Taken from the July 2004 Issue: (Reproduced with permission of Martial Arts Illustrated.)
The magnitude of his experience had such a profound affect on Robert's life that a breakdown was imminent. As Robert said himself, his syphoned existence made him into a painfully shy teenager, paralysed by fear and not only bullied by life but bullied by himself, too.
You'd think with a background like his, Robert would have been a slave for the rest of his life. However, this once introverted, self-conscious slave, lacking in self-worth, fought back with the heart of a lion to become the gladiator.
The determination he showed to make his dream come true and live the life he knew he deserved is unbelievable. Having had a passion to become a writer for many years, Robert decided it was time to make his mark on the world. So what started out as a few pages of words, eventually blossomed into his first book, 'What Have I Ever Done To You'.
Radio One's 'Sunday Surgery' quoted, 'an invaluable and inspiring book full of heartbreakingly personal insight, meticulous research and tips for breaking the victim/bully cycle. There should be a copy of this book in every school library, student study room and personnel department in the country.'
Robert Higgs, now a successful author and confident public speaker, became a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University.
However, still hungry for success, he qualified as a Personal Trainer (YMCA) and an ABA Assistant Boxing Coach. If that wasn't enough, he was recently invited to join The Royal Court Theatre's Young Writers Programme to help him develop his stage play, 'Watching The Parade Go By'.
It's unbelievable to think that this 26-year old who once lived in a continuous realm of fear, terror and anxiety is now the boss of his own destiny, and successfully runs his own business. Robert is in great demand on the educational seminar circuit, plays an active role working for Kidscape as an anti-bullying assertiveness trainer and is repeatedly booked, sometimes months in advance, to teach at schools across the country.
I've had the privilege of knowing Robert for about a year. He is an inspiration, a true gentleman and I feel very proud to have him as a friend. I caught up with Robert so he could tell his story and hopefully give you an insight into his life to educate and inspire you into changing the life you might have at the moment.
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Colin Stainton: First of all Rob, I'd like to thank you for agreeing to this Interview. I've read your book and I must say how inspired I was at your achievements. Bullying is such an important issue that seems to get brushed under the carpet and what you're doing in the fight to combat this terrible plight must be commended. I know you must have been asked this question hundreds of times before but I'd like to know what age you were when you first encountered bullying?
Robert Higgs: It's a pleasure, Colin. I want to thank you and MAI for giving me this great opportunity to speak out for the victims of bullying and let the readers know help is out there and that you don't have to cope with it on your own. My first memory of bullying was when I was five years old at infant school. There was one kid in particular and a gang of his friends who began to harass me on a daily basis. One dinnertime, I was dragged around the back of the bike shed and given two choices, either have my fingers bent back or be thrown into a bush of stinging nettles. I looked at the stingers and didn't fancy that, so I opted for the finger torture thinking it would be less painful. It was the beginning of a pattern and for the next year I was virtually made a prisoner in school at break and lunch times. Wherever I was, the bullies would find me. That lasted until they moved schools and I never saw them again. So they were the cause of it. Thereafter, I kind of had a bully free school life for a few years.
CS: I know from experience as a victim of bullying that I suppressed many painful memories. It wasn't until many years later that I remembered them once I had counselling for a breakdown. Have you suppressed any experiences like this?
RH: Absolutely. It seems for years I suppressed many painful memories. I don't really know if I consciously did it, but yeah I repressed a lot of it. As an adult, my mum tells me things that happened years ago but I just can't remember. I used to wear glasses as a child and apparently I'd go through many pairs during a school year because they'd get broken due to bullying. She remembers I came home a lot with my clothes ripped and my body covered in bruises. However, I must have shut this out of my mind.
CS: What about the bullies, did they ever get into trouble? I know from experience they always seemed to escape being punished when I was at school. They were so devious, in-fact they became extremely proficient at misleading those who actually could have rectified the situation.
RH: Bullies can have a designing way about them. By that I mean they mould people's thought patterns into what they want them to see and believe. Almost to the point sometimes of them getting away with their behaviour. I remember my tormentor actually told his mum I was doing the bulling once. His mum came into the school, pointed at me and demanded to know why her son was being bullied. He'd put-on the tears the night before and literally convinced her that I was bullying him!
CS: What answers did you have at the time?
RH: I didn't have any. I do remember once I was dragged away by two bullies at lunchtime and I thought to myself, how the hell do I get out of this one? I knew what was going to happen because I could see the rest of them waiting for me. So I screamed, 'I need to go to the toilet right now, stop, stop, I need to go' and their grip on me slackened, I ran as fast as I could into the playground. There were a group of girls all linking arms with the dinner-lady walking round and I went up to her, pointed the bullies out and said, 'Miss-Miss, those boys are picking on me.' She glanced down in my direction and said, 'Robert, stop telling tales. Go and play with your friends.' My head dropped, I walked away dejected and they came along, grabbed me then dragged me off.
CS: How did you feel once the bullies moved to another school?
RH: I remember being fine. I had no more trouble, I made lots of friends and became very confident. My school reports labelled me as being loud. He likes talking rather than doing his schoolwork and he has lots of friends. Once I hit seven years old, I began to play rugby at the weekend and I became very confident very quickly. You had to shape up, it's a tough game, very physical and so it was a case of shape up or get trampled on. Then I began to play football at the weekends as well. My dad came to watch me and I really enjoyed it all. I made lots of friends and I can't remember any more bullying around that time. In-fact, I did that for about four years. I started playing cricket, doing athletics and cross-country all for the school team and I developed a confident persona. I remember having a few boyish fights in the playground but other than that, nothing. I never felt I was into something I couldn't handle.
