How I Banished My Bully

Author Kelly Byrne bully morgueFile_guy laughing and pointing small
Image courtesy morgueFile

Bullies suck.

Generally, nothing gets my hackles up faster than a story about bullying. I have a deep soft spot for the underdog and the misfit because I was both growing up. I know what it’s like to be bullied and picked on just because you’re there.

When we were young, my family moved a lot and my brother and I had to change schools often. I might as well have had KICK ME, I’M NEW stamped on my forehead.

Turns out, I didn’t need that directive for it to happen anyway.

First Day, 6th Grade

A beautiful fall morning, crisp and cool and clear. We weren’t supposed to have gym yet because it was the first day of school and no one had the right clothes, but they herded us outside anyway to hang out and become familiar with the soccer field.

“Hanging out” is a new girl’s nightmare. With in-class lecture there’s at least some structure, a topic to concentrate on, a give and take of required interaction.

Hanging out on the field had none of that.

Our mad giant of a gym coach, Mrs. Schmidt, had forced a metaphorical first lunch on me three periods early. You know the deal, the new girl wandering around a packed lunchroom, white-knuckling her tray, trying to find a welcoming table without wolves. I was unprepared.

There were about twenty of us on the side of the field huddled in circles of conversation. Well, they were huddled. I stood alone in front of the soccer goal, trying to invoke my powers of invisibility.

Author Kelly Byrne FlickrCC_Giant Huanitarian Robot loner
Image courtesy Giant Humanitarian Robot
via Flickr Creative Commons

Breaking the first-day rule, our Amazonian PE teacher hauled two Hagrid-sized bags of soccer balls, one over each shoulder, out to the side of the field, dropped them to the ground fifty feet below her, and bellowed, “Partner up! Ball up!”

Ugh. Throw up.

Suddenly the circles came to life, swarming and buzzing around the balls like the bags were meshy hives. Every person got balled and partnered and the bags lay limp and flat, puddled on the ground like they’d been steamrolled.

A portent of things to come.

I checked around to see if I’d somehow missed the other newbie/outcast who had been systematically ignored like me.

The cheese stood alone.

Passing and dribbling drills began before I understood what was happening. It was as if all of these kids had been born with cleats on.

Author Kelly Byrne morgueFile_kid with ball
Image courtesy of morgueFile

Then it happened.

The ball came fast and hard like an RPG. Before I even heard the whizzing sound of it careening into my atmosphere, it had landed in my face with a massive thwack.

Physically, I was a sturdy little bugger, thick and fibrous, but emotionally I was mushy and soft, and that was a brutal blow to both parts of me.

Of course it hurt like a mother-effer. I thought my nose had actually been taken off by the impact, and my face swelled up like a burnt marshmallow. But those were mere surface wounds, they healed with a little time and ice…cream.

Author Kelly Byrne Ryan-McGuire-of-Bells-Design-Gratisography
What it looked like inside my head.
Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire of Bells Design

What ripped a small piece of my soul was the cruelty of the acts after the fact.

I wanted desperately to laugh it off, to make it seem like it was nothing, but it’s difficult to laugh off an explosion of the face by yourself without looking completely deranged.

Everyone saw what had happened, but no one stepped up to help the new girl.

They just went back to passing their balls like I didn’t exist. At that moment, I didn’t want to.

Instead of rushing to my side and apologizing as I twisted in pain, the kicker, Jacob Hadley, swaggered over, grabbed his ball and said, “Don’t stand in front of the goal next time, idiot.”

Valid point. Thanks for the welcome, jerkwad.

That year, and for the four years of high school I spent later at this school, Jacob Hadley never saw me as a human being, an equal. I was just a fleshy punching bag for his verbal assaults.

I later realized the problem wasn’t that he was mean and didn’t respect me. It wasn’t even that he whispered insidious things in my ear on a fairly consistent basis and did his level best to make me feel ‘less.’

The problem was that I let him in. I started believing the bullshit.

I didn’t have the life experience or understanding back then to know that none of it was about me. All that venomous energy he directed my way had nothing to do with my ill-fitting clothes, or my interesting hairstyles (maybe it had a little to do with that perm) or my worth as a person.

But I took it all to heart anyway and let him crush me a little with every interaction. He built himself up as he tore me down.

I really wish I’d known, back then, I didn’t need to let him. I didn’t need to be his victim.

Stand up and knock him out! (Metaphorically speaking…of course.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate of violence in any way, but I totally wanted to punch him in the face most of the time. Really though, what good would that have done either of us? Okay, yes, the release probably would have felt fantastic for a split second, but then what?

Author Kelly Byrne Ryan McGuire of Bells Design Gratisography2
I’ll admit, I did consider it.
Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire of Bells Design

We are not obligated to believe what our bullies say about us. Let me say that again, in case you scanned over it and didn’t really let it sink in. Sorry in advance for the shouting.

WE ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO BELIEVE WHAT OUR BULLIES SAY ABOUT US.

This is really important because sometimes wires get crossed and we seem to think we are for any number of reasons that make no sense, and then guess what? We become our own bully, our own worst nightmare. Holy cannoli! How do we escape that?

Stop believing the bullshit.

We don’t need to hold on to the anger and frustration and shame we’ve developed because we chose to believe them. These feelings are not our sacred burdens, our penance for not being whatever enough.

Clutching our injustices and feeding the shame they create keeps us locked up as the victim and perpetuates that mad cycle of self-loathing (which is the root of why most bullies do what they do, but that’s for another post). If we don’t let it go, if we don’t tell our inner bully to piss off too, it can swallow us whole.

