To The Bullied

Hey, you. Yeah, you, the 16-year-old with the black eye, or the 20-year-old frat guy with enough experience with hazing to fill a novel, or the 27-year-old woman who has to deal with a sexist work environment, or the 40-something dealing with an abusive significant other, or the 65-year-old still living in fear of the parents who abused them, now long dead. All of you, and more.

I’m so sorry.

You never deserved that kind of fate. To be taken advantage of, to be abused by someone with an intense need to be better, to be stronger, to be loved by force. It hurts, I know. I’ve dealt with various forms of abuse over the years—a ex-fiancé with a penchant for addictive behavior and a former drug habit shitting on my life and smarts. Parents who, thanks to their own bullied youths, extended me the same courtesy because they didn’t know better. The worst, though, is that I know what it’s like to be bullied because I do it to myself. And, I suspect, you might too.

It’s a subtle shift. At first, you wonder why others are saying these awful things, or doing these awful things. Why your friend, who’s known you for a while, says hurtful things about you. Why your family says awful things about people—especially if you count yourself among them. Why people at large just hate so much. And then, it becomes internal. It’s not them saying it anymore, it’s you saying it. It’s not their voices you hear anymore, it’s yours.

Then, you start a scourge of your personality. All that negative stuff needs purified in the fire. And that fire is one you set yourself.

You start pulling at the seams of your life, trying to take all the parts of you that you don’t like, or that others don’t like about you, and eliminating them in the chance, however slight, that you might be accepted.

Maybe you cut your hair differently. Maybe you go to the gym and lose weight (and curse yourself when you don’t). Maybe you dress differently. Maybe you deny your likes to others in the hopes of being, if not accepted, then at least inoffensive. Maybe you start saying sorry for things you don’t need to be. You make yourself invisible. You might even become liked, but in the same way that vanilla pudding is—by not being the wrong kind of bold, but rather being plain. And, to you, that’s better than all the awful things you’ve started telling yourself.

Eventually, years go on and your internalized bullying subjugates you to a life you maybe didn’t want: conformity in all things, plain demeanor, no risk-taking. You get a safe job that your parents probably won’t brag to their friends about, get a conservative haircut, dress in business casual, and hide in the relative anonymity of the crowd.

You end up with people just like you, really. But the self-bullying doesn’t end. Not here, and not like this. The “purifying fire” you set still rages, but now it’s consuming the things you didn’t mean to throw away. That love of weird British films that no one else liked. Your music choices that were too “mainstream.” The books you gave up to go drinking. The family you left behind when you had to pick a side during the feud. All those things, gone.

So, the point of my little letter is to tell you (and yes, it’s aimed at myself too) to stop bullying yourself. Don’t be such a harsh critic about yourself. You’re wonderful, and you’ve done wonderful things in your life. You have people that love you for who you are, even if you don’t love that person the way they do. Made mistakes? Fucked up? OK, great. Learn from those experiences and move on. It’s not worth destroying who you are wholesale to burn that part of you.

Move a little slower. Smell the flowers. Learn to enjoy your life on your terms. And stop listening to toxic people. They’re really no good.