One of my good friends asked a question via Facebook concerning bullying and it got me thinking about all the personal history I have on that subject. Here is what I came up with.
Some people are naturally appealing to predators. Head down, walking alone, hurrying all the time, nervously hoping not to be picked on. It is like having a huge target on your back. Being "different" and being bullied go hand in hand. It is a mean cycle and I'm not sure which comes first. Maybe you feel different and so people treat you differently. Maybe you get picked on and you are made aware of your differences. It could be a small insult whispered under their breath or it could be something bigger or more public like begin shoved or tripped. No matter what the “attack” is like, it all has the same affect. When you boil it down, bullying is abuse. To make it worse, it is often very public abuse. That makes it all the more difficult to understand why so few others stand up or try to help.
How do I know about bullying? I lived it. Not just one time. Not just in one place. Not just by one person. I felt like I had been secretly marked. Bigger, meaner people just knew. This was a girl it was ok to pick on. There were plenty of things to choose from. Being a minority (blonde and fair skinned was the minority in my neighborhood,) smaller than my peers, smarter (or at least more eager to share my knowledge,) or less affluent. Those are just a few of the "justified" reasons. I was called plenty more names because of what people assumed about me. Apparently being curvy means sleeping around (despite the opposite.) Being friends with junkies meant (of course) that I was a junkie, too. Very often, I think I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Usually I didn't have anyone to stick up for me, and I didn't stick up for myself.
I was bullied a LOT. I don’t want to rehash it all, but here is a sample to make my point. “Stupid white girl” was something I understood when spoken in Spanish before I was in 2nd grade. In 4th grade a bully got tired of the teachers intervening so she simply followed me home after school to beat me up. Even in high school where I had a handful of friends, there were twice as many bullies to remind me that I wasn’t worthy of any of them. One bigoted teacher announced to the entire class that she would be so happy when I finally moved away (assumedly so her class would return to its former non-white status.) Another teacher announced (again to an entire class) that I would be pregnant before I was 16. She was sure of it. My horrible blunder? I dared to hold hands with a boy. Strangers were just as likely to do something as were people I knew. I was babysitting at a rec center when I was surrounded, harassed, and groped by a group of boys who apparently wanted to prove they were “men.”
I have been tripped, shoved, cursed at, lied about, harassed, threated, and yes, even beat up. I thank God this happened before the Internet Age, or I’m sure it would have been online as well. Sometimes it only stopped because I moved or changed schools or jobs (yes this has happened to me as an adult.) Occasionally I went to the authorities, but so little was done it didn’t make much difference. When actions were taken on my behalf, it was often done with an attitude that clearly said I needed to toughen up and stop whining. Not always, but more often than not. Even in the workplace, when I was bullied by a coworker, I was written up for leaving the office outside of my break schedule and she was promoted to another department.
For a long time I acted like the victim I had become. I put up with despicable abuse by “friends” and boyfriends simply because having ANYONE around was better than being alone. Singularity was terrifying. Being terrified was exhausting. I didn’t understand the way friends were supposed to treat each other, so I’m sure I inadvertently caused a lot of my social isolation. As an adult I had a string of abusive relationships, not understanding why I seemed to attract the same sort of guy. It was the moment I realized I was within inches of being physically beaten when things changed for me. I left, and took the first step towards changing who I was. I managed to find my spine just in the nick of time. I think it causes me to be a little stubborn sometimes, overcompensating for my historical weakness.
Over the years I began to realize that people will be mean (whether or not they are actually a mean person) and if it wasn't to me, it would be to someone else. The problem wasn't with me. It was with the sad, misguided, ignorant fools who thought they could stand on top of someone else to feel taller. Do I feel sorry for bullies? Absolutely not. I pity them and their small minds, or perhaps their narrow minded upbringing.
Just understanding why things happened didn’t fix everything. It only started me down the path that eventually leads to healing. At first, I looked around at the people who seemed to have it together and I acted like them. If I wasn’t “normal” I would at least ACT like it. Then, one day I decided I was tired of feeling different and broken and waiting to be somebody's prey. I found it in my heart to forgive those who pushed me around and abused me. I realized that back when we were kids, no one else around me really knew what was going on, either, and the "bullies" were either acting the way they thought they should, or acting the only way they had ever been taught.
Not everyone comes to this point by themselves and I do understand it isn’t always as easy at it was for me. I was blessed with the knowledge that regardless of the problems with those that choose to single others out for their enjoyment, I can hold my head high, look anyone in the eyes, and know that I AM A GOOD PERSON. I am worthy of love and respect and I have the right to my personal safety. I can choose not to listen. I can walk away. I can tell people in charge if I feel threatened. I can stay in groups instead of standing alone. I can choose to act like a victim or I can be survivor. Anyone (even bullies) can see the difference. You don't screw with a survivor.
It took the threat of serious physical harm to push me out of the cycle of bullying and abuse. I am eternally grateful for that moment of insight into the future I was walking towards. It took a while for me to be able to look in the mirror and value what I see. I still don’t like what I see, and I know that is a lingering scar of past.