First, let me state:
I have never liked the term “bullying” when it comes to a student’s peers. It diminishes the effect of their abuse and harassment. There are definitely an infinite amount of “grades” (as in severities) when it comes to “bullying,” but many of these “grades” are enough to damage a person. I understand we are all responsible for our own actions, but even in CBT the general consensus is that you can control your thoughts and invariably take charge with your feelings, but feelings themselves are natural and often do what they want.
As many young students, I was abused and harassed. I was not just “bullied.” I feared going to school every day and would sometimes vomit from the psychological pain of simply having to attend. School was a dangerous place for me, and it shouldn’t have to be for anybody. I was the subject of hate clubs, taunting, verbal harassment, and occasional violence. Their favorite names for me were “psycho” and “freak.” Many people would come to me for advice (strangely enough) and then push me into the lockers or kick me in front of their friends.
Why terminology is so important
“Bullying” is a term like “trolling.” A “troll” and a “bully” have the same connotation, same kind of vibe. Some “insecure jerk” going around and making “inappropriate” comments intended to hurt someone. Do people forget that “trolls” are sometimes hackers as well? That they can invade your space and privacy and hijack not only your reputation but also your perception? This is the same with “bullies” in the school system, although on a concrete or physical scale–less digital. Regardless, there is a level of violation that people without this kind of treatment cannot understand.
Sadly, “insecurity” and “personal weakness” are still “excuses” for this behavior. There is really no excuse and it’s often more complicated or different than that and while you’re suffering badly from a person’s poorly managed emotional fallout, you aren’t often really open to seeing it yourself. But it’s harmful and toxic and can destroy a person’s life. That’s why “bullying” is an outdated term, especially when so many students are taking their lives over it. Because, let’s face it, “it” is not the harassment itself. “It” is the hostility of the environment; the feelings of worthlessness and not belonging; it is the realization that if without friends, you are truly alone and vulnerable when you walk through those dangerous hallways. “It” is not people disliking you. “It” is being attacked by your peers, people who, truthfully, should realize their place is with you. Not against you.
Advice I wish I had heard and/or listened to
“How people treat you is more often a reflection of who they are than it is a reflection of you.”
I didn’t hear this for a long time. I had already dropped out, was already 18, and had no intention or way of going back to high school. But it made sense. It made a lot of sense. This advice was not pointing to people’s insecurities but who they are and how they deal with it. I myself have not always treated individuals well. A former friend and I had targeted another former friend years ago, and I am wholly angry at myself for that, as I should be. So I myself have been a “bully,” an abuser, at one time. That is something I cannot and will not excuse. I was betraying myself in this, but I did it anyway–and that’s what matters.
Generally, however, I treated people well. Strangers as loved ones, even, listening to their various issues and counseling them, reaching out to people who were in danger from themselves or others, trying to be involved in people’s lives in a way that was positive for them. I tried my best to be a friend to people who needed friends, which led me into some dark and dangerous places for myself. As explained, I am not a saint. I am someone who loves people, even if I dislike them. So this quote–it helped. Aside from my early teenage years, in which I was admittedly filled with anger and judgment towards some individuals, I realized that in my entire life, I was not the “psycho” they called me. I was not the school shooter they expected me to be. I was not who they said I was. They treated me as if I were toxic, venomous, evil. I have never been the best I could be, but I am intrinsically a good person or at least am often trying to be. They didn’t see me. They didn’t understand me. They didn’t want to, because
“People constantly look for scapegoats.”
This is a permeating problem in the human world. Read history books; you’ll see it. That’s how I learned this. No one ever actually told me this. I used S.D. as a scapegoat. You might have used scapegoats yourself. It is often easier for a lot of people to project their problems onto someone else than to deal with them themselves. This is where the insecurity thing sometimes comes in or when people say “You make yourself vulnerable, and then people attack you.”