CS: Infant bullying to some will be put down to childhood games but those who have been there know different. Bullying as an older child, however, is far more severe. So when did the serious bullying begin for you? The type that changed your whole life, the way you looked, thought and spoke?
RH: My life changed when I was twelve years old. We moved to a new town and consequently I went to a new school. That's when my trouble began. I didn't know anybody at all and I remember being petrified all through the summer holiday. It was like this judgment day was looming and I knew I couldn't escape it. Whether I agreed or not, I had no choice. The first day at school, I remember standing at the school gates looking into the grounds at all the other children. There I was in my new, smart school uniform absolutely terrified to walk through. For a moment I just wanted to turn around and go home where I knew I would be safe, but I wandered reluctantly into the school and that's when I was introduced to all the other kids in my class.
CS: So how long was it before you were tested? A bully will always test the water before stepping in.
RH: I went in the class and was told to sit where I liked. In the first half an hour it started, someone had a go at me. In-fact, about three months after I'd made a few friends and moved tables, my mate said he couldn't believe I sat at that table with all those w******, which was nice of him to tell me afterwards (laugh).
CS: So what happened to test the water with you?
RH: Nothing major really but then a bully will use any excuse. Once they've put you down without a response or you've obeyed a command, they've got you. With me it was simple. This kid said to me, 'No one wears a school jumper in this school, mate,' aggressively. I was so desperate to fit in, I pretended I was too hot and took it off. That's when you could see the sparkle in his eyes. I remember looking at him and seeing it. I'd obeyed him. Then we started talking about football and he asked me if I played in my previous school team. I told him I had and that I wanted to play for this school. He told me I couldn't and he began to reel off all the teams he'd had trials for over the years. He basically rubbished me and told me I wouldn't get in because he thought I wouldn't be good enough.
CS: How did that make you feel? I mean, this was your first day at a new school and already within a matter of hours, you're being told you don't fit in and that you'll never be good enough for the football team?
RH: It was a big shock. Before we moved I'd always been respected for my sporting ability. So I felt five years old again, in the playground. My head just dropped. My body language collapsed and I became the target. I just thought, 'Here we go again', and that's how they get you. Bullies test the water and they're experts at finding any weakness. Give them a sign to enter and you've had it.
CS: Like boxers and martial artists, I guess? They'll test you out in a fight to see what you're about before making a move.
RH: Exactly right. A bully will push you to see what you've got and if they see just a glimmer of weakness, they'll capitalise on it. That's what happened with me. He wanted to see who I was, after all I was the new boy. After that he realised he could bully me and very quickly everyone noticed I was an easy target.
CS: Were you singled out as the school target?
RH: It felt like it. Some days there would be one or two bullying me, the next it seemed like the whole school was against me.
CS: How long did this go on for?
RH: About four years in my senior school.
CS: What happened to the school football team? Did you ever manage to get in?
RH: Yes, eventually but this went down like a lead balloon. I had to work very hard to get my places. In due course other players were ousted out to the second team to make way for me.
CS: That didn't go down too well I guess?
RH: That's an understatement to be honest. Because of this, I started to catch ail the criticism if we lost. If I scored a goal, no one congratulated me. I'd get bullied to-and-from matches, on the field and in the changing rooms.
CS: What was the outcome of this? After all, surely no one can take that amount of criticism; in the end it must get you down?
RH: It did, it wore me out mentally. Nothing I did was right. The trouble was all the bullies were in the school teams. I had loads of friends outside the sports scene but in the teams I was the enemy. Win or lose, I was ignored, bullied and ridiculed. I spent all my time in their company because I loved sports so much. Sometimes I would be picked as captain and guess how p***** off they were at that. It was a nightmare in the end.
CS: So did you put up with it and carry on playing?
RH: Yes, for a while but eventually I just gave it all up. It wasn't a conscious decision, I just lost interest. Imagine a tent peg constantly being hit into very hard ground. At some point it's going to go in due to the continuous hitting. That's how I felt. Consistently being bullied week-in-week-out. Being blamed for nothing. Whatever I did was wrong, even when it was right. There's only so much you can take before your interest goes. No matter how much you love the game, and I did love football. Eventually my heart was ripped out and the enjoyment faded away.
CS: Bullies' love to suck the life out of you. Do you remember the day when you finally thought to yourself, I've had enough?
RH: Yes, I absolutely loved football. I was always playing. If I wasn't playing, I was watching it, or reading about it. Before we moved I'd be out with my mates playing in the dark and my mum would have to fetch me home. By the end, I went through this stage where I just couldn't be bothered to run around the field. The coach would be shouting at me but I felt as though I was in another world. I was almost in a different time frame to everyone else, like my life was running in slow motion. I could see his lips moving but I couldn't hear him. In fact I didn't want to hear him because my enthusiasm had been drained from me. Eventually I was dropped to the second team because of my performance on the field. There was a school competition on this particular Saturday but I went into town shopping and I never went to the match. It was the first time in my life I didn't want to play football and it was the most surreal feeling.
