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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Dear Reader, you hold a lot of power.
We indie authors wouldn’t survive out here in the cyber-jungle without the help of loyal readers, friends like you, sharing our stories and posts, and spreading the word about us. If you found this post meaningful or think it would be of interest to your friends, please share it on your social networks with the share buttons below. ↓
Also, if you’d like to know when my next post is up, please subscribe on the sidebar.
Thank you for giving me your time and support. I know how precious it is!