At 36% approval rating, Trump is at a historic low for a POTUS in office less than 100 days. People don’t trust the guy, for lots of good reasons. Consequently, I’ve been focused for months on what’s going on in our government. Blogging about anything but politics feels less important than being part of the resistance. Of course, I’m still responding daily to teen email from around the world, as I’ve done for the past 20 years. For teens, there are no political crises. What threatens a teen’s world is an upended peer relationship. Nothing catastrophic on a national or global scale, but still deserving of compassion and attention.
Like this one:
Teen: I used to be friends with these boys until I started bullying them. I’d make fun of them everyday, move their stuff, occasionally resort to violence. I did it to feel in control. I don’t do it any more and I want to be friends with them again. My best friend is now friends with them and I’m jealous. One of the boys ignores me and sometimes says rude things to me. On one hand I did the same sort of thing to him, but on the other hand, I hate it and I don’t want him to end up being mean to everybody, because of how I treated him.
I’m probably overthinking this because I always overthink everything. Can you give me any advice?
Annie: You’re not “overthinking” it. This demands a lot of thinking, so I’m proud of you for putting in the time and for reaching out for advice. I’m also impressed that you stopped harassing these boys. What made you stop?
Teen: Because I lost my best friend. He was the only male friend I’ve ever had who really understood me, so when we stopped being friends I started to think about what I was doing and what I hoped to achieve through putting others down and bullying them.
Annie: Have you apologized to each of them?
Teen: Yes, except for the one who ignores me/is mean to me. I don’t really know what to say to him. I feel like even if I did apologize to him, it wouldn’t make a difference.
Annie: Here’s what I know about apologies: for the hurt person to truly let go of those hurt feelings, you (the hurter) need to dig deep. “I’m sorry” is a start, but maybe not enough, depending on what you did. The boy who “ignores” you does not trust you. And you can understand why. You can’t trust someone who bullies you, so you don’t feel safe around them. You don’t believe their words. You can’t count on them, as a real friend. Trust is the key to all healthy relationships (friendships and romantic relationships). The question is: How do you regain someone’s trust after you’ve betrayed him? Think about it this way, if the situation were reversed, what would you need in addition to an apology?
If a friend had been harassing you, what would you need in addition to “I’m sorry”? What would it take for you to trust him and feel 100% safe with him again?
Teen: I’m not sure to be honest. They’d need to prove they were trustworthy and weren’t just going to start the bullying again.
Annie: I agree. Someone who betrays a friend needs to “prove” they are trustworthy and not just apologizing only to start the harassment again.
Teen: But don’t boys think extremely differently? I don’t know if any of them think about when I bullied them. I don’t even know if any of them want to be friends again. What if they’ve just forgotten about it completely and I’m just overreacting?
Annie: I don’t believe that boys think “extremely differently” when it comes to friendship and trust. Some boys may show their feelings differently than some girls. Boys may not talk about the “bully” behind his/her back, the way girls tend to do. But when trust is broken, boys are not likely to “just forget.” Humans have very long memories, and for a good reason. If you are punched and kicked by a close friend and you “forget” and continue the friendship, it’s very likely you will be punched and kicked again… or worse. No, boys don’t “forget.” But they may pretend that it doesn’t bother them.
You said something important… a friend who bullies need to “prove” that it’s never going to happen again. Your goal, moving forward, is to figure out how to prove you’re truly sorry and that you are someone who can be trusted 100%. HINT: We prove things by our behavior.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.