CS: What about rugby? You mentioned you had a love for this sport as well. Did you ever play this game again?
RH: I did. I loved playing rugby most of all, it was the only sport that I didn't have to try at, I was a natural. I played at school and club level but after a couple of years, again the same thing happened. I became exhausted and my enthusiasm slowly drained away, until I gave it all up. Rugby is a very physical game but over time I lost my confidence and the verbal attacks wore me down. I remember playing in PE just after I'd given up, I stood at the back behind the full back and the ball came towards me. I just stood there, let it bounce and watched everyone fighting for it, I couldn't have cared less.
CS: Can you tell me if you ever confided in your parents? I know victims of bullying tend to put up the shutters, were you a victim who kept quiet?
RH: No, I never really did to be truthful, I kept it to myself. I took it on myself to cope with it the best I could. It just becomes normal when it's consistent, a way of life almost. A bully makes you feel like everything's your fault. So, over time, you start to believe it. You become very ashamed and shame is one of the things that will keep you a victim. So in the end you don’t speak up because you start to feel you deserve it.
CS: What about confiding in someone other than your parents, did you ever do this?
RH: No, I never did. I remember one time I was playing football on our local park and I got beaten up. This older boy, much taller than myself, cornered me and started punching me while his mates looked on. When he'd finished giving me a good kicking, this old man came out of his house and asked if I needed any help. I refused it; I just said it was nothing. I felt ashamed it had happened. I went home and told my dad but he said 'Go and fight your own battles, son.' That kind of approach doesn't inspire a victim. If you don't know how to fight back then you need guidance - words because instructions alone won't do much for you. That's where lots of people are going wrong when giving advice on bullying. The trouble with a victim is they are riddled with fear and shame, you'll probably be bullying yourself internally and you'll have very negative thoughts, you become a habitual victim.
CS: So for the victim who feels this is normal, what's the answer?
RH: A victim will see bullying on a day-to-day-basis as normal. When you've been victimised for years like I was, it's no good telling the victim to go and front up to them. This just doesn't work. You can't change being a victim in one or two incidents; you need so much more help than this type of advice. This is where I hope I can put people right with the training I do in schools.
CS: Bullying on a day-to-day-basis, does this become an endurance test for the victim, especially when they've lost faith in asking for help, that's assuming they asked in the first place?
RH: Speaking for myself, I lost faith eventually. I did ask for help once or twice but after being ignored I just resigned myself to surviving each day as best I could. So, yes, it did become an endurance test in a way. Being a victim is a defence against being bullied. You have to adapt in some way so you withdraw into yourself. You bury your head in the sand and hope it just goes away. It's called the 'Ostrich Approach'. Trouble is, it doesn't go away. You have to break out of that cycle of bullying or it will follow you through life, wherever you go.
CS: What did you do to avoid the problem then?
RH: I tried to spend as little time at school as possible. I used to come home at lunchtimes and I took up golf as well. There was a golf course at the back of the school, so I skipped lessons and played golf quite a lot. That was my way of coping, but I can see now that I was hiding away from the problem, hiding away from the world. I was damaging myself internally. I was making myself ill.
CS: So you became your own worst enemy?
RH: I was, yes. In the end, what these bullies said to me became my own thoughts and I beat myself up over them. I became what they wanted me to become. It's so sad really but it happens. If you're attacked verbally for long enough and you don't challenge it on a mental level, it's only natural that you take the negatives on board. You know what this is all about; you've been there.
CS: Definitely, I know exactly what you mean. I don't know If you did this, Rob, but I would replay my day at night-time in my head. I relived the bullying again, but sometimes taking revenge. It kind of gave me some release I suppose.
RH: I did the same thing, mate. I would go home at the end of the day, sit in my bedroom and replay my whole day. I'd see myself encircled by the crowd, the bully would stand there smirking, attacking me verbally and then suddenly-BANG! I'd knock him unconscious and walk off with whatever girt I fancied at the time. It was the classic Hollywood ending, but it wasn't real life and it only increased the damage. It gave me a double dose of bullying, and increased my anger and stress because what I was visualising was so real to me. I became someone I didn't recognise. I don't recognise the person I wrote about in my book; it's unbelievable.
CS: Was visualisation your only way of coping?
RH: At the time, yes, I didn't know what else to do. Bullying is one of the most frightening things any kid can go through. You feel alone, ashamed, afraid and you feel you have no one to turn to. It's like you're the only one who's being bullied in the world and you just want it to stop. I changed from being an outgoing person, to being very shy. My school reports said, 'he's shy, very quiet, a conscientious boy' because I had my head down working, trying not to be noticed.
CS: What did you lose from your life, and from your childhood?
RH: Everything I have now, I lost. I lost all my enthusiasm for life and the passion for my sport, music and writing. I lost my sense of humour, my faith in the general good nature of people. I began to dislike and distrust people. Even now I'm very choosy about whom I allow in my life. Bullying annulled my creativity. I withdrew into myself so much I became dormant. I found I didn't want to write anything, I shut myself off to the world and became so small inside and out. I on the
CS: This wasn’t a life anyway. It’s almost a plastic existence. Did you find this was happening to you?
