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Comments on Bullying

I just read the following article by Kovie Biakolo and while I believe that some of the points made are strong and viable, I do think, like most good topics, it bears further discussion.

I feel fully qualified to address this subject because I was bullied mercilessly for most of my school years and through a number of predictable psychological missteps, have continued to endure bullying for a good bit of my adult life as well. One of my greatest challenges as a 53-year-old is that I have a natural instinct to expect bullying, which is a fully screwed up way of approaching our beautiful, vital world and life. I work against that impulse constantly and often, I’m not wrong to believe I am actually being bullied.

This topic is best approached by moving through the points Biakolo makes in the article:

17 Things Former Bullied Kids Do A Little Bit Differently As Adults by Kovie Biakolo 

1. You will probably have an extremely tough exterior that others find difficult to break through.

6400086577_a9909e3508Anyone who knows me knows that I am not tough at all. My impulse from the experience of bullying is exactly the opposite. I tend to roll over easily and begin promising anything in order to stop the bullying or even head it off at the pass. That extremely tough exterior never developed in me and I would have been much better served if it had. I apologize far too often and for really stupid things. I cringe easily. I go into a kind of emotionally bizarre duck and cover as soon as a conversation turns dramatic. If you can picture how kids used to look in the drills we did during the Cold War, stuffing our heads into our school desks as if that will protect us in some ostrich sort of way from a bombing, yeah, that’s me on an emotional level as soon as shit gets real. My brain has this DefCon alarm that begins to chant, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT!” in various levels of volume and intensity in my brain and I have to fight down a panic attack. (Please note that in the above photo, kids are under their desks, the lucky little devils. In Pleasant Ridge, Kentucky, we had compartments under our desks into which we slid our books and other supplies. For our air raid drills, our heads literally went into our desks.)

In addition to the extreme bullying at school, my parents were an interesting mix of mental illness. My mother had a tumor the size of a lemon removed from her brain some time after I left home and there’s no way of knowing how long that was growing in her head and putting pressure on things that ought not be squished. My father painted cars for a living in the 60s and 70s, but was extremely claustrophobic and would not wear a mask, so the amount of lead-based paint he inhaled is incalculable. The result was that they were both very volatile and unpredictable and there were a lot of times when it was impossible to tell why the abrupt dive into violence, nonsensical ranting, and madness happened. Just as impossible was the ability to predict when it would come. If your parent is a violent drunk, you can brace as soon as you catch the smell or see a bottle. With mental illnesses like my parents suffered, there was no prodromal symptom. There was no early warning. One minute, things were fine. The next, you had your head in the desk, shaking and praying. Nope, no hard, crunchy shell on this soft chocolate interior.

2. But your interior is very soft and it’s actually the easiest thing in the world to make you emotional. You’re just careful with who you reveal those emotions to.

See above. Everything is mushy but yes, now I am very selective about to whom I make myself vulnerable. I am also cringy about ending a sentence with a preposition.

3. Being vulnerable with people will always be a slightly terrifying experience for you. Probably because you realized early on just how awful people can be.

I think “slightly” is a modifier we really do not need there.  Maybe “wholly terrifying” or “completely terrifying,” or just “terrifying.” “Slightly” implies a moderation that does not exist.

4. You’ll always be slightly guarded about revealing things in your childhood to people because you don’t want to be looked at differently.

Again, “slightly” applies less than “muchly.” For years, I did not even remember details of my childhood; just “Oh, bad.” I had to force myself to recover years of memories when I wrote the book Leaving Kentucky in the Broad Daylight, which is not as much of a horror story as it might have been. Writing Leaving Kentucky was cathartic and I appreciate the opportunity to not only purge some difficult stuff, but also to remember the good things that happened. People have often asked me about the sequel, I Aim to Misbehave, but I’m just not ready yet. There is more bullying, more pain, and a good bit more of duck and cover in those years that I have to work up to addressing. The childhood revelations, however, I have objectified enough to discuss easily with people.

5. You cannot stand to watch especially children being made fun of, in any shape or form.

Yep and we will leave it at that.

6. You believe that being bullied made you stronger but you know it also made you very weary and cautious of people as a primary instinct.

I think only bullies believe that. Bullying did not make me stronger. It gave me lifelong weaknesses to battle. That’s like people who say, “My parents spanked me and I turned out fine.” No, you turned out believing it’s OK to hit kids when you don’t like what they’re doing. I know the writer probably intended to say that the bullying made me “wary and cautious,” but I honestly think that this is more accurate. I am so weary and so cautious that it inhibits me socially.

7. You just can’t help but get involved when you see someone taking advantage of someone weaker than them in any kind of situation.

That’s quite heroic in theory, but in actuality, the desire to avoid personal conflict of any kind often takes the hero right out you. Anyone who is truly bullied learns early on that interfering often gets you attacked as well and I have trouble believing that those who endured bullying and carrying the scars will engage that likelihood. I think that is one of the reasons we apologize so damned much – because we are not brave enough to save the world. We might want to help and weep because we can’t, but no, we do not always find that we “just can’t help but get involved.”

