Mackenzie Acheson has a tattoo on her wrist that reads “Keep Moving Forward.” The quote from the film Rocky Balboa serves as a reminder to Acheson to keep going during hard times. Acheson was bullied as a child from Grades 3 to 8. Now a first-year student at St. Thomas University, she still feels the effects of that bullying every day.
“It completely destroyed how I thought of myself,” Acheson said.
Acheson was teased and taunted by classmates. Sometimes they would throw things at her on the schoolyard or take her school supplies and put them in the garbage. Acheson said the relentless bullying made her think she wouldn’t make it to university.
“I didn’t believe in anything I ever did. I didn’t think I was going to make it to university,” she said.
Whether it’s verbal or physical, in-person or online, bullying can impact people psychologically. Even after the bullying is over, victims may find themselves with low self-esteem or changing themselves to fit the image they think will please others.
Though Acheson escaped her bullying, the trauma left a lasting impact. She said she’s been experiencing depression and anxiety since she was 12 years old. She often second-guesses herself too.
“My biggest thing is second-guessing whether or not my friends actually want me around,” said Acheson.
“It’s very easy to fall back into that pattern of second-guessing yourself and not believing in yourself and not wanting to do anything.”
Acheson said she tried to make herself invisible to her bullies, often wearing the same outfit she considered “safe” because she wasn’t teased about it.
“I didn’t do anything to make myself stand out. I tried very hard to blend into the background,” she said.
Ian Fraser, a psychology professor at St. Thomas, said this is a common feeling among victims of bullying. Fraser was bullied as a child for his tall height and often tried to hide himself to avoid the taunts.
“At school I would try to fade into the woodwork. It’s hard when you’re my size to fade into the woodwork,” he said.
Fraser said bullying can affect people’s personalities and egos, changing the way they view themselves. He said victims often convince themselves they’re being bullied because they’re the issue.
“A lot of times it can make people feel that they are not worthy, that there is something wrong with them,” he said.
Fraser said bullying can also affect how someone forms relationships. He said those who are bullied will seclude themselves and avoid making connections with others.
“It has the ability to cause them to not seek out relationships with other people,” said Fraser.
Madison Lucas, a third-year communications student, was bullied as a child. As an adult, she seeks out people she knows aren’t a part of large groups or cliques because she relates to them.
“You always see it, in classes there tends to be the group and then there could be like a couple people [alone],” she said.
“I tend to try to make them feel comfortable rather than trying to get in with whatever is over there [the large group].”
Lucas was teased about her weight when she was young, which led her to develop anorexia in Grade 4.
“I remember one day, I had sat on the bus and there was this one girl who was like ‘Oh my God, Madison you moved the entire bus,’ because I was ‘so fat,’” said Lucas. “And then, eating disorder.”
Lucas said she still has trust issues from being excluded and turned down when she asked people to hang out. She also said her eating disorder lasted a long time, but if she could tell her younger self anything, it’d be to stop going back to the people who hurt her.
“Don’t keep going back. If someone is mean to you, go find someone else. There are a lot of people out there,” she said.
Fraser said getting a job gave him the confidence to stand up to his bullies. He realized the bullying only happened at school. People outside school liked him for who he was.
“That allowed me to break out and basically go back to the school and confront and question some of these people who bullied me,” said Fraser.
Acheson said she coped with her bullying by listening to music, reading and writing. But moving away from the school she was bullied at allowed her to start fresh.
“Once I moved away, I reinvented myself and it made it very easy for me to put distance between that section of my life and just to keep moving forward.”