RH: Yes, I was living a life in my mind that was total fantasy. Another way of shutting off the pain, I guess. I was thirteen years old when I last had a girlfriend at school, which was just after I started getting bullied. I wasn't damaged too much then, but eventually, I became so shy I couldn't speak to people. I was literally paralysed with fear, particularly with girls. Don't get me wrong I really liked girls. You know what it's like, your hormones are racing round at that age, and I wanted a girlfriend, but I couldn't get one. I couldn't bring myself to talk to them, so I went out with girls in my head, but my anger grew and increased my isolation. That's how I lived my whole school life.
CS: Have you lost any of yourself because of your past, or have you gained in confidence through the lessons you've been subjected too?
RH: Now I have the understanding, I can see how my past has helped me. Obviously wouldn't want to go through it all again, but also in monetary terms I couldn't put a price on the lessons I learned. It just made me who I am today. I feel a hundred times more confident now than I was before. Even when was playing all those sports, I seemed confident, but I still had insecurities and fears, I had them for years, but because I had an outer confidence, no one picked up on it When I went to the new school I was easily intimidated. Under that pressure, the victim in me shone through.
CS: So what's your point of view now with regard to bullies?
RH: People say, 'you have to confront a bully' but I don't think that's necessary. A bully is just a reflection of your own fears. If you confront them your confidence will grow, so the bullying will disappear. Bullies need a victim to complete the cycle and they always attract each other. So if you make yourself so confident and portray that confidence on the outside, you won't attract bullies and have them in your life. Many people are obsessed with fighting or taking physical revenge, but the only fight you have to win and the only one worth winning is with yourself.
CS: So you're saying, face and conquer you own internal battle first before you face the battle with the bullies?
RH: That's right. You don't have to go any further than yourself.
CS: Which is much harder than facing the bully?
RH: Totally. It's a very hard thing to do, to look inside yourself and admit you have this weakness that people are able to exploit, but if needs to be done. Self-honesty is essential. From my first bullying experience at aged five I was a victim and over time the victim in me kept growing until it became me. So what I had to do was kill that part of me off and replace it with confidence.
CS: That's all well and good for an adult, but what about a child? How would they go about facing the problem?
RH: If someone were being bullied, the first thing I would advise him or her to do is tell someone. People don't give victims enough credit for coming out and saying Tm being bullied.' To say those few little words takes an immense amount of courage. You are so frightened of being rejected; being told to stop telling tales, like I was, or scared that the bullies will find out and make life worse for you. To tell someone is the most frightening thing.
CS: Is that the first step?
RH: Of course it is. If you can do that, you're well on your way to stopping the bullying. Speaking out also means you have the courage to accept there's a problem. Acknowledging the problem, admitting you're being bullied, is a great step in itself. I never did this; I couldn't, I wasn't brave enough and I never did until I sat down to write this book.
CS: Who do you tell?
RH: I advise people to tell everybody. Parents, all family members, your school friends, teachers, anyone really. The more people who know of the bullying the better.
CS: It's all very well asking for help, but what happens when you're faced with a blockade of ignorance?
RH: I'd tell people to be prepared for that and to expect to be turned down. You have to be persistent and keep asking until you get the help you need and deserve. You have to be determined to get someone to acknowledge you're facing a bullying problem.
CS: You've already said you never confided in anybody, but was the school actually aware that they had a problem with bullying or did they turn a blind eye to it?
RH: At that time, it was never acknowledged. The school didn't have an anti-bullying policy like they do now. Whether they did realise or not, I don't know.
CS: So telling somebody about the problem is the first step?
RH: Opening up is the first step, yes, but it's not the end of your journey. In-fact, it's just the beginning. I tell people it's a slow process. You can't turn round bullying over night if you've been victimised for a long time. You've got to go through that development of coming out of that victim state. You have to develop yourself from the inside out. Develop an inner confidence and let that internal light shine through to the outside world.
CS: Surely the onus doesn't just fall on the victim though? Schools must have an obligation to try to cure the problems with bullying?
RH: I feel schools are very proactive now, they want to know about the bullying and they want to deal with it. I feel the majority of bullying, however, goes unreported and never comes to light, because bullies are very clever. They won't bully somebody under the teacher's nose. The victim's shame and fear will help the bully. It's fuel for them to feed on. The more you keep quiet, the more the bully gets fed. It's like an undercurrent, whispers in the corridor, and a look across the classroom; that's what bullying is.
CS: Would you class bullying as a school problem or as assault, because that's what it is really?
RH: Absolutely. I look at the adult world and compare the two and I come up with the same answer. If you go out right now and punch somebody in the face, you'll get charged with assault, so why doesn't the same rule apply in schools? Why is physical assault demoted to just school bullying? I feel it should be higher than that. If a child hits another child then it should be treated in the same way, and if serious enough, then charges should be brought against the bully.
CS: Would this be seen as a good thing though? Would charging them with assault really work?
RH: Schools are trying to get the children to take responsibility for their own lives, and become grown-ups, but if we accept their behaviour and class a punch in the eye as just bullying, we're treating it as something trivial. As they grow up, they'll take it from school into the pubs, clubs, into their homes and pass that attitude onto the next generation. So I strongly feel this should be addressed.
CS: I doubt this will happen.
RH: I think it will in the future; I hope it will and I have faith it will. People like me who are trying their best to help and address the problems, are bringing these ideas to light.
CS: Is bullying becoming more violent in schools?
