Bullying and I are no strangers.
In fact, you could say that we’ve been life-long acquaintances.
I’ve been on quite a journey regarding bullies and their behaviour…and a recent experience prompted me to share it with you today. Because it made me realise how far I’ve come, from bullying victim, to empowered woman…and it made me curious as to whether you realise how far you’ve already come too.
I guess I was always a bit of an ‘easy target’. I’ve always been a little different, stood out from the crowd.
I wasn’t what you would call one of the ‘popular kids’ at school, I was a little bit plain looking, my front teeth stuck out a little bit…but the big thing was that I was one of the ‘good girls’.
Someone who seemed to draw a lot of attention simply for wanting to do the right thing, rather than go with the crowd and be a ‘rebel’.
The irony of the fact that being ‘rebellious’ was what everyone was doing when the word itself means going against convention is not lost on me.
Have you ever been bullied like this?
From primary school (age 5 for readers who are not from the UK) upwards I seemed to become a target.
There was the girl who used to scratch the back of my hand with her fingernails 20 times every day, the kids who rather uninventively adapted my name from Brummell to “Bumhole”, and then there was the moment where I recall my earliest ever experience of shame….
I’d always wanted to ‘fit in’, to be liked, to be part of the ‘in-crowd’ and there were two girls in particular who ruled the roost. When one day, around the age of 6 I’d guess, during our lunch break they called me over to an area of the playground I thought that maybe today was the day I was being accepted.
How wrong I was.
I don’t remember the specifics of the event, what was said or what happened exactly. All I remember was being pressured and cajoled into showing them my bare bum…after which began laughing rawcously at me. I don’t know why I gave in, I guess I just wanted to be liked. In the mind of a child there’s a logic that seems infallible at the time…it’s only afterwards that we realise there might have been a different choice.
Writing it now, the event doesn’t really seem like that big of a deal…but at the time it had a profound affect on me.
I remember feeling ashamed. So upset that I’d not had the courage to tell them no, and to walk off with my head held high. I remember blurting out through tears that I was going to tell on them and running to the safety of one of my favourite dinner ladies.
But I didn’t tell her, I didn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed and I didn’t want to admit that I’d not been brave enough to stand up for myself.
Unfortunately this wouldn’t be my last experience with bullying.
What about being bullied by someone much older?
At 11 years old during my first year at ‘big school’ (with students from 11 to 18) I faced another embarrassing experience with bullies. I was in a drama club, which had students from all ages in it. For some reason I drew the attention of three 16-year-old girls who surrounded me and began taunting me. They called me names, messed up my hair, kept lifting up my skirt and spat on me. I once again felt the warm flush of shame as it rushed to my cheeks.
But this time was different.
This time I knew better.
This time I told someone.
I found one of my favourite teachers and told her what had happened. She listened with compassion, and asked me who the girls were. As I had never come across them before, I only remembered one of their names….but it was a name I would never forget…because not long after she found me and threatened me for going to a teacher. Though I was scared at the time, and wary of her (and the others) for the rest of my time at the school…I never experienced bullying from them again.
What happens when you stand up for yourself when you’re being bullied?
Then there was the moment when things really began to shift. It was a year later when I found myself in the girls’ toilets and someone renowned for being one of those girls you ‘really didn’t want to mess with’ turned on me, for no apparent reason.
I was walking out of the toilets when she (surrounded by a posse of menacing-looking pre-teen girls) accused me of talking about her behind her back. Now I’d never met the girl before, had never spoken to her before, and didn’t know her well enough to form any kind of opinion about her. Most significantly she didn’t feature high enough on my radar for it to occur to me to say anything about her.
I was dumbfounded for a second, before telling her that I hadn’t said anything about her. She came towards me rattling off a list of things that I’d apparently said about her. I told her again that I’d not said anything, but she wasn’t having any of it, and stepped towards me accusing me even more strongly this time.
Something inside me snapped.
I was tired of being a victim.
I especially was not going to allow her to bully me for something I hadn’t even done.
My mind conveniently forgot this girl’s reputation for throwing punches more than insults and I stepped towards her and shouted as loud as I could manage, “If I had something to say about you, I’d say it to your face!”
I paused, waiting for the blow to come.
But it didn’t.
I saw the look of surprise and shock on her face…before she said simply “Well as long as we’ve got that straight” (or words to that effect)…turned on her heel and walked swiftly out of the room.
I was in shock. But the lesson was clearly ringing in my ears.
I was only a victim of bullying for the time I allowed myself to be.
When I was controlled by self-doubt, shame and a need to ‘fit in’ no matter what the cost, I allowed others to treat me however they wanted to.
When I stood tall and made it clear that I was not going to stand for it any more, I removed the label of victim from my forehead, and planted a small very fragile seed of self worth in it’s place.
So why have I shared all this? Brene Brown is a shame and wholehearted living researcher, and she has learned that the antidote to shame are the three Cs. Courage to tell your story, Connection through sharing it with others, and Compassion for yourself and others along the way. When you embrace the three Cs…the experiences lose their charge and their power, you remove the very conditions that shame needs to exist and you open yourself up to living a wholehearted life. …and seeing the power in being vulnerable in this way can connect you with your own sense of femininity faster than anything else I know.
My article this week is an embodiment of these three Cs. I never ask or suggest for anyone else to do something I’m not prepared to do myself, so I’m going first. …and this week I invite you to embrace the three Cs when it comes to your experiences with bullies.
…and so concludes the first chapter of my experiences with the bullies…but it was not the end of the story.
Next week I share the next step on my journey, when my experience moved from strangers at school, to friends and the world of work…believe me when I say it’s worth popping back for…my learning about bullying was far from over…