I have been hypersensitive and still can be very sensitive; I know this, and I’ve been working on it. It is still sometimes a problem, and while it helps me understand others, it does make me vulnerable. But the fact alone that I am vulnerable is not an excuse for people to attack me. However, there is unfortunately a causal relationship with this, but everyone is still responsible for their own actions.
I was a scapegoat in my school. If someone was having a bad day, I would know about it (although I didn’t understand the cause and effect principle of scapegoating in relation to my situation yet). My hometown, I am convinced, is poisoned from the mercury by a local power plant. I won’t be surprised if you think it paranoia from me, but the amount of mental illness in that town is shockingly high. Yes, small towns are known for angry and judgmental people, but I cannot explain to you how sick people are there. And that posed as a problem, too, because while being unhealthy (whether with a mental illness someone is not coping effectively with or just extreme unhappiness) does not make someone a “bad” person, there are unhealthy ways to cope with mental illness or even unhappiness that can be negative and selfish. That is something that was hard for me to learn, even though I’ve done it myself.
This also ties into something I heard just recently from one of my few kind peers:
“People are scared of people who are unabashedly themselves.”
It’s true. All the way. Even though many of the people in my hometown were probably also suffering from mental illness, mental illness itself doesn’t actually make you totally different or “weird.”
A person I once knew from grade school and I reconnected on facebook a while ago and when we discussed some of this, she had said that it was because I was open about who I was. She said the problem was that people were–ok, yes–“jealous” that I could be so open; that I didn’t hold things back; that I was able to be vulnerable and able to be unique in spite of the pressure to be the same. For me, there was no option. I have always been open about my feelings, opinions, values, likes, and dislikes, even when I was trying to “fit in.” Betraying that is an unthinkable crime to me, although as I said, I did betray my own values before. But not there. Not in that school. I was always me to a perhaps damning extent, and even though it did matter what people thought about it (not going to lie), I couldn’t be anyone else.
She said that this year when we reconnected for a brief period. (A brief period because our rekindled connection was unsurprisingly but still saddeningly driven away by her friend, a mutual former classmate.)
I am used to hearing “People are scared of people who are different,” which is also true. Hell, you can even find similar lines in the “Mob Song” from Beauty and the Beast. (“We don’t like what we don’t understand/In fact it scares us” etc.) But that meant nothing to me. Because I didn’t understand why I was so different. I knew that I was, but I didn’t know how.
I guess being oneself makes a person different. Being genuine. And that is something I’ve become very proud of even though it caused (and sometimes still causes) me tons of distress.
“You’re going to get out of here. These people won’t be able to get to you anymore.”
Some people don’t actually get “out.” Some commit suicide, some are financially just stuck. I am grateful that I was able to get out with my mother due to a rather interesting circumstance–but I got out with my mother nonetheless. People told me this all of the time, but I was convinced I was going to commit suicide before I left. I tried running away a few times but never got very far. Either I was tracked down or promptly realized how much worse life could be.
But it’s true. Once you get older, you start realizing that those years of your life aren’t as important as they once were. You’re not there anymore. You survived it. And, really, you’re more valuable than the cruelty you received.
This is something I heard a lot. But I never believed it. I thought I was scarred beyond recognition. Trauma after trauma, and school was definitely its own kind of trauma. But here I am. Alive and happy, and I’m still getting better.
I have found that some of the best people in the world are ones who have been harassed by their peers.
Vulnerability is not just vulnerability. It’s not “plain weakness” that “invites” abusers. It is being honest. It is being naked and being brave. It is not hiding. It is not blocking yourself off to the world.
Always remember that you have a great capacity for amazing things. Your brain contains beautiful things. Maybe terrifying things, too, but your potential is greater than the universe. Embrace it.
And the others who disagree? They have their own lives and their own things to answer for. Stand up for yourself, say to them, “Your negativity can’t own me.” Continue to stand out. You are beautiful. You are brave. And you are bettering yourself.