RH: I've read loads of cases of bullying worse than that I was subjected to. But I've also read a lot where they weren't bullied as long as I was. So I feel it's all relative. However, all bullying is appalling to the individual because it's personal to you.
CS: How many types of bullying would you say there are?
RH: There are three types of bullying. Physical, mental and relational, but it's more mental and relational now. There are more people taunting you, sending abusive text messages, and e-mails. Then there's the relational bullying, where you're excluded and people won't let you join in. They'll call you names, ignore you and just refuse to acknowledge you're even alive.
CS: Is this type of bullying more damaging?
RH: I think it is. Black eyes and bruises go away, but the mental scars don't. If you stay in a cycle of taking abuse, letting it become your thoughts. Letting it become you, then that's going to damage you. Many people who e-mail me for advice are adults who have never really got over school bullying and are still being bullied now. People don't realise how powerful and encompassing the victim state becomes. It's habitual; it can become your whole life, just like a spark becomes a towering inferno that burns up everything around.
CS: If I said, I see bullying as a game, would you agree?
RH: Yes I would, bullying is a game. It's very destructive, very negative, and in some cases, tragically life destroying, but it's a game played by bullying a victim and with its own rules. Bullies tend to be looked upon as strong, but I feel they're weak and feeble. A bully is very fearful, insecure, and more often than not is searching for an identity. Those who are slightly weaker, slightly more fearful, maybe a little more insecure and maybe looking harder for their identity are the ones who'll be bullied.
CS: So a bully is only projecting the very same insecurities as the victim, but their outlet is to take it out on the weaker of the two to make them feel better?
RH: Imagine a bully with his head up to his neck in quick sand and he drags the victim in as well, shoves his shoulders down so as to escape, that's how I see it. They'll project everything on to their victim, who in turn doesn't know what to do about it. They're caught unaware and totally lost, so they get sucked under. Eventually, the victim will take on board the bully's insecurities and make them their own. They'll become that person, very gradually, but they will develop into another person and usually it's a copy of what the bully is feeling deep down. The bully is damaged anyway, and is desperately trying to get rid of their feelings on another person. So both parties end up damaged.
CS: It's another form of crying out for help isn't it?
RH: It can be, yes. It can be any kind of reason, including attention seeking. A bully will have low self-esteem anyway. To pick on somebody who's a different colour, thinner or fatter etc to make him or her feel superior to the victim is not the action of a strong, confident person.
CS: Is bullying a learnt behaviour?
RH: Of course it is. Bullies and victims aren't born, they're made and who do you learn from in your early years? Your parents, you model their behaviour. So if you have a parent who's a bully and a child sees they're getting what they want through this violent, and psychologically manipulative behaviour, they'll copy it. Having a grown-up doing it successfully or appearing to be successful enhances it.
CS: Who else do you learn from?
RH: Your environment. You go to school with other children and if some of them are bullies, and you hang around with them, then you may model them as well. It's a behaviour that you learn, a behaviour that you can change. But does a bully want to change? It's perceived as a position of power, and they don't want to give that up.
CS: Would you say the so-called 'silver screen' films have an affect on our behaviour?
RH: I feel it does. What Geoff has written about in Red Mist is very good. He's saying, 'this is violence without glamour. This is violence with consequence,' which is right, because you never see this in films. People accept 'silver screen' violence as normal and if children see it they'll copy it. Not all of them, but some of them. The select few will glamorise violence. So if all children see is negative behaviour, problems sorted out with fighting, that's all they're ever going to know until they challenge it. Films and television will have an affect on children's behaviour, just as computer games will.
CS: Have you ever asked a child or children how they define bullying?
RH: Yes. I work a great deal in schools, educating children about bullying and training assertiveness. At one school I explained we were going to do some role-playing and asked the children to write their own short script. I gave them ten minutes and the outcome was shocking. Their definition of bullying was, going up to a child in a gang, grabbing them by the throat and saying, 'give us your f****** money' then punching them. That's what bullying is to them. Another kid said to me 'you have to be a bully to survive in this school.' For many it's normal behaviour, which they either see or conduct on a day-to-day-basis.
CS: Who do we really blame for this learnt behaviour?
RH: A lot of people are too quick to pass on the blame. That's just passing responsibility for your actions onto someone or something else. There's nothing to say the bully can't change, but in some cases, that's all they do know and they will find it extremely hard to turn the corner, especially without help and guidance.
CS: How would you define bullying?
RH: People always ask me what bullying is. You could say it's a punch in the eye, threats or being excluded, but I can give you it in one word: Intention. Bullying is about intention and all bullies want from you is a reaction. They want to see instant results, your pain, your fear, your embarrassment, and see you in a total loss of what to do. They need to see your body language reflect that you're a victim by your head dropping down, and shoulders falling forward. That's all it is, intention, plain and simple.
CS: I'd like to know a bit about your life after senior school.
RH: At sixteen, after my GCSE's, I went on to sixth form at the same school and did my A-levels. By then, all the bullies had gone, so I had this breathing space. However, I was left with an emotional hangover because all the tension and anxiety had disappeared.
CS: I suppose you were suffering from post traumatic stress disorder?
RH: In a way I guess you're right, but at the time I didn't know that. I went through two years of really tough depression, in such a way, it totally messed up my A-level results. That led me into a University I didn't want to go to. Not long after, I developed an illness because I was so depressed. My immune system was destroyed and through this, my life seemed to get worse.
