Ten things I'd say to the girl being bullied

different voices visibility blocks May 05, 2023

When I was in the final year of primary school I was bullied by a bunch of girls who didn’t appreciate the fact that one of the boys ‘liked me’ (oh patriarchy how successfully you pitch females against each other in pursuit of the male gaze) or that I’d decided to try out for the school musical and attained one of the lead roles.

As an adult, I realise that going for what I wanted in life was triggering for at least a couple of those girls who, for whatever reason, didn’t feel they could do the same.

As a child though, I had no idea why my friends suddenly didn’t like me. I didn’t know that one person’s ‘success’ could be perceived as threatening to others.

Anyone that’s been bullied will know what a negative effect it has on your willingness to be visible in the world. While you’re being bullied, you come to associate visibility with danger, ridicule, shame. You learn to dim your light and hide yourself to stay safe from harm.

In that year, there were many times when I hid in the library, waiting out the recess or lunch periods, only to have them come and find me, just to let me know they could. There were times when I thought I’d be safe in the bathroom only to have the girls stand on the toilet seat of the adjacent cubicle so they could lean over the wall and spit on me. Or I’d be walking through the playground and they’d corral me into a corner and force me to trip over one of their legs, laughing at me as I lay on the ground with scraped and bruised knees. There were times when the bullying extended outside of the school gates and I’d see large, derogatory messages written about me on public property. (That one had huge visibility implications because it was one thing for all the kids at school to know what was happening, but for the adults to see my humiliation too? Would the horrors never end?)

It was hard at the time to find a place that felt safe. My home was a comfort until they decided to bring the bullying to my front door. I lived on a t-intersection and I remember looking out the window one day to see a few of the girls walking up the street that ran perpendicular to our house. I remember the knot forming in my stomach and the growing sense of horror when they crossed the road and stepped onto our front lawn. I remember crying to mum that I wouldn’t go and speak to them and I remember my entire nervous system being on high alert for the rest of the day, worried they might return and harm me in some way.

These experiences were among the first that I worked on when I started doing personal development work many decades ago. And yet, it wasn’t until I started the School of Visibility that I uncovered a whole other layer of work to be done; on the visibility blocks and fears caused by bullying. (At the time I hadn’t made the connection between my resistance to growing my audience and my experience of being bullied.)

Having now done that work, there are some things I wish I could have said to my younger self at the time. If you can relate to any of my experiences, perhaps they’ll be comforting to your younger self too, or to someone you know that’s being bullied.

Dear younger self,

I’m so sorry this is happening to you. This is older version of you. One that’s on the other side of the hell you’re experiencing right now. I’ve a few thoughts to share with you.

  1. It feels scary to be visible right now, I know. There’s a saying you’re going to learn later in life; This too will pass. When they’re being particularly hurtful to you, you might want to repeat that line to yourself quietly in your head. Be invisible when you need to, so you can protect yourself, but hold tight to the potential for expansion in the future.
  2. When you get the chance, go and watch ducks swimming in the lake. Notice how they shake their wings after they’ve had a fight. Try it out at home. Every day when you get home from school, put on some music and shake that stress out of your system.
  3. Laugh when you can. Watch as many funny movies as Mum and Dad will allow. Even if this feels impossible right now, the whole ‘fake it until you make it’ philosophy really works with laughter. It’s a contagious feeling which means that fake laughs can often turn into real laughs in a short period of time. Laughter will also help with that continual stress headache you have. You’ll really benefit from the dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins that laughter produces. It’ll counteract the excessive amounts of cortisol running through your system and that’s a very good thing.
  4. You feel like you have no voice because in some places you really don’t at the moment. Look for avenues for self expression that are available to you — journalling, art, singing, dancing — and try not to shut down completely. That goes for both your words and your emotions. Crying is a normal way to respond to being bullied. Feeling angry is normal. Confusion is normal. What’s happening to you IS unjust. It’s wise to not give them more fodder to hurt you with so even as you shut down parts of yourself to get through this, find ways to express your emotions and process your thoughts in private, safe spaces.
  5. It feels like you’re all alone right now. It feels embarrassing to be the one they’re targeting. But trust me, you’re not alone. Thousands of kids are going through something similar right now, somewhere in the world. You belong to a community of survivors. You just don’t know it yet.
  6. The pain they’re inflicting on you is not about anything you did wrong, it doesn’t reflect some innate ‘un-likeability’ in you. This is about them. It’s about pain they’re experiencing that they’re aren’t yet equipped to process. When you remember this, it will help you access compassion and the whole thing will feel a lot less personal. That will be helpful.
  7. When you’re an adult you’ll confront one of the girls about their behaviour and they’ll defend their actions with, ‘But I was just a kid, I didn’t want them to turn on me.’ Later in life you’ll learn about the concept of ‘acts of omission’ and ‘bystander behaviour’. You’ll know that these acts are just as harmful as the act of commission; that standing by and allowing harm to occur is just as harmful — and sometimes feels more harmful — than the overt act of aggression. (You’ll remember this lesson your whole life and will always step up to defend people against bullies. I really love that about you.) For now, just know that the friends who aren’t sticking up for you are teaching you something about themselves. They’re teaching you that they’re cowardly people. This won’t change as they age. When this is all over, find new friends. Braver friends.
  8. You can ask for help. You don’t have to go through this alone (even if it feels like that most of the time). Start with one person and stay on the lookout for allies. People see what’s happening but aren’t sure what to do about it. Tell them what you need and keep mentioning it until someone takes action.
  9. Find a safe and powerful place within you. This exists within all humans. When you’re surrounded by threatening behaviour, connect to that safe and powerful part of you, even as other parts of you are struggling. This habit will help you throughout your life. It will help you make good decisions when life gets tough.
  10. Resilience is a skill we learn through experience. Everyday that you get out of bed, put on that uniform, and walk to school, even though you know what’s coming, you’re building resilience. Eventually you’ll become one of the most resilient people you know and the choices you’re making right now to keep facing up to hard things is a huge part of that.

Keep going. I’m so proud of you.

Life is long. Hold on. Better things are coming.

With all the love in my heart,

Your older self x

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