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  • Writer's pictureTori Leto

Hurt People, Hurt People: Understanding the Prevalence of Bullying

In my last interview, I was asked, “Were you ever a bully?” The judges were shocked by my response. “Yes. I didn't know how to handle my own bullying and the issues I was dealing with, so I took it out on others. That is why resilience education is so important to me today. Hurt people hurt people. If we become more resilient and better equipped to handle adversity, we would see less bullying and, in turn, less mental health adversity among youth.” The judges' jaws dropped. Who openly admits they were once a bully?

Many people disagree with the belief that “people can change.” I used to be one of those people. But when I compare myself in high school to who I am now, the difference is stark. In high school, I was riddled with anxiety, depression, insecurity, and damage—from abusive relationships, bullying, and mental illness. These are not valid excuses for how I hurt others. There is no excuse for hurting others. Through furthering my education in mental health, I have learned, “Mental illness is not your fault, but it is your responsibility” and “What happens to you is not your fault, but how you respond to it is your responsibility.” Essentially, there is never an excuse to hurt others. Reasons may exist behind poor behaviors or decisions, but they do not make them permissible.

When we consider the actions of others, we tend to internalize what it says about us—what they say and its weight bearing down on us. But the reality is much simpler and more surprising: the actions of others have everything to do with them and very little to nothing to do with us. Once we realize this, we can forgive, forget, and move on with our truth and purpose.

I may have dealt with my own traumas, but that doesn’t make it fair, reasonable, or acceptable to project those difficulties onto others. Frankly, I didn’t know how to cope with my own problems except to deflect and project. I have forgiven myself and others for what occurred in my high school years—both what I did to others and what happened to me. We were children with underdeveloped frontal lobes; we didn’t know better. But as soon as I gained perspective from growing beyond that period, I became conscious of the situation. This consciousness brought guilt, regret, and a desire to do better.

I joke, “I had to learn resilience the hard way.” The same applies to kindness. I had to learn that being kind to others begins with being kind to myself. I am driven to provide resilience education to youth not only to support them with the tools they need to overcome adversity, such as bullying, but also to decrease the number of bullies. Hurt people hurt people. If youth are equipped with the tools to heal themselves, they are less likely to hurt others.

No apology or explanation will ever excuse the horrors that occurred in high school to those around me. I have attempted apologies and sought closure, but the truth is, “No amount of regret can change the past, and no amount of worry will change the future.” This quote has been my guiding light during challenging times and remains true today.

I believe people can change because I have. I have learned not to internalize others' actions and not to project my struggles onto others. If we all took a moment to reflect on our past actions, we would find countless things we regret doing or saying. By being vulnerable and admitting my significant mistakes and faults, I hope to encourage you to do the same. Learn from your past and apply that learning to make your future and the futures of others brighter.

This post has been waiting to go live since my last blog entry, but I was waiting for the right moment. I want to make it clear: just because I was sometimes a victim does not mean I wasn't equally guilty of victimizing others. None of what happened was acceptable. I am doing everything I can to prevent this from happening in the future, not only in my life but in the lives of others, I hope this inspires you to do the same.

Sincerely, I am sorry, and I am dedicated to doing better.

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