CS: In what way?
RH: I'd allowed the bullies to literally destroy my self-image and practically rape me of my confidence and self esteem. I came to believe I was nothing; worthless. I became very ill. Where I spoke about visualization, when I would re-play my day, see myself having a girlfriend etc, well this was very much the same, but I would visualize my own death and funeral. I'd see myself lying in the grave, looking up as they threw the earth onto me. Or see myself taking a gun and blowing my head off. I'd actually lie on the floor and imagine what that would be like. I was so angry and depressed, I hated everyone, hated myself and hated life.
CS: Do you believe your thought patterns made you ill? You were in fact, bullying yourself.
RH: No doubt about it. I became the worst bully of them all. I lost two stone in weight and visually I looked a mess. I hardly went to lectures because I had no interest in education and my life was on a downward spiral.
CS: When did the turning point come?
RH: Looking back I could see I had hit rock bottom. Like a ship that is sinking, it has to hit the ocean floor eventually. I was not contemplating suicide in any way, I'd never have done it, but my thoughts had become funereal and in a strange way the depression became comforting. It was seductive because it was an escape. The imagery was like a comforting voice saying 'you could get out of this if you wanted to' and it hid what I knew deep down. I had to help myself but I was frightened. I took shelter in the depression until I became ill. Two influences changed my life. The first thing was hearing 'Definitely Maybe' by Oasis. Just listening to that album made me want to go out and see, hear, feel and live life. Really live it and catch up on everything I'd missed out on.
CS: You said there were two moments that changed your life forever.
RH: The second thing was reading the book by Geoff Thompson, 'Watch My Back'. I was in the flat one day, in the halls of residence, and on the table was an old copy of his book. I picked it up, went into my room and read it cover-to-cover in about two hours. As I was reading it, my heart was pounding. It was like I was there with him. To think this guy went through all that adversity and came out the other side is amazing. It wasn't about violence for me, although it depicts violence. It was about a man who was very depressed, who didn't recognise the person he'd become, but who had incredible courage to face the things he was afraid of so he could go and live the life he desired.
CS: Did the book change you straight away?
RH: No, not instantly. I became ill a few months after reading it, but the album and the book stayed with me. Eventually, when the illness moved me away from that place, I went out and bought a copy of my own. From there I built my life up, step by step.
CS: What was the first decisive move you made once your depression was under control?
RH: I left University and got myself a job. I hated that place. In-fact, I went to about three classes in three months because I was so unhappy with being there.
CS: Then why go in the first place?
RH: I went there because I messed up my A-levels and pressure from a family member. I let myself get bulldozed into it. However, the day I left, I thought to myself, I want to go to University in Leeds, that was my dream, my first choice, but I knew it was going to be hard. I knew for starters I'd have to re-sit my A-levels and improve my grades. So from leaving and getting over my illness, I decided to face all my fears and change my life for the better. I got myself a job in a call centre to force myself to talk to people, because I was so shy and introverted. We had the training and were supposed to go live on the phones. I managed to avoid it the first day, but eventually I had to do it. It was horrible, my voice was shaking, and I was stammering. But I did it and in a week the supervisors were on my case telling me to stop chatting to people for so long. The thing you fear is never as bad as you imagine, your mind always exaggerates it. I found 'me' through that job. I began to like myself. I made people laugh and a side of me, that was hidden for so many years broke free and I felt re-born.
CS: What was your next move?
RH: I went back to college and re-took my A-levels. I was so determined to succeed and get my place in Leeds, that in the end, I successfully passed a two-year course in one year. The negative influence from outside was terrific. No one believed in me, and I was doubtful myself, but I committed to it and decided to suspend my self-belief and try with everything I had. I forgot about the end result and worked harder than I ever had in my life. I gave my all and the anger got me through. I was steadfast in my pursuit to succeed.
CS: So your emotional hangover got you through?
RH: Definitely. Anger and fear were the fuel to succeed and push myself to the limit. Many people let the fuel go to waste, but that's how I got my book published. I used every bit of negative I had and created a positive outcome to make my dream come true.
CS: It's a shame more people don't follow in your footsteps. There must be so many people who let anger go to waste.
RH: Everyone has anger at some point, but most people use it to harm themselves. Kids might be angry at their home or school life, the repercussions are that they go onto the streets; get involved in drugs or violence and this alone causes them more trouble. I get angry, but I don't stand around in pubs threatening people because life is s***. If you don't like your life, get off your ass and change it. Use the anger to help yourself.
CS: So the trick is to utilise that negative experience and create a positive future.
RH: Yes. You can harness your negativity and channel it to create a positive future. There are no limitations to what you can achieve and no boundaries you cannot triumph over. All that negativity is potential energy. Use it wisely. I've got enough to last a lifetime. Going through my bullying experiences has made me totally unafraid to try anything, because I feel I've wasted enough time in unhappiness already.
CS: What about spirituality and the theory that fate played a hand in your life right now?
RH: I did begin to investigate spirituality, because I was interested in the theory that we are all born for a reason. If you look at the world it is a place for learning. You have strength and weakness, light and dark, so there is always that polarity and it's that polarity that allows us to learn from life. If everybody we came in contact with were virtuous, then we would never learn a thing. I believe we're all here for a reason. There are lessons we have to learn. I think pain is the greatest teacher of all and hard lessons provide deeper understanding. I look back at my bullying and see it in a different light. Without it, I wouldn't be writing and teaching like I do. The children I meet have the opportunity to learn from my pain and that makes me feel it was all for a reason. So I feel I'm helping people find their way in life.
