I’m Better Than You: The Longterm Effects of Bullying

29 Apr

Typical high school bullies.

I remember being teased from a very young age. I think my earliest memories of being bullied are from kindergarten. The image of a slightly older girl, with long, light brown hair is surfacing in my mind. I don’t remember her name. What I do remember is that she made fun of my laugh. My laugh is my most mocked trait, closely followed by my above-average height. I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard that I sound like a donkey, that I cackle like a little old witch, that I rival Xena Warrior Princess, and I’ve been asked how the weather is “up there”. If we’ve met in person, I suppose you know what I’m talking about. I don’t get it, however, because I don’t notice. My laugh and my height are simply a part of me, things I never even think twice about.

The questions usually goes like this: “Why do you make that sound?” I don’t know. Why are you fat? See what I did there? We could all be mean and say the first things that come to mind when we meet someone new. However, when you are taught to be a kind person who does not judge others solely on traits that jump out first, you just may learn to judge people on their character. I have an extremely good judge of character, and I feel that this ability can be attributed to the constant teasing I endured as a young girl. I can quickly determine who has an ulterior motive to truly harm me, or who is simply poking fun because they love me.*

Anyway, kids first starting picking on me in kindergarten. I was always smarter than most kids my age. I’m not trying to sound self-important, but my point is that being smart is not considered cool. Especially by elementary school kids. If you’re a really smart kid, you’re bound to be bored by your peers and you’ll likely possess an imagination that rivals that of any Dungeons and Dragons master. I remember a spelling bee that took place in 3rd grade. A few kids had decided to sit out after making the point that “Heather will win.” I did win, on the word “apartment”. A great achievement, I know. My status as a nerd was forever ingrained at this moment. My nerdiness was a source of comfort for me – I would often spend my free time reading any book I could find and compiling lists of words of my choice for my weekly spelling tests. But did being smart get people to like me? Not at all. In fact, it probably did the opposite. The sneers I would get when I walked past certain kids led me to believe that my mind was somewhat of a curse.

8th grade was the worst year for me. A group of pubescent boys decided it would be fun to make my life hell by calling me the name of a particular animal that I will not mention. Their attacks were highly orchestrated, and somewhat creative. However, I would return home crying nearly every day, and my self-esteem, once strengthened by winning spelling bees and essay contests, plummeted. A 14-year-old girl has enough to worry about, and adding abusive peers to the equation did not bode well for me. I really don’t want to go into the dark details of the pain I struggled with, but what I will say is that at this point in my life, all I desired was to be accepted by my peers, and the difficulty I faced in overcoming the teasing I faced on a daily basis would continue to affect me at random periods in my life.

I skipped out on my confirmation classes in 9th grade because several of the kids in the class had bullied me before. This experience began my intellectual meanderings on the validity of organized religion. If these kids – who were studying the Bible and expected to follow its example – could act as horribly as they did toward me, then perhaps there was a bit of hypocrisy at work in organized religion. The memory of this has lent to my shaping my spiritual philosophy. I believe in the power of intention – whatever you put out will come back to you.

I know when I started thinking differently about myself. During my freshman year of high school, I got involved with theater. At first I was extremely shy with the older kids and often embarrassed when I would have to run lines in front of them. But it got better. I chose to join drama club, and I became involved with theater on a full-time basis. By my senior year of high school, I was a second year president of drama club and my high school’s thespian troupe. Theater gave me a chance to explore the feelings I had repressed – all the anger, resentment, and sadness I had held in for so long became useful when I was playing a character. I also developed a friendship with my high school theater teacher that has lasted well into my early twenties. Miss P became my confidant, my free personal therapist. I think I ate lunch in her office 90% of the time, and this was for a couple of reasons. First, I just enjoyed talking to Miss P and learning more about all the exciting adult things she knew, and second, my fear of school cafeterias was very much ingrained within me. (I remember those times when I couldn’t decide where to sit, and having to eat lunch alone.)

