For years, I knew that pit in the stomach every morning before school. Like so many others, I was bullied as a kid. A lot.
The first bout began in fourth grade under bright autumn leaves and continued until green buds returned. Three boys a year older than me decided they would make it their almost-daily task to meet me at the same place and beat me up. Thing is, I could have avoided them, as I walked home every day and there were multiple ways to leave. I knew this. Yet. Every single day, I would show up. I’d put down my stuff. And…I’d try to win.
It was the 70’s. We didn’t tell. We were raised to believe that it was “part of growing up.” And, at that time, it really was. Some of my peer struggles were pretty extreme. In the sixth grade, I landed in the emergency room for stitches, but lucky that I didn’t lose my left eye. (I don’t think the other kid intended such an extreme result, but…)
It wasn’t just physical. For three years, there were some girls that used to share their opinions of me every day. Which was worse than a fight. Was I afraid of the bullying? I was. Did I hate it? I did. But, I reacted to mistreatment with a stubborn passion that I am forever grateful to my Mum for. When others would say and do things that were unkind, a message would meander through my head. Like an iron whisper. “They’re wrong.”
This was a gift. I know that. And I know that not everyone can react this way. But I do believe a reaction like this can be learned–for self talk is so powerful. When someone else tries to drag us down, most of us react in one of two ways: The first is “I don’t deserve that” which lights a fire inside—the kind of fire that fuels determination and success. The kind of thing that helps people rise above their circumstances. Turns victims into conquerors.
The second reaction is, “They’re right.” A deflation of the spirit. It’s an understandable reaction but one we must all fight to eradicate in the children/teens we know. Actually, in anyone we know.
For me, resilience was honed by being resilient. I have achieved things I never thought I would because I pushed through fear, dismissed the naysayers, and plugged away. There is no doubt that my struggles and heartbreak as a kid have aided in my success along the way. Although, a bit ironic, I think.
I recall when the anti-bullying campaigns were introduced to schools over a decade ago. Being good to each other is a great message, of course. But, with the seemingly constant reports of childhood despair because of bullying by peers…well, I have wondered why we don’t have more calls for resilience as well. A reminder to play the “I don’t deserve this” message rather than giving in to feeling ashamed about labels that someone else pins to us–which are probably inaccurate. After all, a bully’s actions/words have more to do with him/her than their target.
I’ll be honest. I’ve sat and long-stared at victims’ pictures—kids bright-eyed and beautiful and looking like they’ll take on the world when they grow up. Kids who’ve had supportive parents, people who love them…and yet…they end their lives because of bullying. The word, heartbreaking, doesn’t nearly cover it.
I love the “It Gets Better” campaign. It’s gone a long way in showing gay teens that they are not alone and that it really does get better. Also, there is a wonderful video below done by Megan Kelley Hall, one of the editors of Dear Bully. (The other Dear Bully editor is Carrie Jones) We need more and varied messages like this for kids–and we need to introduce resilience earlier. When I visit schools, I discuss the phrase, “Be someone’s hero.” I touch upon being good to each other, of course. But I also point out that this phrase means being a hero to yourself as well. Knowing that just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. And every time. Every school. I see some faces of kids who I suspect have not heard this before.
Teaching kindness is a such a human thing to do. It’s because we’re protective. It represents our wish for peace and mutual understanding. Our desire to toss out the things about humanity we know don’t shine. It is a lesson we need to continue to teach–and model. I have seen wonderful changes in schools since the anti-bullying campaigns began. Sadly, though, there will be kids who are still unkind. Regardless of these lessons.
So, my hope is that we are spending some time teaching kids to stand tall as well. To be brave. Value who they are—for we all have gifts to offer the world. Know that others’ opinions are not necessarily facts. Self esteem doesn’t come from others; it comes from impressing ourselves. And how do we do that?
Stand strong. Seek out what makes you happy. Shake off the bad stuff and look for the good, because there’s plenty of it. Seek out the people who do care–because they are there. You can succeed. Be happy. Chase down any dream you wish. Make any life you want. Regardless of having been bullied.
Because you are worthy.
Of everything wonderful.
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Sunday, Oct 27th at 11:59 pm. Thank you