CS: The healing process you went through must have been painful. Would you give those who are reading this interview an insight into your road to recovery?
RH: From 16 to 18 years old I was in freefall. I guess reading was a catalyst for my recovery, and, crucially, everything I read that I thought useful I applied to my life. However, knowledge is impotent unless you apply it. I took it one step at a time. One of the very first books I read was about Bruce Lee. He said, 'the medicine for any suffering is always within'. That really inspired me. From that moment on I built my wall brick-by-brick. One positive action doesn't build your wall. You need many positive actions, many bricks to create the desired affect. From the foundations to the finished divider, slow and steady are the key words. It took me four years to overcome my troubles, but then again I can't really put a time on my healing process, because I'm still going through it. I'm still seeking out opportunities to further my training, to confront more fear and to grow more confidence. I'll never stop my progression to achievement. I had to kill the victim in me and though I've come a very long way, I still feel there is much more to be done.
CS: I guess it was like learning to walk again?
RH: Without a doubt, yes. The first task was to learn to talk to people again. Taking the job at a call centre was a great first step, that really put me in the firing line, but it worked. It was uncomfortable, but necessary in order to bring me out of my cocoon. The next step was to force myself out. Just walking into a pub was scary, coupled with actually having to talk to girls it was a nightmare. I'd sit there mute because I couldn't think of anything to say to people and they'd say 'you're shy, aren't you?' That made me angrier still. Gradually, however, I became used to it and over time it became second nature. It was a case of re-learning that I was an OK guy. Every time I faced another fear and conquered it, I'd have a rush of energy and a real high. However, I didn't learn from those experiences straight away. After you've been through the fear, it seems there's a time when you need to rest and that's when your confidence grows a bit more. I'd talk over my feelings in my head, just like reading an act in a play. I developed a close relationship with my inner-self and so every time a negative thought invaded my mind, my inner-self would replace it with a positive. Gradually, the recovery process from these highs took less time to overcome and it became second nature to replace negatives for positives. Going through this process did make me realise how I used to bully myself on a day-today basis and the best thing I ever did, was to stop bullying myself. It also taught me how important the power of thought was, and how I had to stop bullying myself first if I was to succeed. Many people don't realise how they talk to themselves or, how they converse with other people. How many people are quick off the mark to say, I hate that or I hate you? Hate is such a powerful word. In one of Anthony Robbins' books, he talks about word association with feelings. He says, that just saying that word automatically gives you the emotions connected with it. Negative words equal negative emotions. That's one of the first things I applied on my road to recovery, word association and its affect on my mental state of mind.
CS: Did you ever find the answer why you were bullied?
RH: Eventually, yes. I figured it was because I was afraid of fighting. At the school I attended, there were fights on a daily basis and I avoided getting involved. I didn't speak up because I knew it would end in a fight and I didn't feel able to cope well with that.
CS: So how did you overcome your fear of confrontation?
RH: I bought myself a punch bag and trained on that, just developing a degree of fitness. Even that was inspiring to me. The bag only weighed about 15-kilos and at first I couldn't move it. After a few months I was knocking it into the wall, so I bought a 30-kilo bag. Again the same thing happened. Eventually, I joined the boxing club at University and trained there for a few months. I noticed a few of the other members had sparring sessions after training, so that was my next stage. I really didn't want to do it, but with the commitment I'd made I knew I had to. I couldn't run away anymore, so I set up my first sparring session. I remember walking to the gym that day, my heart was racing; I was sweating and I felt sick. Just the thought of what I was going to do almost defeated me before I got there. Once I was in the ring my heart was hammering me into the ground. I couldn't breathe, and after every round I took my mouth guard out to try to catch my breath. It wasn't that I was unfit; on the contrary, it was the adrenaline. Over the weeks more people wanted to spar with me, and every week my confidence grew and the anticipation I felt on the way there lessened. I didn't want to be a fighter, or hit anyone either, I just wanted to confront my fear. There were some very good boxers at the gym and you had to hit back or get clobbered. I didn't enjoy it, but I learnt to cope with my fears and emotions better. After I achieved that, I thought to myself, if I could do that, what else could I achieve? I was hungry for confidence, my self-belief was growing all the time and I craved more.
CS: But what about fear in general, how do you deal with it?
RH: By changing my perception of it. Now I see it as the passport to everything I want to do. If feel fear, I know I'm pushing myself to the limit. One of the most fearful things I've done believe it or not, was the Radio 2 interview with Jonnie Walker. It was a massive step up from local radio. I remember sitting in the greenroom beforehand, and they gave me a cup of tea. Every time I lifted the cup to take a drink, it shook all over the place. I felt uncomfortable, but I handled it by talking to myself. I thought back to all the times I'd given in to fear at school. All the times I let people walk over me, I dug deep and the determination for success pulled me through. When I sat down, I pushed out the thoughts that 9 million listeners were on the other end and it was live radio. I ignored the microphone, focused solely on Johnnie and the questions I was being asked. It went amazingly well and was such a buzz. Every time you confront another fear, you grow in confidence. It might take numerous attempts, but so what? What matters is that you're trying, and without those all-important steps, you'll never reach your destination.
