Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bullying, Bad Effects, and Benefits

As I indicated in a previous post, I was pretty badly bullied in junior high school. It had always been my worst, most paranoid fear that people pretended to like me, but actually hated me. Then, one morning I woke up, went to school, and realized that it was true!

I was with the same group of classmates in all my classes. Among this group was a clique of girls who really disliked me, for a variety of reasons. In part, they were jealous of my academic accomplishments. But it was partially my fault as well. I didn't bathe often enough, because of pressures I perceived within my family, and I eschewed all things fashion, for similar reasons. I was also very vulnerable. I didn't feel completely accepted at home, so I was already wobbling through life. They just gave me a push and knocked me over.

If I sat at the lunch table first, they would find another table to sit at. They would offer chewing gum to everyone but me. They would roll their eyes and discount anything I contributed to the conversation. And they would plan parties in front of me and not invite me.

(But, when it came time to do homework or play review games for exams, I was the first one picked. They knew where my abilities lay, and what they could get out of me!)

I survived by befriending the boys in my class. They would put up with me. I couldn't go to any social events with them, but at least I sort of had friends sometimes. But they weren't exactly on my side, because if they were interested in dating any of those girls, their allegiance couldn't keep them tied to me.

I made it, and I'd say the worst long-lasting effect I still experience today has to do with invitations. For example, I pretty much can't pick a lunch table and wait for my friends to go through the cafeteria line. I just stall and wait for one of them to show up, and pick a table together. Also, I tend to wait for invitations instead of taking the initiative in social situations. I have a hard time sitting down at somebody's lunch table if I run into them in the lunchroom, for example. But I'm working on that!

There have been some benefits, though. I'm certainly more sensitive to how others might feel, and as a result I basically never make fun of people, even when others are doing it. I temper my words carefully, and offer constructive criticism rather than just laying into people. I don't judge people based on their appearance and I try to appreciate people's individuality and differences, enjoying them rather than condemning them, as best I can.

I think I probably would have tried to be a considerate person should these experiences have never happened to me. But as easy as it is to understand something abstractly, unless you've experienced it yourself, it's a little harder to understand concretely. (For example, I knew that in principle people's academic performance could be adversely impacted by the divorce of their parents, but I didn't really get it until it happened to me.)

So while I will never believe that the things those girls did to me were all right or okay, it did shape me into the person I am today, and to some degree, it was for the better. The same could be said for all the adversity in my life, I suppose.


susan said...

I'm an infrequent commenter here, and I don't want to remotely appear to be contesting your reflections after so many years....but I resist the conclusion that what those girls did to you shaped you for the better. Your resiliency and inner strength responded to all that crap, and it's YOU who's shaped the adult you are today. Those are your choices (just as some of the choices you made as a kid might have played into how other kids reacted to you). All that behavior was despicable, and no kid should have to endure that. You've found the resources to respond to the crap, but I don't want to think that the crap caused it. You've got a lot of inner strength (just look at your running!). Give yourself the credit, not the bullies.

Jay said...

I had very similar experiences, except it was largely my "friends" shunning me and making me feel like an outcast. I was the only one who brought lunch from home and had similar lunch table woes to you (would stall, did not want to sit alone). I wasn't really tomboy-ish enough to make friends with "the guys" though I had guy friends they were often participating in the shunning.

I definitely agree about it making you a more considerate person. I started to get over a lot of these little social issues when I was forced to work in an admin role supporting around 100 people I didn't know. Everyone knew me of course, but I had to learn how to be friendly, make small talk, work on my eye contact, and deal with the politics in a large department. Things can be very cut-throat here and most of the guys are dog-eat-dog, as well as most of the women. I find I just can't participate in their meanness to other people, I think because I had the same junior high experiences. I'm not sure how old you are, but getting older can help a little and being forced to socialize/work with a LOT more people can help too. Kindred spirits I think, and thanks for the post.

Rebecca said...

Susan, thanks for your very good points. You are right that my inner strength is what made me respond in the way I did. But, I think that if I hadn't had those experiences, I wouldn't have become as sensitive to others as I am today. Kind of like when you learn a new word and you see it everywhere -- not because it's suddenly appeared, but because it's on your radar.

Jay, while I'm sorry you had to go through that, it's at the same time comforting to know I'm not the only one. Like you, I just can't participate in that petty stuff. The healing takes time, you're right. I recently looked at a letter I wrote to my future husband when I was in college, and I was shocked by all the self-loathing I expressed in that letter 15 years ago. It will be interesting to see in 15 more years what else changes.

PhizzleDizzle said...

Rebecca, I'm sorry you had to go through this as a kid...it just breaks my heart, kids can be so cruel. I don't think I had it nearly as bad as you, but I have some very bad memories as well that took years to get over. I suppose it makes us who we are.

You have a lovely life now, so there! Right? :)

ScienceGirl said...

As a timid, not very articulate, and small in stature kid, I had a similar experience. It forced me to be somewhat of a loner, and I tend to credit my independence to it. But really, I think Susan is right - how we react to things depends mostly on who we are, and we would have turned out this way even if we had to go through less crap as kids. I am glad that I reached a point where I will no longer put up with such crap, and will speak up for those too timid to do it for themselves (we have a bully or two in my grad school lab). And I am glad you see some positive that came out of your experience as well, although it is scary as hell to think that our kids might have to deal with the same thing.