This week especially, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been inundated with articles such as "17 Things Former Bullied Kids Do a Little Bit Differently as Adults" (though terribly written, a lot of that one does ring true) and "Whipping Boy" (a bit meandering and somewhat creepy at times, but a decent story with a good conclusion). One thing that I can't ignore about all of this - both the articles that I wrote/participated in and the ones I've read, as well as the people who've shared them in my news feeds - is how many people were bullied when they were younger...and to be completely honest, at times I've found myself cocking my head and thinking, "Really? S/he was bullied? I don't know..."
But that's not fair of me. First, most people out there had to deal with some crappy experience or another when they were young, and God knows bullying has always been far more prevalent than society would like to admit (at least in the past). Second, it's pretty likely that people who have only known me for, say, ten years or less, probably side-eye me when I mention that I was bullied. (Though that's probably because they've never seen pictures of me from middle school.)
Some years ago - not long after I first started this blog - I wrote about my experiences with bullying. It was a largely positive entry; I was in a really good place in my life at that time. I knew who I was, and I was happy with that.
Sadly, it wasn't meant to last, and recently I'm in the opposite of a 'good place'...but in some ways, I think that's actually okay. It's the difficult times that mold us into better people, isn't it? As my beloved Andrea from The Walking Dead (comics!) says, though...
"'The things we've lost...it makes us stronger.
'Not that it makes those things worth enduring.'"It's not just the things we lose, though, but the things we experience - especially (sadly) the negative things - that make us stronger...so today I wanted to write about the negative side effects of bullying. Because yeah, it can make you a stronger person. It can make you less likely to intentionally hurt others' feelings. It can make you less likely to "take crap" from others.
But that doesn't mean that it's worth enduring. Because it can also leave you scared shitless about opening up and exposing your vulnerable side to people. It can leave you afraid to talk about any personal issues you may have, and if you do talk about them you're far more likely to be defensive if others don't respond the way you want or expect them to. And I don't know about anyone else (though I'm guessing I'm not alone in this), but when I've been subjected to bullying as an adult (mostly online), it's had a much more negative effect on me than I've let on.
When I was younger, the bullying I experienced often made me question the usual things women question - my weight, my looks, and all that those encompass. I may not worry about those things as much these days (really not much at all, in fact), but that doesn't mean that there aren't other lasting side effects. Mainly that I still crave acceptance more than I would like, and unfortunately I can't let go of how much, especially in today's society, acceptance hinges on how you look.
Worse than that, though, is the fact that the bullying I've experienced has made me so wary and cautious when meeting new people and trying to make new friends. Yes, I'm outgoing, friendly, gregarious, even - but letting you into my 'inner circle'? Good luck with that; it can take years at the very least, and likely it won't ever happen at all, even if you prove nothing short of trustworthy the entire time that I know you.
And my absolute biggest regret is how much bullying - especially the truly nasty stuff that has come at the hands of acquaintances, supposed 'friends', and sometimes even family members - has made me question other friendships and relationships. How it has caused me to shut down when I should have opened up. How it has made me ever suspicious, constantly questioning the way people feel about me and their intentions toward me - and I'm not only talking about strangers. I feel this way even about those who, deep down, I *know* care about me. I identify far too much with the adage attributed to House Lannister: "Everyone who isn't us, is the enemy."
That's right - even as a self-sufficient adult who has a lot going for me, thinking about the bullying I've experienced (both as a child/teenager and as a result of a few shitty people who have gone out of their way to hurt me these past several years) is painful, and at times has made me far more bitter than any person needs to be. It has also caused me to have what are probably ridiculously high expectations of others in terms of how they treat me - I don't forgive easily (I rarely do so at all), and I sure as hell never forget. There's that old cliche, "an elephant never forgets" - well, I'm inclined to believe (not just from my own experience, but from things others have told me and things I've read) that a bullied person never forgets, either.
But hey, if you've been bullied and you've learned how to forget - or, for that matter, forgive - my ears and mind are open. I'm trying. I want to try. I need to try. Yes, over time I've learned a lot, and I've healed some, as well...but I'm only human, and there's always work to be done.