8. It’s actually really easy for you to feel like crying even if you seldom ever do it, and especially not in front of people.

All. The. Time.

9. You’re sensitive to the emotions of other people. And the idea of intentionally hurting people’s feelings is something you take seriously.

Very true.

10. It’s easy for you to get very defensive about personal issues that you struggle with.

Ah, the prepositions…they burrrrn, they burrrrrn. So does constructive criticism, even when it is well-intended. Criticism that is less than well-intended is like a shotgun blast to the gut. Bully victims are branded with the beacon that calls in other bullies. It’s an act of tremendous power to disable that dynamic and attract healthy relationships, whether those relationships are with friends, romantic partners, or our own children and other family members. We often come off as arrogant or unwilling to look at our flaws, but the truth is that every fragile crack is inventoried and highlighted in our minds. We are easy to bully because we lay the console of buttons out for the bully. Bullies can easily find what will hurt us most, what we are most insecure about, and what kernel of truth will fuel their rampage. Unfortunately, even good souls who are just trying to help get caught up in our defensiveness and hurt us even when the intention to do so is not there.

11. Humor is almost always your defense mechanism to deal with the issues that have the potential to personally hurt you.

The issues that have potential to hurt me are not funny at all to me and I tend to avoid them rather than instill humor into the process. I love humor and use it often, but not with the painful subjects.

12. You probably have an above average emotional IQ because you’ve become really good at reading people and their intentions.

I like to believe this is true. Unfortunately, I have in no way lost the predisposition to being blindsided.

13. You can spot adult bullies from a mile away and you either avoid them like the plague or are not afraid to confront them at every turn.

I would like to say yes to this, but I have not found it to be particularly true. The bullies I meet are less obvious and more insidious. I usually do not see the attack coming until it’s too late. I make every effort to avoid confrontation, but avoiding bullies is not a talent of mine.

14. You’ve learned that forgetting certain people and things is the only way you’ll ever truly be able to forgive.

Forgetting did not let me forgive. Remembering and working through it let me forgive. Forgetting just avoids the situation.

15. Having to “take crap” from anyone or anything is like re-living bad memories from your childhood. And you will almost always refuse to do it, no matter the consequences.

Yes to the first part and rarely to the second part. When I am locked into a confrontation with a bully now, I have found that there is no “refuse to do it.” It will usually happen regardless and the only way to get past it is to let them have their say until they peter out like a wind-up toy. Bullies have an unreasonable need to be heard and to get all of their words out onto the table. Part of their ego is that THEY are right and YOU have nothing to contribute to the conversation.I have found the best defense to be listening, letting them get it out, acknowledging how they feel, asking what you can do to make it better, then deciding the degree of personal inconvenience doing so will entail and acting accordingly. That does not mean to always appease the bully, but it has been my experience that most bullies are not bullying because of anything having to do with the victim. They feel unheard, unworthy, or otherwise dissatisfied about *something* and the victim is the whipping post that gets the beating. Once they feel heard and acknowledged, they usually go on their merry way.

16. You find it difficult to admit to anyone including yourself, that there are certain words or actions that will always remind you of the scars you obtained from childhood.

There are definitely triggers and a clever bully learns exactly what they are and how to get the best mileage out of them. Hell, sometimes, the victim will even hand that information right over to the bully.

17. Some days you feel like the little child who can still get hurt easily when you remember the past; other days because of that past, you feel like there’s not a single thing in the world that can ever really hurt you again.

OH to feel that invincible! I don’t think I ever managed that one. I believe the pragmatist in me always realizes that there will forever be new hurts, new bullies, and new challenges. The trick is to work on how *I* respond to those situations. Avoiding conflict is nearly impossible, as is “taking crap” from others. Triggers are difficult to work with and the tactical advantage is knowing the triggers and shoring up around them. Objectifying helps and recognizing that what is happening is not likely about us, but about fear or insecurity in the bully.

Water From RocksFor me, the only effective tool is to protect my spirit from the experience. I have certain mantras I use like “Water over rocks, water over rocks” to let what is happening flow over me and beyond me without harming me. Another is “Emotions are only weather, emotions are only weather” to remind me that what I feel is fleeting and will not last forever.

I keep a part of myself hidden, the part that feels wise and beautiful, and I pull it deeply into my walls when I am under attack. I think, “You cannot have this. No matter how hard you dig, no matter how much you crave it, you cannot have this special part of me that continues to burn, strong and bright and lovely. You cannot touch the Goddess inside. You can make me cry. You can make me question myself, but you cannot have Her.” It’s like when the country is under attack and they take the President into Air Force One for safety. I can almost hear the warning sirens and see my spiritual Secret Service rushing Her to the bunker for safe keeping. I see them talking into their walkie talkies and using code names, saying, “Madam, we have to go now, please hurry.” She keeps looking back, asking for status reports, and they say, “We will brief you in the bunker, Ma’am.”

Goddess help the bullies if I ever let Her out.