The topic of today’s blog post (bullying) comes from my involvement with TeamTEENAuthor. TeamTEENauthor is a group of YA writers committed to speaking directly to their teen readers through essays, personal stories, and videos about age-relevant topics (with a small side dose of public humiliation). In other words, we don’t just want to write for you, we want to talk to you, too. On the second Wednesday of every month, our fearless leader, Julie Cross, gives us a single word or phrase and we are allowed to do whatever we’d like with it. The word for July is: BULLY
The Bully in My Head
I’ve been on both sides of the equation: the bully and the bullied. The details of these incidents aren’t important, though they stand out as some of the clearest memories of my youth. What’s important is the why. Why did I, a kid with friends, good grades, two loving parents and a (relatively) stable home, need to make other kids feel bad about themselves? Conversely, why did I let the kids who teased me get away with it? Why was I too ashamed to ask my parents or teachers for help? And the one time I did ask a grown-up to intervene (the principal of my junior high, who did absolutely nothing despite my repeated pleas) why did I accept his utter ineffectualness as an adequate response?
The answer, as best as I’ve figured it, isn’t so much about the outside forces I was exposed to—the compassion and tolerance my parents raised me to believe in, or even the broken “look the other way” culture prevalent at my school—as much as it was about what was going on inside my head, which, I can assure you, was as bad, if not worse, as the taunts of my seventh grade bully.
“You deserve it,” I’d tell my thirteen-year-old self. “You’re not as pretty as D. or as popular as R., so, of course, no one’s going to try to help you.”
With messages like this tormenting me, it’s no wonder I went through life angry and scared. When a child comes from a dysfunctional family, it’s easy to understand why he or she feels the need to lash out, to find release by preying upon the weaker kids. Or why the kid who’s been beaten down by life comes to see herself as the powerless victim. But I came from a “good” family who supported me. The problem was, I was being bullied constantly—by myself.
Even through high school, college, and beyond, when the bullying by and of others had thankfully ceased, I was still beating myself up on a regular basis—playing the roles of both bully and victim. The sad thing is, this kind of negative messaging isn’t all that uncommon. How often do we carelessly put ourselves down for saying or doing “something stupid,” or insult ourselves for the way we look in a bathing suit, or the bad grade we got on a test?
Recently, my eight-year-old son struck out at his little league game and was bemoaning his quote-unquote failure on the car ride home. “I’m terrible at baseball,” he announced, as if this were an irrefutable fact, even though he was one of the team’s big hitters, and this was the first time he’d struck out all season. As a mom, it was easy for me to reassure him that his very critical self-assessment wasn’t true, that even the best hitters in major league baseball strike out at least half of the time, that we all have off days. I try to teach him to be kind to himself, instead of beating himself up about it. But it took me years to learn how to give that same kind of compassion to myself.
Today, I’m proud to say that I practice self-compassion on a regular basis, which means forgiving myself when I quote-unquote fail, and loving myself, not in spite of my perceived inadequacies, but because of them. I recently had the good fortune of reading an advance copy of SKINNY, by Donner Cooner, the much-lauded young adult novel due out this fall, in which a 300-pound fifteen-year-old girl named Ever goes through a risky gastric bypass operation in order to silence the negative voice inside her head (which she’s named Skinny). Ever survives the surgery, but much to her dismay: so does Skinny. Which makes Ever realize how little her actual appearance had to do with the negative way she thinks of herself, and how much it has to do with Skinny’s constant criticism.
My point is—bullying is a complex topic, and it’s important that we give kids the tools to deal with it and bring awareness to it in our schools, our homes, and our communities. But I don’t think the problem will ever really stop until we learn to stop bullying ourselves.
Below are links to the blogs of other TeamTEENAuthors who’ve written about bullying today.:
And here’s a link to a great article on the differences between self-compassion and self-esteem and why self-compassion may be more important.