being bullied and the lessons i learned

my middle school discomfort

Middle school is not a time of my life that you could pay me to revisit. I think most adults would agree that those years are tough. Your bodies are changing, your hormones are wild, and you are starting to have a grown-up body while still having a child mind.  The potential for being bullied is extremely high.

Junior high school was particularly hard for me for a myriad of reasons. I was unhappy with who I was as a person, I didn’t have anyone I could turn to for support and comfort, and I felt no sense of safety. I felt hopeless, unloved, and felt very much alone. Although I was a bright girl and got accepted into a school for gifted kids based on my IQ and writing ability, I had absolutely no self-confidence.

my friend, the bully

say not to bullying

In truth, there were many kids in that school who were sweet and probably looking for a friend too. I had classmates whom I could (and should) have chosen to surround myself with. Instead, I gravitated towards a girl who did not treat me the way one treats a friend. She appeared confident, but in hindsight I think she lacked confidence as well. Just as moms will shame other moms to feel better about themselves, she verbally bullied me to feel better about herself.

She was friends with another girl as well, and the two of them would laugh together while she poked fun at me. One day I was told she didn’t like my bow and it was babyish. Another time I was ridiculed that I reminded her of Minnie Mouse because of my high voice. You name it, she teased at me about it. Whether it was the way I wore my eyeshadow (honestly, I still don’t think I wear it properly) or the clothes I wore, she never ceased an opportunity to tease me. 

In a nutshell, I was bullied by a girl who claimed she was my friend. Now this was in the 90s, when bullying was in a completely different form. This was long before the world of cyber bullying, where kids could taunt you behind the protection of a computer screen. No, this was the old-fashioned way; up close, personal, and fully standing by the words she chose to throw my way. 

being bullied by myself

don't be a bully it starts with me

Victims of verbal bullying are usually told to not give the bully any power. The advice given is to tell a teacher or ignore them because bullies are typically cowards. I was in a different situation. I had two bullies: this girl and myself.

My “friend” might have said hurtful things, but I did nothing to stop it. This is not a situation where I was powerless. She also was not hurting me physically. She used the power of her words to inflict pain upon me, and I chose to say and do nothing. I never once told her that I wouldn’t associate with her if she made those kinds of comments. When she laughed at me, I never walked away. In fact, I never even told her that her words bothered me. Instead, I often laughed it off. She might have been the one throwing the dagger, but I was the one stabbing it into my own heart.

why i didn’t walk away from being bullied

Looking back, I didn’t say anything for many reasons. For one, I had a complete lack of confidence in myself. My self-esteem was so low that I felt I deserved it. I didn’t believe that I should have someone in my life who valued my feelings and treated me well. I was already being abused for years by this point, and in some messed up way, being treated badly was my normal. It was all I knew, and all I believed I should know. It’s why I picked her in the first place. She reinforced my belief that I was not worthy or enough. In my mind, there must have been something wrong with me to be abused by my mother. Therefore, why shouldn’t this girl treat me badly as well?

Another reason I stuck around was because I convinced myself on some level that she was my friend. As I’ve mentioned before, what is even harder than being abused is admitting to yourself that you are being abused. The same applied here. I wanted to believe that this girl really was my friend, and that her actions were somehow justified.

Lastly, I was terrified of standing up to her and having nobody. I would rather associate with someone who was teasing me than be by myself.  Nothing was worse than feeling that. It didn’t occur to me that the moment I accepted that kind of treatment from her, I was alone.

I remember the last day of junior high school. I asked a few people to sign my yearbook, and she was one of them.  She actually wrote me a nice message that she hoped we’d always be friends. I then wandered around the hallways; I had nobody else to talk to and nobody asked me to sign their yearbooks. My confidence was non-existent, and I felt completely and utterly alone. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed I didn’t deserve to have anyone, and that is exactly what I got. I spent three years at a school, and I left without a single true friend.

Insecurity Can be Felt at any Age and No Relationship Should Tolerate Bullying

insecurities are felt at any age

I don’t want you to think badly of this girl. In fact, we are friends on Facebook, and she occasionally likes my posts. I hold no ill will towards her whatsoever, not because I’m in denial, but because I think she was lost too.  I think she was a child who had her own struggles and made poor choices. Should she have teased me? No. However, if I didn’t speak up and show respect for myself, then how can I expect her to respect me?

There is a bigger lesson to this story then the teasing of a young, incredibly insecure girl. Those who lack confidence can be people of all ages.   We will all at some point inevitably have an encounter with someone who will say things at our expense. These people can be co-workers, romantic partners, friends, and even family. The same insecurities that prevented me from speaking up as a child prevents others from doing the same, regardless of age or relationship.

Some things cannot be prevented. I am not speaking of those situations where victims are truly powerless. There are some tragedies in life that confidence and assertiveness will not deter.

How We Stop Bullying Ourselves

When someone mistreats you, teases you, or says something that makes you feel badly about yourself, you have a choice. You can choose to allow those words to hammer away at your self-respect bit by bit, or you can choose yourself.

I don’t know what would have happened if I would have spoken up and said that her teasing was hurtful. I don’t know what she would have said, but I know I would have felt empowered. It took me many years to get to a place where I could defend myself. Today I have so much compassion for that little girl. I know that I simply didn’t have it within me to set those boundaries and believe that I deserved better. I cry for that little girl quite often because I know now how worthy she was and how unfair life was to her. In turn, I also know how cruel she was to herself.

I share this story not to elicit sympathy. I spill these sad words onto the page in hopes that someone who reads this will recognize that love and kindness are the most precious gifts you can give someone. They can save someone else, and they can save yourself. Give your children one more hug and remind them that you love them. Remember to be kind to yourself. Reach out to a friend and let them know you care. Boost confidence instead of tearing it down.

We cannot change how people treat one another, and there is much cruelty in this world.  However, if we can love wholeheartedly and remind those we love that they are worthy and deserve better, perhaps they will start to believe that for themselves. 

Our obligation to Speak Up

We also need to be cognizant that if we are being mistreated, it does not matter who the person is on the other side. We have an obligation to speak up. If we cannot do so for ourselves, we must do so for our children. Otherwise, we are sending the message to our children that they can treat others that way, and in turn, others can treat them that way. For the sakes of our children, it must stop with us.

My daughter was taught from a young age that teasing others and allowing others to tease you is never okay. She knows bullying comes in many forms, and that they all are painful.  I try to instill in her that she should treat herself and others with respect

I pray that she feels the love and safety that I didn’t feel as a child. If the day ever comes where she is bullied or disrespected, I hope she will have the courage and confidence to do what I wasn’t able to do.