I was a bullied kid. This lasted into my mid teens. There were a variety of perpetrators. My memories of my life from earlier than age 15 weren't happy ones. I was the bird with broken feathers constantly pecked by the flock.
Despite the fact that today as an adult I have loving relationships, accomplishments as well as the tools to deal with agressive a-holes, sometimes unwanted memories of when I was small and defenseless come up and its just like being that broken bird again.
Recently I had one of these intrusive, unpleasant memories. Even just sitting at my desk I experienced intense sadness and rage. I wanted to be done with it...to be free.
I decided to call on Coach Max to see if she had some tools to help me out. Of course she did but I was left with questions I needed to answer.
After our session I really wanted to understand the "why me" aspect of being a target. I never understood the "mark" I had that attracted bullies. It wasn't an accident after all--my experiences growing up were consistent. Out of all the kids surrounding me why was I the one chased home, who had my things stolen and destroyed or called disturbing, hurtful names (a few of which still trigger me today)?
I understand that I stood out but there was more going on. Until now I never understood the big picture of my situation. So, in the tradition of a true Silicon Valley professional I made a Venn Diagram to figure out why my childhood went the way it did.
I own the fact that I was an oddball. I couldn't choose my clothes or how Mom wanted to do my hair. All my other behaviors...well, they were just part of little me. I was an enthusiastic, picky, sometimes loud, sometime shy, artistic, proto-queer child of an older immigrant mother and career military father--I didn't blend in looks or behavior. And for whatever reason, when the flock landed to pick at my broken feathers no adult took notice or understood that I spent my days completely terrified and depressed.
My mother's approach to the bullying situation was to let me deal with it on my own. "Rise above them" she would say or the other equally helpful "they do it because they like you". I think she thought that if I had to deal with my tormentors I would learn skills to deal with hard situations and eventually flourish.
I'm sorry to say this approach didn't work.
I was stressed out and distracted most of the time--even at home. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to avoid whoever was going to torture me. One of my teachers told my mother she thought I was "special needs" because I was so distracted and out to lunch (that teacher also didn't know Helen Keller was deaf and blind by the way, but I digress).
My life didn't start to turn around until I was put in a private school with a lot of faculty involvement and high standards for student behavior. I went from being a sad odd ball to being a happy, outgoing oddball. I traded frenemies for actual friends and started the business of being a young adult.
Looking back on this situation its easy to say things changed because I got away from bullies. That was part of it but not all of it.
I took a class in influence this year. What I learned from that class is that behaviors flourish because a variety of factors all cooperate to create situations perfect for their those behaviors. Change isn't a single dimension process--it really isn't about the actions one person takes even though that is what we are taught. Even in the common scenario of weight loss we have learned that having self control isn't sufficient to drive lasting change--we aren't a nation of weak willed twinkie addicts. Americans used to be trim and fit. However, over the last 50 years we've created a variety of social conditions that lead to a majority of us being overweight or even obese.
I would suggest that we don't have a problem with some kids being bullies or some kids being picked on. I believe many sectors in our society are dominated by conditions where bullying is natural and easy.
As I look back at my childhood, my problem was that I never got a break from bullying or any hope that it would stop. I couldn't change me (believe me, I tried) and I wasn't going to get "tougher" because I was constantly being worn down. The counter behaviors I developed (aggression, over the top rage, the ability to run and hide) came from a place of insufficient support--running, fighting or raging were the only tools I had access to to deal with the groups of kids who would wait for me so they could abuse me. My energies were directed full time to countering abuse instead of the business of being a kid--playing, experiencing wonder and learning.
With all the discussion in the media about bullying, whether we should intervene, check behavior on bullies and "coddle" the bullied--we are looking at things the wrong way if we think we are just sheltering one poor proto-queer from "kids being kids".
I'm not advocating that we solve every child's problems for them or not give children opportunities to stand up for themselves--however we adults must realize these important skills are not learned in isolation. For every kid who faces off a bully in perceived isolation there are a hundred who never do because they have no safety or shelter.
For myself, looking back at my past I can only wish for the isolated oddballs that they find places of safety to be themselves, build real friendships and see there is a beautiful contrast to the ugly reflection cast back at them by a bullying culture/environment. Children simply do not have the tools to contend with agression unless they have support, safety and the knowledge that their brand of oddball is perfect for who they will be in life.
As for my intermittent sadness and rage, knowing I had my own perfect storm makes me feel less like the broken bird--that things happened. That my life changing and getting better is proof that I wasn't marked for life. I want this for all children--wounded adults as well.