Smelling the Fear

Throughout elementary and high school, I struggled with bullies. Most of the time they were not physical bullies. Sometimes they were. But mostly they were of the mental and emotional sort– my least favorite kind of bully. If you think I suck, just hit me. Give me an Indian burn or a titty twister. Pull my hair or pop me in the kidney. Please, just leave my hyper-sensitive soul and heart intact. I didn’t understand why I always seemed to fall victim to these cruel, heartless bullies.

Many (most) days, I would come home from school and cry into my mom’s shoulder while listening to Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne on repeat. After snot-soaking mom’s shirt, we would talk about coping strategies, and she would remind me that homeschooling was always an option. The only thing that kept me from taking her up on that offer was the realization that I would go from being a loser in school, to a loser who stayed home with her mommy all day. I had visions of trading in my sneakers for a pair of white keds, wearing polo shirts tucked into my sweatpants, and getting braces even though my teeth were perfectly straight. I feared that I would become a complete hermit and would forget how to interact with humans in general. So I reluctantly stayed in school. But I still didn’t understand why me.

Now I do. Now I understand why bullies pick on certain people, and leave others alone.

I don’t ever intentionally hurt anyone or put them down, and I’m definitely not going around the office giving titty twisters, but I have found myself having very little patience for people who are pushovers– people who let others walk all over them. I get frustrated and angry and I suddenly want to drag them to the bathroom and give them swirlies until they promise to believe in themselves. Even if your ideas suck and you are 99.99% sure you’re wrong, believe in yourself because you are doing the best you can. And if all else fails, people will respect that you have confidence in your shitty ideas, and they will believe in you simply because you do. This is the way the world works, whether you like it or not. I didn’t like it for 18 years, but you don’t have to like something for it to be true.

I’ve been there, so I should be more understanding of the small-voiced, weak, sensitive ones, right? Right. But instead, it makes me feel enraged. I want to scream in their faces, “STAND UP FOR YOURSELF! NOBODY IS GOING TO DO IT FOR YOU!” I want to explain to them that when you don’t have a backbone, bullies can sense that from miles away. And they live for that. You are swimming in shark infested waters and you just got your period. Bullies are miserable humans so they seek out people who have even less confidence so they can chew them up and spit them out. The aftertaste is comforting and empowering to their pathetic selves. We know this of bullies.

But it’s not that easy. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation where people say, “just tell them to screw off” or “just stand up for yourself and show them who’s boss.” With swollen eyes and a broken heart, I would respond with, “it’s not that easy.” And at the time, it really isn’t.

After seeing a few good counselors, reading some influential books, and gaining self-esteem that comes with life experiences, I finally found my backbone. Turns out it was there all along, I just didn’t know how to use it. I didn’t believe that standing up for myself would be so easy. I didn’t believe that all it took to defeat a bully was one confrontation and BAM, your work is done. I didn’t know that it would actually be fun to turn myself into someone unrecognizable– someone that was excited to get out of bed every day and play offense as opposed to the (crappy) defense I had been playing my entire life. I thought it would be so much more involved and painful than that. But it’s not. It’s a vicious cycle, not standing up for yourself. And after weeks, months, years of it, you will be the one with the quiet voice saying, “it’s not that easy.” A way out seems unattainable.

But I’m here to tell you it is that easy. Try it on for size, see how it feels. My mother always asked me the same question when I felt uneasy about a decision I had to make– “what’s the absolute worst that could happen?” When you’re being walked all over at home, work, or school, you are already on your way to a worst case scenario if you’re not already there. So try something new and see where it takes you. You might be surprised. You would not believe how little resilience a bully has when faced with the slightest degree of confrontation.

You might go from the girl who cries every day after school, to one who verbally destroys a bully so effectively he is reduced to tears and begging for forgiveness. It just takes one brave step and life is suddenly so much easier.

But until you get there, oh small-voiced ones, I promise to not be that bully. I promise to be patient and kind, and remember that I too have been in your shoes, and someday you will emerge. Someday you will be on the other side. Why not today?


9 thoughts on “Smelling the Fear

  1. Ummm…you didn’t even know me (officially) and I certainly didn’t work with you yet, so how’d you write this about me???? Hahaha. Please, please, please scream in my face “STAND UP FOR YOURSELF! NOBODY IS GOING TO DO IT FOR YOU!” when I start acting like a baby at work.

    • So glad it spoke to you! It DOES get better. There were days I totally thought that was going to be my life, always feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. Not the case! Just know that for many people, high school is the very worst it will be, and it keeps getting better and better after that. If you ever want to talk just shoot me a message through the “contact me” button on top of my blog. Seriously. I know what you’re going through! Hang in there 🙂

  2. Great post. Im still looking for my backbone sometimes. I have to admit I was a bit of a bully at school. I was bullied a bit so I would then bully the kids weaker than me as I was trying to fit in and just wanted to be popular. I feel awful now and there are many situations id love to go back to and stick up for other people or for myself and just be nice. Sorry to the people I was mean to! Im glad you are more confident now x

    • Thank you! It’s funny that that’s how bullies work– they were usually the ones who were bullied at some point. That’s why the high school environment is so rough, everyone is trying to impress everyone else and nobody has any freaking clue what they’re doing.

      I think that in a way, you can make up for the stuff you feel bad about in the past. You can go out of your way to be kind to people who you see struggling at work or anywhere, and make sure they know they’re not alone. But don’t beat yourself up too much, we were all little assholes as teens haha. Have you ever thought of finding those people and apologizing to them? I’ve heard of people doing that, especially with things like Facebook nowadays. I totally know what you mean. Sometimes I think about past situations and wish I had stood up for someone or acted differently. But hey, at least we have learned from our experiences!

  3. I love how you approached this from two angles, and emphasized the importance of believing in yourself, no matter what. I had the crappiest self esteem of anyone I’d ever met when I was a kid, and I never understood why people would feel so frustrated with me for it…until I met someone with equally as bad or worse self esteem. Swirly or no swirly, it is hard to watch when someone deserving of all the good the world has to offer, doesn’t believe in themselves. I think seeing that opened my eyes to my own issues.

    Very insightful post! 🙂

    • Thanks girl! That’s so awesome that you were able to see someone else’s lack of confidence and realize what you wanted to change in yourself. It’s so bizarre how important confidence is. It dictates how we act, what we do, how others treat us. You can literally have nothing going for you, but if you act like you’re all that, people will treat you like you’re all that. I wish I had realized that more as a kid. Glad you were able to be so introspective to work on yourself!!

  4. I used to get bullied quite a bit too. One of my good friends told me a phrase I could use to diffuse the bully and it’s works wonders. She said to look right at them and simply say “Not today.” smile and walk away. I’ve tried it and it works. Love to you!! ❤

    • I love that! Sometimes just having a response to say back can make a hug difference and make you feel safe. One of the things that I learned to do, and still practice as I’m a serious introvert, is tell myself that it’s okay to not have anything to say. A lot of times when I would be in a large social situation (I like small groups), I would get anxious and awkward and freak out because I didn’t know what to say, and then my brain would just freeze up. Bad cycle. So then one day I just told myself that it was fine to be quiet, to say nothing at all. Turns out taking all the pressure off totally made me feel like myself, and I had a lot to say after all 🙂 Just granting ourselves that “safe place” can be such a blessing.

      “Not today”–I may use that now when I just don’t feel like dealing with people who are complaining or causing problems at work 😀 Love it. Thanks for the comment! ❤

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