CS: You’ve spoken about fear and confrontation, but what about anger? In your opinion, can we use anger in both negative and positive ways, and if so, could you give me two examples of this?
RH: Anger, without a doubt can work in two ways. It can work for and against you. I used my anger as a fuel for my success in cpnquering my fear and gaining a degree of self-worth. That's good anger management. For two examples of negative and positive management, you can look no further than Ghandi and Hitler. In their countries, anger was rife. Ghandi used his anger to change himself, his country and the world. Hitler, however, used his anger to obliterate people, annihilate countries and the world, but in the end, his anger only eradicated himself.
CS: What's the key element to success other than using anger as a fuel?
RH: Vision, for sure. You have to have a vision or what's the point? Without it you have nothing, no destination, no journey and no end. When I was at school, I had visions of myself being at University. When I re-took my A levels I had visions of being in Leeds, seeing myself with new mates, a girlfriend and going out all the time, enjoying myself. I guess it works or I wouldn't be here. I still do it today. Writing is my passion and it's what I want my life to be about. I'm currently working on my second book, a play and a short film and for everything I'm doing, on a day-to-day basis; I have visions in full colour covering every detail, however small that might be.
CS: How did the seed blossom into your first book?
RH: One night I stayed up, drinking loads of coffee and just wrote. I managed to get through about 10 pages or so plus come up with the title. I guess that was the seed to my book. After that, I decided to send my written work to a publisher. I got the address from the back of a book I was reading at the time by a guy named Jamie O'Keefe. After a few weeks I received a letter from him and the first thing it said was, you have a talent for writing. That was the inspiration I was waiting for. I was off from that moment and within a short space of time, I sent him sixty pages. Again, a letter back from Jamie encouraging me to continue with the book turned my sixty pages into about 120 pages and eventually a finished book. We even spoke on the phone and I have to give him a lot of credit for my success. Thanks, Jamie.
CS: I'm sure you had doubts over your book but what actually made you see it through?
RH: I had many conflicts right from the star But there was one particular day that convinced me I had to do it. I was on a train and we'd pulled into the station. On the platform was a gang of youth's drinking cheap cider and acting up. Another lad got on the train and sat on the seats to the side of me. As the train began to pull away, one of the gang members came right up to the window where he was sitting and shouted abuse with threats of violence. His head dropped down, he looked utterly helpless and that was it for me. I knew that look because that was once me.
CS: I guess there are defining moments in our lives that can lead to positive changes.
RH: There are, and after that I forgot about my own fears of what people might think. I decided I would do my very best to get the book published for all the people out there struggling with the same problems I once had.
CS: So once you finished the book, how long did it take you to find a publisher and see it on the shelves?
RH: I sent the book to about 60 publishers. I had many rejections, but not one criticized it. It was always another reason, mostly that the subject matter didn't suit what they were looking for. After a year and a half I finally found one that liked my idea. I always believed through all the rejections that I would get that acceptance one day. Once I had the deal I had to wait another year before it was in the shops. That was mainly due to re-writes and editing. I also designed the book jacket, so from start to finish I did everything and I'm very proud of that. Since then, I've been busy marketing it. I've been on local radio nationwide doing interviews and on television too, such as Kilroy and the BBC Breakfast News. Even that process I used as a kind of self-help therapy and a way of building my confidence. I've even been on SKY News and Radio 1 and 2, so the whole process has been a journey and a half. It actually took me 11 months to get an interview on BBC Breakfast News, but I wanted it so much so I kept ringing until I was successful.
CS: And how did the SKY interview come about?
RH: Again, very similar to the BBC interview. It took 11 months of letters, e-mails and phone calls asking if I could come on and talk about bullying and my book. Getting no response was so disheartening, but one morning I sent an email to a researcher and got a call straight back asking if I'd be on live the next day. I had to think about that one (laughs).
CS: Before we conclude the interview, Rob, I'd like to know what the future holds for you?
RH: I want to become the best in the country for what I do; helping kids. That's my business after all. Then there's my writing. I've written 30,000 words in my second book, and I've just written a short film, which I hope to have developed as well. Then there's the website, www.roberthiggs.co.uk, which has been very popular. It contains a massive amount of information and advice, with plenty of articles, which are always an inspiration for people to read. There are interview transcripts, which you can listen to and watch. There's also links to other websites like, Kidscape, Childline, and Peopleline.net. There's also a link to, 'Full stop to Bullying' campaign. The information is endless and I want it to become bigger. People can e-mail anytime as well, and I'll always get back to them. This site contains all the information needed for any victim of bullying, so they can be assured they're not on their own. I promise, I will reply to them.
CS: Thank you, Rob, for agreeing to the interview. I admire you greatly. You're not only an inspiration, but also a true gentleman. I'd like to wish you all the very best with your career.
RH: Thanks for a great interview, Colin, and a big thank you to Bob for allowing me into his magazine.
Robert Higgs can be contacted via his website for seminars at schools, colleges and Universities. His teachings are in enormous demand because of the increase in bullying in this country. We all need to do something about this problem. We all have a duty to free our children from this terrible plight. If you feel your child is suffering at the hands of a bully, then please feel free to contact Robert. He'll only be too pleased to give a helping hand and words of encouragement. Together, we can beat the bullies.