mean stuff back to the kids who teased me, I was the one doing the teasing. I developed strange “friendships” with other girls that involved getting along one day and cutting each other to shreds with insults the next. Soon, all of my friends were other mean girls.

When we got bored with harassing each other, we went looking for easy targets. If you’ve ever wondered how a bully recognizes an easy target, I’ll let you in on the secret. She looks for the kids who are just like she used to be. Kids who are loners and outcasts, afraid to fight back, too shy to stick up for themselves. Kids who stand out because of their looks. Kids who don’t have allies to defend them.

It’s easy to spot a victim when you’ve been one yourself.

Within the first few weeks of seventh grade, I found myself sitting across the principal, a grave looking old nun who told me that if I didn’t shape up, I’d be kicked out of school. I was shocked. Didn’t she know I was a good girl? My self-concept hadn’t quite caught up with my behavior. In my mind I was still the shy little brainiac who got picked on all the time.

The principal also told me that every time I pointed one finger at someone else, I was pointing three fingers back at myself. I found this fascinating from a kinesiological point of view but had no idea that she was making a metaphorical point. Kids with Asperger’s don’t do metaphor.

What I did learn that day was not to pick on kids in my grade who had older cousins that would go to the principal. We aspies are nothing if not quick adapters.

Seventh and eighth grades turned out to be one long battle. I was constantly involved in arguments and confrontations. I ruthlessly made fun of weaker kids. If someone else was the butt of the joke, I made sure I was seen laughing at them. I had become a mean girl.

Why? If I knew how painful it was to be bullied and teased, why was I inflicting it on other kids? I’m not sure I could have explained it at the time.. As an adult, I can look back and see that if I got everyone to laugh at another ‘weird’ kid, they weren’t laughing at me. If I made another ‘dorky’ kid the center of attention, for a few minutes I was free from worrying about what everyone was thinking about me.

I’d like to say something happened to make me realize how hurtful my behavior was or some wise adult took me aside and set me straight, but my life as a bully ended more gradually. As time went by, being mean felt less and less good. I started to hate the mean girl I’d become. Being mean became painful and exhausting.

I grew up. In high school, I found interests I could pursue together with people who didn’t tease me. The other mean girls drifted away one by one. I had fewer friends, just one close friend, but I wasn’t so afraid. I no longer needed to wrap myself in the armor of bullying to get through the school day or walk through my neighborhood.

Am I making excuses for my behavior? No. I was a mean girl and maybe the best thing that old nun could have done was to kick me out of seventh grade. That would have been a wake-up call at least. Instead I drifted through three more years of tormenting other kids.

Am I blaming Asperger’s Syndrome for my bullying behavior? No. I was smart enough to know that what I was doing was bad, even if my AS prevented me from grasping all of the ramifications.

Am I sorry? Of course I am.

I’m sorry that I made life miserable for other kids who were just doing their best to get through the day. I’m sorry that no one ever stepped in and stopped me. I’m sorry that I didn’t know I had other options.

If you’ve read this far hoping that I’m going to provide you with a solution to bullying, well, I’m sorry that thirty years on I still have no real answers.

All I have is one aspie girl’s experience–a glimpse of what it’s like to be both the bully and the victim.

9 thoughts on “Confessions of a Mean Girl”

  1. I was the same way. I was being bullied all through 7th grade and then one day I snapped after being bulled and being sexually abused at home I had enough. I beat the crap out of all of them (which were mostly boys who lost their “manliness” reputation) and embarrassed them to no end. After Sophomore year I stopped cause I became a Christian and I really didn’t need to anymore. Some how and I don’t understand how at all I became popular.

    I adapted as you say and I went from being the stupid kid to the smart kid all in one year. Somewhere between 7th and 8th grade I found confidence. I became the person I wished I had been for all those years. Which really helps me now at 26 years old cause I live in a rough neighborhood and no one really tries to do anything. I got a crime watch put together and I made myself the community chairman. I am still doing what I did before but not in a harmful way. I just learn to adapt to every situation. I feel for you and hope like me you have learned to use your darkside for good.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Kari. I think you really hit on something when you mentioned how finding self-confidence made a big difference for you. And yes, I’ve been using my darkside for good since becoming an adult. I love that you put it that way! 🙂

  2. Thanks for your story. I often cringe at the way I passed on some of my hurt as well when I was younger. Gosh. Who was that young girl? Some of my bullies were adults…a principal…my mother. I have still been bullied in my 40 years in the work force…a lot, some by supervisors/managers. Have just been too stressed, tired, hypothyroid (not quick with a retort) and worn out from dealing with horrendous family-of-origin issues, to stand up for myself. This is just not a nice world.

    1. I think the issue of adult bullying is one that gets less attention but is just as serious as bullying in childhood. I’m so sorry to hear about your long struggle with bullying. It can be hard to stand up for yourself at any age, it seems. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

  3. That was brave of you to share. I can understand your POV. There were a few times in school where I joined in on teasing other kids, because I wanted to be in the not being picked on group for once. When we’re left to our own devices in a scary social world we don’t understand we will pick up whatever coping skill is handy, even if it’s wrong, or insufficient. I mostly just developed a ton of anxiety and eating disorder issues. They were not the best way to self-preserve at all.

    1. Thank you. It was hard to own up to being such a rotten kid but hopefully it will shed some light on the extreme challenges some girls with Asperger’s face when it comes to making friends and fitting in. It sounds like you had a rough time of it, too. 😦

  4. I so relate! Thanks for sharing on my page. It helps to spread awareness and for us all to see it’s not just girls with differences that got picked on like this. Being poor, having a dysfunctional family and having Asperger’s kinda just set me up for this sort of bullying. I remember the exact same thing happening with the shoes and the crimping iron, as well as when the stone-wash jeans came out. I just had plain denim. Oh, the horror! Or at least you’d think so by the way my frenemy behaved about it!

    1. Thank you for raising the topic on your page. I enjoyed reading the other blogs posts that were mentioned there as well. Everyone’s experience is so different yet the common threads running through them are painfully recognizable. And oh, stone-wash jeans! Mine had horrible pleats in the front and the tightest ankles you can imagine – like clown pants.

  5. Thank you. This was very reassuring. Until now, you’ve come across so sweet and nice, and I thought I was just simply cruel. I took a different route, I think I had a hero complex. Maybe it’s the way I am, maybe my mother gave me strength by letting me know it was okay to fight back and not be a doormat. Not only would I aggressively defend myself, I would defend other people on the freak radar next to me. Yes, I was poor and weird, but that was no excuse to pick on me. I preyed on bullies (still do). I thought that if I could get them to see what they’re doing to others, then they’ll stop and I’d save not only my current targets, but future people as well. You could be nice to me, or I could see how long it took me to make you cry, and if you went whining about it to anyone, I’d torment you further for being a spineless little coward who couldn’t fight their own battles. Kids were therefore easy to deal with. Adults were a nuisance, they delighted in pretending they were superior and it wasn’t as simple as kicking them. So I’d turn the other adults against them and have a fleet of grownups put them in their place for me. I use the same tactic now for bosses, coworkers, and acquaintances that put themselves in the “untouchable” range. I’ve given thought many times to some flavor of law enforcement, but I know I won’t last long because of office politics and other red tape that prevents you from helping others. And I don’t have the patience or understanding for that.

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