If you’ve been bullied in the past, the feelings of sadness that follow you will sometimes resurface at inopportune moments. I remember a period a few years ago during which a very close friend had decided she no longer wanted to be friends, and I had the comfort of a boyfriend to help me with the pain I was going through. I was receding to thoughts of 8th grade, of utter and complete rejection. However, my ex-boyfriend completely failed to understand why I dwelled on such events. He didn’t get it because he was voted homecoming king and was on the football team. You know, he was one of the types that does the bullying. I tried to explain how it really felt, but he often would tell me “to get over it”. If it were that simple, I would certainly do that, but it’s not. You must understand that when someone is bullied for an extended period, a few assumptions form in their head. You end up expecting everyone will hate you, that you are unworthy of respect or kindness. When you are the victim of a bully, you expect rejection from nearly everyone you meet. Today I am a very social person, but that did not come without years of struggling to overcome the feelings of worthlessness I once felt when I met someone new.

I think that for someone who has experienced bullying, the most important thing to realize is that you are the person who matters most. Spending time alone is not something you should avoid, but embrace. It is not until you know yourself, and love yourself, that you can live free from the pain that others can cause. I’m still unsure of why people bully others – is it insecurity? A lack of self-love? It doesn’t really matter, but what does matter is your happiness. I believe that if you form strong personal convictions and if you fight for what you believe in (love, women’s rights, etc.), happiness will automatically come from this strength.

If you are still struggling with the long-term effects of being bullied, you are definitely not alone. Hell, I still get comments about my laugh and my height. Every time I go out to a bar or club, I guarantee you that someone (most typically a man, because when they see a tall woman they feel that the glory of their penis is threatened) will comment on my height. The difference between now and then is that I’ve embraced my height, and I consider it one of the greatest things about me. I wouldn’t trade being tall for anything – I think it’s both extremely sexy and practical. As for my laugh, it’s a unique thing that adds to my character. I wouldn’t be Heather without it.

*I’m talking to you, Matt and Jake. I love you both, too.

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3 Responses to “I’m Better Than You: The Longterm Effects of Bullying”

  1. aeisenbe April 30, 2010 at 2:37 PM #

    Wonderfully written and excellent observations about the Long-term effects of bullying. I discuss these same topics often on my blog and agree with all your comments.

  2. 4mbrosia September 12, 2010 at 10:25 PM #

    I posted this as a comment in the bullying stories blog, but I saw a link to yours and thought I’d share the effects I’ve been dealing with.

    Schools don’t do jack about bullying. I’m a 30 year old woman and had to put up with bullying from the time I was in 4th grade all the way through the rest of school. I was threatened with physical/sexual violence, pushed around, slapped, called names and even had school projects sabotaged. My parents would be at school all the time trying to get the bullying stopped, and this was in the 90’s. The school counselors were a joke. Nothing was ever done, but I was always told to tell an adult when it happened. I would come home with lists of things sometimes two or three sheets long.

    My dad’s reaction after it went on for years and years?

    “Well, YOU must have done something to make them come after you.”

    That made me stop reporting the issue because somehow it was my fault and complaining never did any good anyway. I went through school hating every ounce of myself and feeling like I had no self worth. I thought about and still think about suicide from time to time because I’m unable to work, I have no self esteem and the sensory issues I have make holding a job impossible(I’m on SSI). I have problems with anxiety that I don’t talk about because to this day I still believe my feelings aren’t important enough to mention.

    Right now I’m being cyber bullied by people from a cruel website I won’t name because that will just give them more ammunition to harass me. They will probably find this and use it against me. And once again nothing I have done has stopped these people from harassing me. They had my best pieces of fanworks removed from sites and I’m at a point where I don’t know who I can even trust anymore. I have a circle of online friends I know are “safe” but anybody new I keep at arm’s length; I never know who might be one of those trolls posing as a “friend” to get more information to use against me.

    I feel as if the world is always judging everything I do, hoping I fail. I have never loved myself as a person and always feel like I’m not worth anything. I’m crying as I type this.

    I. Have. No. Worth.

    Everything I say gets twisted against me. Is my only purpose in the world to be a punching bag for every jerk who likes to bully?

    STANDING UP TO IT DOES NOTHING. IT JUST MAKES THEM LAUGH HARDER!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Long-term Effects Blogger « Bullying Stories - May 2, 2010

    […] } As I was looking at other’s posts about the Long-term effects of bullying, I came across Heather’s Blog called “Fixed Air”. Heather and I share much in common in her feelings on the long-term effects of bullying. Besides […]

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