He was bullied: ‘I thought: it’s my fault’
When Danny Steehouwer was bullied, he blamed himself. “What did I do wrong?”
Danny Steehouwer (33): “A schizophrenic boy bullied me for five years. I went to a practical school, in special education, because of my slow learning pace. Between 2003 and 2008 that boy made my life miserable. And all these years he has had a group of about five hangers-on around him.
“Afterwards I often thought: how could this possibly take so long? Only in the last few years have I understood that. I felt ashamed that I was being bullied. I didn’t want to be the exception or the victim at school. That’s why I never said anything about it at home.
“The fact that I was bullied slowly got under my skin. I thought: it’s just me, I’m obviously different from the others. But how else? What did I do wrong? I had no idea. It destroyed my self-confidence to the ground.
“About ten years ago I chatted with that boy. Only then did I find out he was schizophrenic. He has apologized. He was then able to explain his own behavior based on his illness. Now he was deeply ashamed.
“I have forgiven him. I ended my online contact with him with words such as: ‘We can never be friends, too much has happened for that. But I understand you now, and I think it is very strong and courageous of you to apologize now. I accept it.’
“Saying sorry was very important to me. It has given me space for my further development, with which I was already well on the right track. After the practical school, I was able to follow a secondary vocational education course, where I felt like a fish in water.
“During my years at secondary vocational education I learned: it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are. Now I can say with full conviction: I don’t want to live with hatred towards anyone. That would detract from my own personality and happiness in life.
“When I now think back to those years at the practical school, I see myself walking around in a kind of horror story. I have written a book about this, which will be published soon. That schizophrenic boy was so ill that he managed to reverse the division of roles between us: in his eyes I was the perpetrator and he was the victim.
“He said to me: I dreamed last night that I stabbed you to death – in a kind of enticing tone, like: ‘Be careful, you!’ And not just once: I was constantly the one on whom he unleashed all kinds of violent fantasies.
“At the same time, he went to the counselor at school to file complaints about me, as if I was threatening him with death. He demanded that I be expelled from school; he stayed home sick until that happened.
“The counselor supported me at the time: ‘No, Danny is not like that, this cannot be true…’ The boy was then sent to a psychologist, and shortly afterwards he returned to school. He then continued his bullying, and I remained ashamed, I remained silent.
“It was terrible to experience this, but fortunately I was able to put it behind me. I now know very well who I am, what I can do and what I want.”
I teased: ‘I showed: hello, I’m still here!’
Elza and a group bullied a girl at school. Now she sees it as a form of attracting attention.
Elza (47): “I was really a bully. Why? Do you want an honest answer? I bullied because I was bored out of my mind at school. By shouting I brought commotion into the tent. “I remember, with a group of girls, bullying an overweight child. Ilona. We were about ten years old. One day we realized that Ilona smelled bad and was full of lice. We supposedly bumped into her in the schoolyard by chance and shouted at the top of our lungs: ‘Damn, it stinks in here! Who is that?’ And then look at Ilona falsely, pinch our noses, and run away. “We took her coat away. We then threw them to other children. If you hit someone with it, you shouted: ‘Ha, ha, now you have lice too, go take a shower.’ Ilona of course whines, and we laugh.
“Two years later, in eighth grade, I kind of became friends with Ilona. She was always home alone after school; her parents worked. I found it exciting to be in that empty house with her. There were cigarettes, her mother smoked. I smoked my first cigarette with Ilona. There were bottles of liquor. Smoking and drinking in secret – that’s how we pretended to be adults.
“We had serious conversations. She talked about how lonely she felt, as an only child, with a father who was rarely home due to work and a mother who was always tired and grumpy. I started to realize how mean it had been that we had bullied Ilona like that before. But I was ambivalent about that, I now realize. I didn’t include her in my group of friends. If I agree something with Ilona, then only with her. So I continued to keep my distance from her. I was afraid someone would say to me, ‘What? Are you dating that bitch?’
“Fortunately, my own children have not been bullies. Not that I know of, at least; I have never received a complaint about that either. During their lessons, attention was paid to bullying behavior. In my time there was no attention paid to this at all. Of course, my children regularly said that they thought a classmate was ‘stupid’ or a ‘loser’. I was alert to that. Then I said: ‘You don’t have to be friends with every child, but you don’t start complaining about each other. Then you just play ten meters away.’
“I don’t think any child is born a bully. There’s more to it. For me, I think it was a form of attracting attention. I sat among children who obediently sat down to calculate, asked smart questions, and could draw nicely. I didn’t participate, I hated sitting still. Apparently I wanted to show: hello, I’m still here!
“That is my great frustration about my school days. I received obedience training there like a little dog. No one has ever asked me: why are you being so annoying? And I was too young to ask myself that.
“I still think children’s bullying behavior is viewed far too one-sidedly. The blame is placed on kids. The school is supposedly doing nothing wrong. I see it differently. You also have to deal with children who feel constantly bullied by all that school stuff.”