3 Ways Being Bullied As A Kid Made Me A Stronger Adult
I used to be a childcare worker at multiple schools in my city. On the job, I got to observe how children navigate social situations that many adults still struggle with. As you can imagine, bullying was a common occurrence. One incident was unforgettable.
I was working an after-school shift at a program with lots of conflict and issues with respect. I noticed one young man who was singled out repeatedly and called a name he obviously didn’t like.
Throughout my shift, I watched him endure relentless taunting that continued even with verbal warnings and eventually, reprimands from myself and the other workers.
I could tell the poor kid had reached his boiling point when during a spat, he screamed at the top of his lungs “Stop!” the other children laughed. “Six years!”, he continued. “I’m so tired of this”.
I heard someone who had been tortured every day for years in a place where they were supposed to be safe. The group leader saw an unnecessarily belligerent child who deserved a time-out.
The striking part of that experience wasn’t his outburst — anyone who works in childcare knows that those are an almost daily reality. The way my coworker reacted is what caught me off guard.
This wasn’t just a fight. The classic symptoms of bullying were right in front of us and nothing was being done. I would be off to a different school the next morning so there’s no way of knowing whether an effective solution was found.
How could an adult in charge blatantly ignore a child’s suffering? I wondered. Then I remembered my teachers who saw me excluded and mocked on a daily basis, never bothering to intervene.
Raising awareness and making kids sign an anti-bullying pledge is at least an acknowledgment of this devastating social issue but I doubt those measures will ever be enough to put an end to bullying. There are plenty of evidence-based interventions being developed and tested but I found hope in my own experience.
I was bullied for most of my school-aged years and well into high school. I have no doubt that those struggles, though traumatic and painful, made me more resilient, confident, and independent. Here’s how.
I’m not lonely when I’m alone
I was always one of the tallest kids in class so, no one dared to get physical with me. Instead, I was relentlessly excluded by those I thought were my closest friends.
This pattern has repeated itself throughout my life and I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m attracting this terrible outcome but one positive effect is a new ease with being alone.
Kids who experience interpersonal exclusion are more likely to deal with substance abuse problems, mental health concerns, and negative academic outcomes. Humans, especially in their early development, need to connect with others so, I don’t mean to undermine the seriousness of this harmful behavior. However, for me, being alone, even for a profoundly sad reason, was a necessary opportunity to get acquainted with myself.
At first, spending my recesses alone was humiliating and boring but after a while, I started dedicating the time to my many passions like drawing manga characters and writing stories. I created an identity for myself separate from other people’s perceptions of me which made me less reliant on their company (though sometimes I still craved it, being human).
I developed a rich inner life that has remained my stronghold to this day. Realizing that spending time with myself is better than being around people who mistreat me has simplified my life significantly. I have a deep understanding of what Kelly Clarkson meant when she sang the line “doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone”.
I don’t give my time and energy to people who don’t deserve it
In order for others to make an impact on how you feel, you must be vulnerable with them. In other words, you must let them in. I used to let everyone in, even the people who didn’t deserve it.
Like one of my idols, Brené Brown, I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. It involves taking risks with our emotions in order to build the connections that enrich our lives.
When I get hurt, clamming up and refusing to be open only makes me hurt more. I’ve found through trial and error that re-evaluating my boundaries is a more effective course of action.
I refuse to punish myself for being sensitive and easily attached. Both of those qualities bring more joy into my life than pain. My past with bullying taught me to be more careful with whom I share my time and energy.
Getting into mindfulness helped me pay more attention to my inner voice and how it spoke to me through bodily sensations and hunches. I began asking myself how the company of others made me feel. When a person brings on the familiar stomach ache that I felt when my ‘friends’ abandoned me on the playground, I know it’s time to protect myself. On the other hand, when my chest feels warm and fluttery in the best way, I know who to shower with all my love.
I don’t change myself for anyone
Bullies often target those who are different in some way. That’s why LGBTQ2+ individuals, people with disabilities, and visual minorities, are more vulnerable to bullying. However, no matter how you look or what group you belong to, there’s something special about you that a malicious person might try to distort into a flaw.
It took years of inner work to realize that none of the things I was bullied for (my skin color, my hair texture, my height, my body shape, my decisions, my hobbies, and more) were actually bad. I used to believe that if others didn’t like something about me, I should change it to fit in but with time, I realized the value of staying true to the most authentic version of yourself no matter who disapproves.
For example, in elementary school, I was picked on for making little books during recess instead of hanging out with a friend group. I would fold construction paper in half, poke holes in one side, and use craft ribbon to hold the spine of my booklet together. Then, I would write stories inside. I had become accustomed to being alone as discussed and this was one of my favorite pastimes.
Imagine what would have happened if I had allowed taunting from other children to stop me from doing what I love. Maybe I wouldn’t be typing this right now. To me, that would be catastrophic. Far more damaging than enduring the meaningless ridicule.
Bullying is an awful reality for too many school children but the struggle doesn’t end when they graduate. Bullies are lurking at every corner throughout life and since they present a social problem that has yet to be solved, many of us are forced to find solutions within.
By spending time alone to get to know the self, reserving precious time and energy for those who genuinely deserve it, and refusing to allow bullies to change who we are, we can create a strong defense against their destructive behavior.
We can’t, however, let our independence erase our need for help and support. Whether it’s time spent with a professional or simply a long hug, an important part of moving on from early wounds is getting the help we need.
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