3cd8371bcd8a0ec18ad621dd45820b1fKindness matters.

Jewel was right. Kindness and compassion leave their imprint too. And they can help stitch up a tattered soul.

When I realized I didn’t need to be wounded, that it wasn’t my responsibility to keep holding on to his message, (basically endorsing my own worthlessness) I began to feel deep compassion for myself and, as important, for him. I forgave both of us for believing his shit for so long and treating me the way we did.

I learned to be kind to myself, which can be the hardest thing in the world sometimes. I’m still working on it. Always a work in progress.

Unfortunately, the type of in-person and cyber bullying that’s ruling our news feeds today makes my story seem tame. Things have become downright vicious online because people feel safe being a monster behind a screen. I wish it weren’t so. And I hope things change.

This post was about the emotional wounds of bullying, but if you’re being physically harassed or stalked, please contact the proper authorities immediately. No one should ever have to fear for their safety.

These sites may be helpful if you’re going through something right now, either personally or with your kids. This is the Crisis Text Line if you’re experiencing cyber bullying. Please get help if you need it.

And try to remember the only power they have over us is the power we give them. Stay strong and don’t give it. Show yourself breathtaking compassion. You deserve it.

Author Kelly Byrne be kind meme
Created via Quick Memes

Enough about me. Have you dealt with bullies? Have you been your own? How did you handle him/her/yourself? I’d love to hear your story, so please share with me below in the comments.

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Kelly Byrne
An award-winning writer in many a genre, I currently herd words into novels and short stories about wildly flawed, but lovable characters. I strive to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, for those who believe in the possibility of the impossible, and those who always believe in love. My fiction embraces the idea that extraordinary things can and do happen in the real world. These whisperings of supernatural elements give my work a strong emotional edge, lending surprise and wonder to every story. I live in Los Angeles with my desperately handsome boyfriend where I’m working on my next novel.

8 Comments

  1. Oh boy, do I know of what you speak! My bullying experience was in 8th grade and most assuredly involved a perm (OK, it wasn’t really about that). It was about the scourge of the junior high world–the 8th grade girl who was mighty protective and paranoid about her 8th grade boy.

    I won’t go into detail (mostly because I have a creative nonfiction piece WIP about this lovely experience and am gonna submit that baby soon). What saved me was the toughest girl in the school. Without her intervention, I’d still be hearing “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” in my head (I know, cryptic reference, but it’s in the WIP 🙂 ).

    1. I’ve had the same kind of experience with that girl, Kelly. Well not THAT girl, but you know. 😉

      My girl was jealous because “her boy” (who wasn’t really her boy at all) wanted to be my boy, but I didn’t want any of it. It was a lot of fun to meet her in the halls in between classes. Gah!

      It’s totally out of our control what other people are going to think and how they’re going to behave. All we have control over is how we act and react. But I’m really glad you had a rescuer. Make sure you post up about your story when it’s done so we can get deeper into the “Head on shoulder” mystery. 🙂

  2. Great blog, Kelly, and so synchronistic. My daughter and I were just talking about bullying this morning.
    Bullies breed bullies; as they dominate their kids, they pass on their techniques of intimidation to their children, who learn to survive by doing the same thing to others, and then to their own offspring. The only way I know to stop the cycle – and, granted, it doesn’t always work –is to extend some compassion to the offenders. Counter-intuitive, I grant you, but we must try to bring out the love in these wounded-turned-vicious souls, while at the same time setting strong boundaries. “You sound very angry– I hope someone does something nice for you today” might be the best way to turn the other cheek. Don’t let them hurt you, but, also, let them know that you wouldn’t let another behave so insensitively to them.
    When my kids start with the self-limiting, self-deprecating self-talk, I do the same thing. “I won’t listen to you speak about yourself that way– just as I wouldn’t let anyone else say those harsh things to, or about, you. ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think . . . ‘ so pick yourself up and get on with living the sensational life you deserve and that is your destiny.” Might work on a bully, too.

    1. So well said, Davis. I agree with everything. Are you sure we’re not really sisters? 😉

      Counter intuitive or not, compassion is the key and so difficult when we’re faced with brutality, but understanding (or at least trying to) where that viciousness comes from, understanding that they’re just doing what they know, helps in two ways in my eyes.

      It helps us to keep their venom from breaking our skin because if we have compassion for them and their individual circumstances we understand that their abuse is not about us, it’s about them. With that understanding we can offer something they desperately need, kindness, in return.

      You’re right, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes they’re so filled with rage they don’t even know how to handle any form of kindness, but it’s always worth a shot.

      Offering kindness to someone who doesn’t “deserve” it is one of the most beautiful things a person can do. I air quote deserve because EVERYONE deserves it. No matter how awful they may seem or be. They’re that way for a reason, in general, and a good amount of the time it’s for reasons beyond their control.

      And of course, build and maintain boundaries. Do not ever let yourself become the punching bag, literally or metaphorically, for anyone.

      I forgave “Jacob” for his injustices (I also found out from a high school friend yesterday, after she read the post, that he didn’t reserve his razor tongue just for me – which was kind of a surprise because I thought they were friends! Ha! Clearly, he had some issues…) and if I saw him today I would absolutely give him a big ole Kelly hug. It’s hard to be a jerk when you’re being hugged. Not impossible, but hard. 😉

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Davis. I’m glad the post resonated with you.

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