When I was a child we moved a lot. Being in the military required it. I went to four elementary schools, one junior high and three high schools. I never found it easy. It was difficult for me to make friends and still is. I can command attention from a college classroom, I can lead my employees, and I can have a room full of people focusing on me training or speaking to them for extended lengths of time but I can’t make small talk. When faced with a social situation involving people I don’t know, I’d rather shoot my foot off. Mingling to me is an art. An art I have no skill in. I contribute some of this to my experiences of being bullied.
It started when I was in junior high school, around the seventh grade. I had a great neighborhood that was divided up the middle with a paved bike trail, lots of shade trees and benches. Being a new construction site, primarily young families with kids moved in. My brother, sister and I had lots of friends to play with and spent a lot of time outside engaged in tag, baseball, bike riding, swimming, and riding skateboards. I had three main friends. I won’t call them best friends. I don’t think I’ve ever had a best friend. I think that’s a life experience I missed out on. The four of us typically did gymnastics in someone’s yard and basically just hung out at each other’s houses or swam in my backyard pool. One day, for reasons I will never know, the ring leader of the three (her name was June) decided that I was out of the group.
My life took a sharp turn that day. Not only was I out of the group, but I was ostracized. I was ridiculed and made fun of. I was followed and stalked. June had a lot of social power. When someone is a bully, others would rather be on her side than on the victim’s. Nobody wants to be linked with the victim because that makes them a potential victim as well. So even if the friendships are fake, or out of fear, the bully typically has a strong backing from others. June did this. She was powerful in her vengeance and hatred. She made others not want to be her target. In not being her target, they became bullies of me also. The walk to school was excruciating due to being followed to and from. I was afraid to go to my locker. I eventually became afraid to leave my house. I think this went on for several years. I don’t know if anyone noticed I didn’t go outside much, but when I did I was very careful to be on the lookout for danger and dodge it whenever possible. Now that I’m a counselor and educated on the issue, I know I had social phobia and post traumatic stress disorder which included depression and anxiety.
I remember another girl in my school who held her head down all the time, never spoke and always read a book at lunch time. I think the book was her protection. People would try to take her book from her, call her names, kick the book. She kept her head in that book no matter what was going on around her, I’m sure hoping the nightmare would stop and the bell would ring soon. I felt I was just one small step away from her. June would talk bad about me to anyone who would listen, to ensure I didn’t have any friends, to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t socially acceptable. She and her fearful followers made fun of my clothes, my hair, my everything – nothing was off limits. I felt like the ugliest person on earth and no one ever told me any different.
Does everything get better when the bullying stops? I went on to high school terrified instead of excited like I should have been. I don’t think my bullying would have stopped had I not moved away, yet again. That saved me from the situation but the damage was done and I then continued to bully myself by internalizing the events and believing I was defective. The scars from bullying, at least in my case lasted a life time. I was still very angry at my bullies up until a few years ago. One of them sent me a friend request on Facebook as though nothing had happened. I couldn’t believe she would have the gall to act like their cruel behavior had no impact on me and was forgotten. I’m sure it was forgotten to them, but it robbed me of many things. It didn’t keep them in the house afraid to go out. It didn’t ruin for them what should have been wonderful school years for me. It didn’t turn their perception of themselves to that of someone with no worth. The harsh words weren’t stamped in their minds forever. They didn’t spend years of their life wondering what was wrong with them. That’s what bullying does.
I pondered that Facebook friend request for a while after telling the sender what I thought of her. I think that helped me heal. I then sent her an apology for my words and accepted her apology. I’m glad I did. It helped me, but I’m still wounded. In the formative years, to be told by peers on a daily basis that you are nothing, stupid, ugly, etc. the impact lingers. It’s devastating to one’s self-image. I lost confidence in myself. I didn’t have much to begin with but I lost the little bit I did have. I have spent my life disliking anyone new who came into my life before they could dislike me first. I doubt my decisions. I have a fear of others disliking me. I question my abilities.
I know now that I’ve come a long way from that terrified little girl. I now am one of the first people to befriend a new person. I want them to feel welcomed and at ease. I want them to not experience what I went through. I’m learning to believe in myself. I try very hard not to judge people. I don’t know what their life has been like or what they struggle with. When I have a bad day, my mind still reverts back to that little girl who wonders what wrong with me. I still think I’m stupid and everyone hates me. I’m still overly sensitive to criticism. My logical mind knows there’s nothing wrong with me but my emotional mind can’t erase the tapes. I’m a work in progress and they do say the best things are worth waiting for.