It seems like I can’t escape how often I read about some poor young person (mostly) that is being bullied and has decided to take their own life rather than taking the online cyber bullying, in person verbal and sometimes physical abuses. Why is that? I mean, why do people feel the need to belittle and demote, denigrate and tear a person down so far? Is it to make themselves feel better, is it they are young and have no real sense of the impact of their words or actions?
I recently came across an article about a young girl named Isis. Of course, because of her name, she was bullied. She actually posted a video (probably on Facebook) taking aim at all of the shamers, mean spirited and ignorant folks that continued to make her life miserable. This was her way of being able to confront those people in a safe environment and express herself in a very mature way. For this I must applaud her. Hers is an ongoing story and I am sure that Isis still struggles with ignorance all around her. But she fights on.
The main reason I felt the need to write this post was to lend my words and support to those people like the young girl Isis and any others that are bullied, and share my own experience with bullying and how it has effected me. This is my story of being bullied.
When I was much younger than I am now, say 40 years ago, my family lived on small street in Portland Oregon. I went to school initially with my sisters or friends or by myself. School was about 5 blocks away, not all that far and times were different then. People were more self reliant, harder, if you will.
It started when I was in 1st grade I believe. I was on my way home after school. I was walking across the railroad tracks about a block and a half away from my house. Kind of an industrial part of town. Not very populated with houses and not many people around.
A kid a couple years older than me approached while I was in this no-mans-land area and although I forget his exact words, I remember his actions. He made me find a stick for him and then had me stand with my back to him, leaning against one of the supports to the foot bridge that went over the tracks. Then he would beat me over the back with the stick. He was older, bigger, stronger and faster than me. I couldn’t outrun him and I knew no other way to and from school. I had to take this route. Remember, I was 6 years old at the time.
This went on for some time. I tried my best to partner up with other kids or be very watchful for this person, but inevitably he would find me alone and the process would start over again. I would try to find sticks that were small, thin or looked to break easily. I also cried much more than it actually hurt so he would finish sooner and let me go home.
As you could imagine, my mom eventually found out. And when she did, she was furious. She marched me into the school principals office, lifted up my shirt and told them what happened and by whom. They told her that without proof that this kid had actually beat me, that they, the school, could do nothing because it a) did not take place on school grounds and b) we could not prove that this kid had actually beat me. Done…case closed. My mom fumed for days. I was not allowed to go to or back from school alone ever again, until the bully finally moved away.
After this kid moved away and things went back to being normal(ish), I felt like things would be okay…but I experienced more bullying in middle-school. This was verbal abuse and I am sad to report I simply took it. I do remember one time it making me cry and running off the gym floor after an especially mean-spirited attack.
The impact from all the earlier stuff plus the ongoing barrage made me hypersensitive to criticisms. I remember another kid that I had gone to elementary school with and now was going to middle school with, had said “I don’t know what happened to him, he used to be smart!” This probably hurt more than any of the other stuff because it wasn’t said in anger or to be mean, just a statement of fact. You see, I had started to be less responsive and withdrawn in middle school, unlike elementary school where I enjoyed being there, learning and excelling. My not answering questions in class was mistaken for not being smart.
I can tell you all of this has impacted me in a number of ways, some I can relate to you now and others I haven’t even begun to uncover. When I feel threatened and fight, flight or freeze (lizard brain) kicks in, I want to fight! I detest bullies and am liable to step up or confront people that are doing so to others. This has its pro’s and cons. Pro because maybe I get to help someone. Con because maybe someone gets hurt or worse in the process. Myself included.
I also get that feeling when having a heated discussion or debate. All perfectly harmless but I still feel like I am being attacked. This has also led to me being less communicative (Freeze) in some instances, less able to relate my thoughts or feelings. Feelings…argh, who needs them right? Truth is, we all do. Whether they get hurt or not, feelings are there for a reason (sometimes I cannot fully understand them) but I am pretty sure we make use of them.
I also struggle with self esteem. I can’t necessarily claim with any degree of certainty that this all stems from exposure to some pretty messed-up stuff as a child but deep down I think it has had an effect.
As I was walking my dog today I also thought about the impact this has had on my working relationships. I get into the fight-or-flight mode at times when I feel like I am being criticized or scrutinized, like during annual review time at work. Whenever these evaluations made the rounds and regardless of how I felt or knew how things were going on, often less than desirable evaluations were given. This even after I purposely set up a by-monthly meetings with my manager so that we could discuss areas where he thought I needed work so that those areas could be addressed throughout the year and no big surprises would show up on my review. Low and behold, he made one, maybe two meetings. The rest were moved and never got to or cancelled and rescheduled. This for a whole year. My inner voice told me is was because I wasn’t worth it.
I truly believe that this had some impact on my desire to work alone. I don’t have to give annual reviews of myself, have someone else say how good I am doing, and I don’t need someone telling me how to do my job. I gave up a decent paying job with financial security and good benefits to work in the voice over industry. Now, the only thing I hear…is silence. In this industry, if you don’t land the job, you don’t hear back from the client. That can be tough but maybe it’s worth not being marginalized at work.
My personal relationships have suffered as a result too. If get into a heated discussion about something with my wife, I struggle with my feelings of fight, flight or freeze. Letting a disagreement be a disagreement has been a challenge. She wouldn’t have agreed to be my wife and still be with me if she didn’t love, care and want to be with me. Having disagreements in a relationship is natural and should be dealt with honestly and maturely. I struggle with keeping that in mind. I also struggle with being in control of my emotions as if I might fly off the handle if something strikes that fight, flight or freeze response in me. Really? Seriously? It has been 40 fucking years! I would like some peace of mind, thank you very much!
Can I attribute all this back to being bullied? Of course not. But I think that some of what I feel and how I react in those high-stress confrontational moments, is related to these early experiences I had in my formative years.
Meditation has helped somewhat. I try to be in the moment. Deal with what is on my plate at any given time. I try not to expend energy thinking about what-ifs and if this or that would or could have been different then blah blah blah. I try to make a plan and stick to it as best I can. If things change along the way, I try to be flexible enough to manage the issue and move forward. This has helped relieve quite a bit of stress for me, which is a good thing.
For anyone out there who has ever been bullied, please don’t give up! Encourage others to speak up and be strong. I can’t say things will get better, but they can’t if you have given up. Things may always be challenging for you if you have experienced some of the things I endured, maybe you went through or are going through worse, far worse. Even with the challenges I have had to face and continue to face, life is still worth living. It is my greatest desire that you continue to move forward with your life and be the best you, you can be. There is SO MUCH good out there. There are SO MANY good people in the world. Don’t allow the bullies to win. Please fight the good fight. Seek out people you trust and confide in them. Talking about my experience has helped lift some of the burden. Maybe it will for you too.
I am totally receptive to hearing or talking with anyone who wants to share…anything.
Peace be with you!
More to come…