Last week, I wrote a post for the Detroit NewsMichMoms blog about the bullying my daughter has faced on the bus. As a mother, I am outraged. As I say in my post, I refer to the bucketdipping analogy because it makes sense to me: no one (at least at this young age) is inherently bad and there is a definite cycle to bullying. It’s really all about the bully’s issues, not so much the victim’s issues.
My rage runs deep because it brings up my memories of being bullied in school. I was awkward with my glasses and retainer. I was self-conscious because, for some reason, I just didn’t feel like I fit in with other kids.
In fourth grade, there was this one girl, Sunny*, and she always seemed to lay into me about something. I wore glasses. My hair was too blonde. I wore a retainer. I wore age-appropriate clothes. I got good grades. I asked too many question in class. It was always something with her.
The bullying had been going on for a while, and my parents told me to ignore her so she wouldn’t see me upset. Of course, it continued to escalate, and I could feel the anger my parents had because their daughter was hurting. And this is when they told me to do the unmentionable.
They told me to hit her.
Instead of feeling empowered that I could just smack the shit out of this bully, I only felt an extra heap of anxiety. I wasn’t a fighter, but I felt like I would be letting my parents down if I didn’t get this girl to shut up and leave me alone.
One day, in music class, she said something horrible (which I don’t exactly remember) while the teacher wasn’t paying attention. Everyone started to laugh at me.
That was it. I got up out of my seat and tried to smack her. I can’t remember if I actually smacker her or not. I pretty much blocked out the whole incident. I remember crying and running out of the room in the middle of class, but that’s about it.
The next day (or maybe it was later on the same day since everything is blurry), I sat down in the principal’s office while he told her to leave me alone. In retrospect, I am not quite sure how I did not get in trouble for smacking someone and then leaving class. Anyway, she got a few more digs in and left me alone, only to have someone else start where she left off. I felt that something was obviously wrong with me since I was being bullied again.
Looking back, Sunny had family issues that I am sure where the cause of her acting out, and I just happened to be an easy target. I am pretty sure that her bucket was not being filled at home but at the time, I never considered her story because I was only reacting to her abuse.
Years later, I have learned that real power and real strength comes from not reacting or even just ignoring the abuse. The fear and unworthiness that comes with being bullied makes it difficult to sustain the appearance of ambivalence. The power and strength come from having personal boundaries, of knowing that you deserve to be around people who treat you with kindness.
I try so hard to teach my kids how to maintain personal boundaries and trust their instincts to keeping themselves protected. It’s so important more than ever with the dawn of social media within in a society that accepts bullying. I mean look at this story from Today Moms. Ann Coulter used the word “retarded” in a derogatory way, and a blogger who is a father to a special needs child wrote about how this upset him and wants an apology.
If this is happening with so called educated adults, it’s for sure going to happen on the school bus and the playground. A lot of these adults still claim that words are just words, which is maddening because it is taking no ownership for the hurt those words cause and perpetuates the cycle.
I hope that by teaching my kids to respect the power of words and personal boundaries, they can truly move on from a heartless remark with understanding (and maybe a dash of compassion) that the abuser has probably been the subject of the same hurtful behavior.
I want to break the cycle.
But this? This is not easy.
Have you been bullied? How did it affect you?