When my son was in grade school, it was not uncommon for him to share stories about a kid in his grade who teased him. He was teased about the same kinds of things kids are teased about since the beginning of time: his appearance, mannerisms, intelligence, and on and on. Of course, not only were the comments immature and mean spirited, but they were also illogical, non-sensical and untrue.
As a counselor who had experienced teasing and bullying throughout my youth, the last thing I wanted was a child who associated school or learning with a sense of trepidation – or a child so fraught with anxiety, he couldn’t concentrate. He had always done well, enjoyed school, and made friends easily – all signs he was not lacking in confidence and for the most part felt safe in his academic environment.
One afternoon, while riding in the car with my son, he began telling me about a kid who repeatedly told him he was stupid, ugly and didn’t have any friends. I paused for a good long while wondering how to turn things around. And to my own surprise I said this: “Well, he has a point, doesn’t he?”
My son sat in silence for a few minutes, shocked by this ludicrous statement and then he finally uttered, “mom, are you serious?” I smiled and said, “of course not, but why would you give anything someone says a second thought, especially if it’s unkind and untrue?” “Does he get to decide how you feel about yourself?” I could see his little face in the mirror processing all of this while we then talked at length about the kind of person who says such things and how to manage similar situations.
I must have been channeling my spirit guide that day because my son rarely ever talked about his kid again and when he did, it was followed by a story of triumph. And then came middle school, a time in which the teasing turned to bullying.
The second day of middle school, my son bolted out to my car in tears. An older kid at his school demanded he sell him his new I-phone for $20. When my son told him that was not going to happen, the other kid said, “we’ll see about that” and to come prepared to hand over his I-phone the next day or there would be trouble. Now THIS was clearly bullying.
I took my son by the hand to the front office and asked to speak to the principal. When I was told he was busy, I said, “no problem, I’ll wait” and then proceeded to crack open my laptop for a long afternoon. Once the front office staff began asking more questions, it was clear to them I was not going away. When they offered me an on-the-spot meeting with the vice principal, I felt a ray of hope, until he began to minimize this exchange between the kids and attempted to usher me out the door before a solution was in place.
If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised by this outcome. The vice principal supervised my son’s lunch period for several days, as this was where the initial bullying took place. He then personally confronted the kid and called me on my cell phone to assure me the situation had not only been handled but would never happen again. Thankfully, this indeed was the case. I smile as I tell you that this vice principal addressed me by name at every one of my son’s half a dozen academic award ceremonies. I’m sure he will retire remembering my name, as well as my son’s.
Just like many of you, I never had a parent or a teacher or a friend or an advocate of any kind quiet the bullies in my life, much less hold them accountable. In fact, in my era, this was not seen as an event worthy of parental intervention, as kids were considered completely capable of handling things themselves. Frightening, really. Perhaps the bullies in your life were your own parents who told you to toughen up, quit complaining, flat out didn’t believe you and couldn’t be bothered; or siblings, stepparents, romantic partners of divorced parents or neighborhood kids who were verbally or physically abusive.
I hardly need to explain to you how and why the bully in your head got there. You didn’t grow up in a vacuum and the cumulative effect of such abuse is indeed internalized and can literally suck the confidence, calmness, and sense of safety right out of your soul. Moreover, this damage can have latent, long-term impacts on friendships, romantic relationships, employment, child rearing, and everything in between. This damage can cause you to question others’ motives, as well as your own perceptions and discernment, and make it extraordinarily uncomfortable for you to speak your truth, establish boundaries or simply walk away from toxic situations.
Think about it, how would you know anything different when your protectors were completely absent throughout your formative, most impressionable and vulnerable years on this planet? So how will you quiet the dark inner dialogue that runs consistently in the background of your mind going back to your childhood? And how would you even know whom or what specifically created such unhealthy patterns in your adulthood? There have been countless times when clients uncover these moments in the chair – and for the first time ever – have an opportunity to speak their truth in a safe environment to the multiple offenders – and establish new rules for their life, moving forward. And these new rules are designed to protect that inner child from future harm by tapping into the intuitive, infinitely wise higher mind.
The impact of this work is profound – as the symptoms resulting from this level of trauma are pervasive and often times widely dispersed through many facets of one’s life – from addictions and self-sabotaging behaviors to intimacy and relationship issues. And overcoming the effects of childhood bullying is deeply individual, as each person defines and creates their own formula for taking back their power.
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