Grade school was tough for me. I was horribly bullied. I was a shy, quiet, small child who did not speak up for herself at all. When the kids at school began bullying me, I retreated into myself. I tried a couple of times to stand up for myself. All attempts ended disastrously.
That’s not to say I didn’t have friends. I did. Two good ones that I am still friends with today.
Still, the bullying was brutal and affected me deeply for many years. I spent many years wondering why me? Why wasn’t I popular? Why did they torment me? Why didn’t they like me? What was wrong with me? What could I have done to make them treat me better?
There are many answers to these questions, none of them have anything to do with me. But the truth is that their bullying had nothing to do with me, but had everything to do with them. The “strong” put down the “weak” to make themselves feel better, to draw attention to themselves, to revel in their own sense of self-importance, to stand tall on the shoulders of those under their boot.
By the time I got to high school, I was doing better. I was not popular, but I had friends. I valued and cherished them. The two biggest bullies in my past did not go to that school and I created a new life for myself.
I eventually learned to stand up for myself. Some of my friends in high school helped. One girl I went to high school with decided to start harassing me. We had been friends and I did not understand the change in her. She was too cowardly to bully me directly. She manipulated a younger boy into doing it for her. She would sit back and laugh.
One time, he came over to my lunch table and tried to pour a can of coke on me. I pushed him away and told him to leave us alone. My friends were furious. “You don’t have to take that from him!” One girl took a sip of chocolate milk and made a face. She plopped the carton in front of me and said, “This is sour. I can’t drink it.”
Everyone at the table egged me on and followed me over to his table. He was sitting next to my tormentor and they were laughing. I walked up behind and poured the container of chocolate milk over his head and said, “Two can play at that game mother fucker.”
My tormentor stood up and looked absolutely shocked and said something like, “How dare you!”
“Be careful,” I replied to her. “You might be next.”
A table of senior boys watched what happened and stood up and started whooping and cheering. The entire cafeteria broke into laughter and cheers. My friends and I ran towards the exit to get out of there before we got detention. I saw the freshman English teacher cheer and clap and laugh. The hard as nails history teacher turned on her heel while covering her mouth pretending she didn’t see me.
I turned back to face the room at the doorway. I took a bow then fled.
Standing up for myself was exhilarating. I did feel badly that the kid had to go through the rest of the day wearing a sticky wet chocolate milk covered shirt. But none of them ever bothered me again.
There are times I definitely wished I had given the grade school girls a good sock in the face. That may not have changed anything, but maybe it would have given them pause the next time they tried to torment me. Maybe I would have felt better. Maybe not. But. I never did.
Yesterday, a friend of mine from grade school shared an article on Facebook. One of my tormenters from grade school was in the paper. She had done well for herself over the years. But now, she is facing grand jury charges for corruption on multiple counts. And more people are coming forward to file complaints against her.
A very small part of me felt gratified by this, I’m ashamed to say. I am not a bully. I do not revel in the pain of others. At least, I don’t like to think that about myself.
Another part of me actually feels sorry for her. If the allegations against her are true, that says to me that she did not grow at all from the angry young bully I knew in 8th grade. Instead, she learned all of the wrong life lessons from her behavior and let that infect the whole of her life. What a sad way to live.
If the allegations are false, she is having done to her what she did to me, but a hundred times worse. If she is acquitted of the charges, they will still taint everything in her life from this moment onward. And that is also very sad.
Maybe she had it coming. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe it is not my place to pass judgment. But the news articles I read got me thinking and I wanted to write about it.
If I had known then, what I know now, how differently I would have lived my life. I don’t think it would be very different than it is now. But maybe I would not have given the bullies so much of my own power. They did not deserve any part of me. They are no better than I am. And they were not worth the effort I was putting in trying to be friends with them.
These are some lessons I’ve learned over the years about myself, but also about the other people, specifically, people who have put a lot of energy into making me feel that I am not good enough.
- Everyone is insecure.
- Everyone is afraid.
- Everyone feels they are not good enough.
- Everyone finds it easier to believe that bad stuff about themselves than the good.
- Everyone is trying to make people like them.
- There will always be someone who is smarter, prettier, richer, taller, and seemingly better than you in every way.
- The people who you view as better than you are not.
- Beauty fades.
- Money can be lost.
- Health declines.
- Character matters.
- How you treat people matters.
- Everyone has worth.
- People who do not appreciate you, are not worth having in your life. Stop fighting for their approval.
- People who appreciate you and love you, cherish them.
Bullies will always try to make you feel bad so that they feel better. They are manipulative and mean. Chances are good, they are only trying to cover up the ugliness they feel inside. Or maybe they have just embraced and accepted that ugliness as their truth. Who knows. Until they are ready to do some soul-searching and figure it out for themselves, it is not your job to feel their pain.
But I have to end this on a positive note, because the bullies in my life have actually taught me a great deal about myself and about life in general.
- I know my worth.
- I know what I can do and what I’m capable of.
- I’m a good person.
- I’m caring and loving and optimistic.
- I have not let them change who I am at my core. And that makes me happy.
- I stand up for myself and the things that are important to me.
- I have a voice and I use it to speak my truth.
- And I can spot a bully a million miles away.
If I could share anything that I’ve learned over the years with the shy, young girl I was all those years ago, I would tell her to believe in herself despite the haters. They are wrong and small and ugly on the inside. She is stronger than she can imagine. And one day, she’ll know that for herself.