I’ve written a little about bullying before, particularly in questioning what the answer is. This topic is getting a lot of press, as it should, because humans in general – and young people especially – treat each other like sh*t. Pardon the pseudo-vulgarity, but there’s just no other way to describe the morbidly creative ways we tear each other down.
One fact that cannot be denied, bullying is not a new phenomenon. What’s new is the amount of attention it is being given in social media. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new, and it’s something that many of us have experienced at one point in our lives.
I was bullied. I would never suggest that I was bullied to the vicious extent that some are, but it did have a significant impact on me, the person I am today and even the characters I create in my writing.
You see, I did a lot of processing over discussions of the main character in my series, Emma. Many do not like her, even hate her with an ill-conceived notion that she is somehow beyond redemption. Her “whiny monologues” are a glimpse inside the internal thoughts of someone with rather dark thoughts and an extremely poor self-image. It makes me wonder how people would react to others who have extremely negative self-talk that is never verbally expressed. Just because we don’t talk about it, just because you don’t know it…doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it.
In thinking about her characteristics and why she is the way that she is, I realized that much of her personality is a mirror image of the issues I dealt with growing up. I’ve always had issues with my weight. I experienced the cliched criticisms of “You have such a pretty face, if only you would lose some weight” to being called “Shamu” in school, having bubble gum put in my hair and having boys regularly scoff at my awkward advances, not wanting to date the fat girl. Add to this feelings of not being wanted by my own father, and you have the ripe concoction for a young girl who would always be suspicious of a male’s intentions.
My attempts to fit in caused somewhat of a split in how I viewed myself. Part of the reason why I tried to excel in my studies and sports was so that I could get some sort of positive attention. This focus led me to be an honor student and celebrated softball player…all while hating myself for the way that I looked. I was just as sure of my intellect as I was internalizing Shamu as a part of my self-image.
I made it through adolescence, but hearing the fat jokes and being treated as “definitely not girlfriend material” on a regular basis left an undeniable imprint on my psyche. I cannot even fathom the missed possibilities because I just couldn’t grasp the idea that anyone could find me attractive. If a guy showed interest, there must be an ulterior motive – maybe another joke? – because he couldn’t really think I’m attractive. I mean, so many had told me I wasn’t by calling me names, and my dad didn’t even want me…so surely they jest. Right?
I’m glad to say that over the years and through much mental processing, I’m no longer as suspicious as I used to be. And for those who say, “But surely you must realize this isn’t true?” I appreciate the sentiment, but with someone like me – it just isn’t helpful. I can understand something logically, it doesn’t mean that my heart and soul believe it.
Still to this day, I walk in the shadow of Shamu. Unlike Emma, I’m not saying my whiny monologue out loud. That doesn’t mean I’m not waging an internal battle as those similar thoughts bubble to the surface every so often.
Even with the most hateful of personalities – you may never realize the darkness that created it. Sometimes the children who are bullied grow up to become adults who are scarred, struggling to break through the deadened emotional tissue that tried – in vain – to strangle us in our youth.
We would do well to remember that sometimes behind those scars is a legacy of being treated like sh*t. Don’t add to it. Instead do what the playground and high school kids didn’t – be compassionate.