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?