Bullying vs abuse. Are they equal?

Welcome to Catherine Forster’s WOW! WOMEN ON WRITING TOUR OF Chasing Tarzan

Plus Catherine has honored us by writing a guest post about school bullying – a subject very much in the forefront these days.

The long-term effects of bullying––abuse doesn’t cease when the bullying stops

by Catherine Forster

While enjoying my morning coffee and reading the Sunday  paper, I stumbled on an article about bullying. The title, The Long-term Effects of Bullying, caught my eye. The piece examined the multiple studies conducted in the U.S. and abroad, all revealing surprisingly similar results:

  • individuals who were the  target of severe bullying (whether physical or verbal) were more likely to struggle with their relationships, suffer from depression, addiction, and suicide during adulthood
  • bullies who were also bullied suffered similarly to their victims, and were more likely to be incarcerated
  • bullies who were not bullied tended to continue their bulling behavior as adults.

I identified with the bullied. I too had struggles with relationships––trust being a huge issue––and had suffered bouts of depression. The findings made utmost sense to me! A truly ah-ha moment. I had buried those painful memories––seven years of relentless bullying both at home and at school––long ago, but this article had me thinking. I’d believed the bullying was my fault––there had to be something wrong with me, otherwise, why was I targeted? Furthermore, I believed it was best to forget, an episode that was over and done and should be buried.

Like many children, perhaps you too, I was told that bullying was a fact of life, part of growing up, that one would be stronger for it. This article suggested otherwise, and more crucially, it defined bullying as abuse, not a rite of passage.

I kept this article and hungrily searched for more evidence on the impact of bullying. I learned that the CDC now defines bullying as abuse, but only recently and in line with the US Anti Bullying Law of 2013. What took them so long? What was the impetus? School shootings––many of the perpetrators had been bullied. The Anti Bullying Law was a first step, and it launched a movement: zero tolerance bully programs in schools, but thanks to the rise of the internet, bullying has only escalated.

Moreover, the abuse doesn’t stop when the tormentor stops. In the process of writing Chasing Tarzan, I learned that I became my own bully. Once I moved to another school and left my bully behind, his shadow followed me. He had trained me well. The sound of his voice echoed even in his absence. His scoffs, his sneers, his scorn invaded my own internal voice, and I still hear him at times. Writing this book helped me reclaim my voice, and I hope it will bring help others do the same.

I have also learned that in spite of the possible long-term effects of bullying, those who are victims of abuse do not have to be defined by their experience. A trusted advocate can diminish the effects of bullying. Several studies have confirmed this and I found it to be true. We must be vigilant, open our ears and eyes, and be award that we each can make a difference, that we can have the power to raise a child’s spirit or unknowingly leave them forlorn and less able to grapple with their distress, or seek help.

When I walk through the  halls of our children’s schools, I see anti-bullying posters everywhere. But kids don’t need posters, they need someone to reach out to––a parent, a teacher, a friend, or an astute stranger. I hope Chasing Tarzan can serve as a light for those who are suffering or have suffered bullying, guiding them to positive solutions, and helping them discover their inner strength.


Thank you so much Catherine for this very insightful essay

Book Summary

In the 1960s, a relentless school bully makes Catherine’s life a living hell. She retreats inward, relying on a rich fantasy life––swinging through the jungle wrapped in Tarzan’s protective arms––and fervent prayers to a God she does not trust. She fasts until she feels faint, she ties a rough rope around her waist as penance, hoping God will see her worthy of His help.

As the second of eight children, Catherine is Mommy’s little helper, and like Mommy, Catherine is overwhelmed. The bullying and the adult responsibilities together foment her anger. She starts smacking her siblings, and becomes her younger sister’s nemesis. Spooked by who she is becoming, Catherine vows to escape for real, before she hurts someone—or herself.

Catherine finds salvation in a high school exchange program: new town, new school, new family, new persona. A passport celebrity. In New Zealand, nobody knows her history or her fears. Except for her Kiwi “mum,” who sees through Catherine’s façade and pulls her out from her inner safe-house. Exposed, her sense of self implodes. Catherine must finally rethink who she is.

Publisher: WiDo Publishing (July 2022)

ISBN-10: 1947966618

ISBN-13: 978-1947966611


Print length: 278 pages

Purchase a copy of Chasing Tarzan on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.


About the Author

Catherine Forster honed her powers of observation early on, and later applied them to artistic endeavors. Although it didn’t happen overnight, she discovered that seeing and hearing a bit more than the average person can be beneficial. As an artist, her work has exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States and abroad. Her experimental films have won accolades and awards in more than thirty international film festivals, from Sao Paulo to Berlin, Los Angeles to Rome, London to Romania. Through her work, she explores the dynamics of girlhood, notions of identity, and the role technology plays in our relationship with nature.

In her capacity as an independent curator, she founded LiveBox, an eight-year project that introduced new media arts to communities at a time when few new what media arts was. For the past four years she has been a member of the curatorial team for the Experiments In Cinema Film Festival held annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a Masters of Business from the London Business School, and a fellowship in writing from the Vermont Studio Center. She is also included in the Brooklyn Art Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

You can follow her on her website as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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