I was hurt, I was in pain, I was shattered.
What I had endured from the age of 10 to 14 years old had left deep emotional wounds that would not heal. It was easier to numb the pain by suppressing it and seeking other unhealthy ways of coping. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing. It controls our thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviors. As much as I try to hide, ignore, or deny the pain of bullying, it is always there stored away in the subconscious part of my mind.
When it started I didn’t realize it really started.
As a young child, I remember desperately wanting to be liked and accepted by my peers. At 10, I was at an impressionable age trying to discover who I was and where I fit in. The bullying I experienced was what many refer to as friendship bullying. Every friend I thought I had, at some point turned on me in a very vicious way through verbal, physical, and social bullying. They were the popular girls, and had a lot of social influence and power. As a result, when the bullying started, I had no one. When they turned on me, the entire school either participated in the bullying or stood by and did nothing.
During the 80’s bullying was not taken seriously and was not even recognized as an issue that needed attention. It was considered a rite of passage and so, I had no support from the school or the teachers. I was alone. It was the single most painful experience of my life. The shame left me feeling unworthy of love and acceptance
My Self-esteem. My Thoughts. My Feelings. My Actions.
When we are bullied and continually beaten down with fists, words or through social humiliation, there is a cause and effect reaction that occurs. Our experience will begin to change the thoughts we consciously have about ourselves. Those thoughts then create feelings that are stored within our subconscious and ultimately determine our actions and behaviors. I’ll use my own experience to illustrate how Self-Esteem (thoughts about ourselves) trigger our feelings or emotions, that then result in our actions or behaviours.
The physical, verbal, and social bullying that I was subjected to for a period of over three years led to the following thoughts, feelings and actions.
“No one likes me or cares about me.”
“Nothing good will ever happen to me.”
“There’s something wrong with me.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I wish I was someone else.”
Loneliness, hopelessness, anger, fear, self-consciousness, insecurity, and paranoia.
My Actions / Behaviors
I would criticise and gossip negatively about others to feel better about myself. I became outwardly aggressive towards others to feel powerful. I sought any form of attention that made me feel loved and accepted. I avoided social situations or new experiences so I wouldn’t feel inadequate or scared. I married and stayed with an alcoholic because I believed I didn’t deserve any better. I became a perfectionist at work because it gave me a false sense of worth and value. I always anticipated and thought the worst of every situation to protect myself from feeling disappointed or hurt.
The list goes on. Of course not everyone who is bullied will experience low self-esteem or have the same thoughts, feelings and behaviors. There are other factors that contribute to the severity of damage on ones sense of worth from bullying. For example, support from schools and teachers, a child’s home environment, their resilience, and the duration of the abuse has a direct link to the severity of the effect.
In my case, I did not have the support of anyone and the duration was over a period of three years. My behaviours were clearly destructive and part of a cycle that created more feelings of guilt, resentment, fear, and sadness. In the process, I deprived myself of joy and happiness. I became someone I didn’t want to be, someone controlled by their emotions.
The longer we suffer from low self-esteem, the more habitual our thought patterns become and the more difficult it is to alter or change our behaviors. The good news is, we consciously choose our thoughts about ourselves. This is our “Self-Talk”. We can choose to belittle and degrade ourselves, or we can be loving and accepting of who we are.
What can you do to help?
Do you know a child or an adult suffering from bullying? It is critical to understand a few factors if you want to help them.
1. Often it is the devastating shame they feel that keeps targets of bullying from talking about the emotional trauma.
2. Healing can only begin when we talk about the shame. To prevent possible long term mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, one must often relive the painful trauma and talk openly about how they are feeling. This should be done in a safe, trusting environment with a professional who understands the issue of bullying.
3. As parents and care givers we must have a heightened awareness of the bullying epidemic. Know the signs and if you suspect someone you care for is being bullied seek help.
4. We must never underestimate or minimize the profound effect bullying can have on one’s self-esteem and how that lack of self-esteem can drive unhealthy behaviours.
5. If you or someone you know is suffering from the residual effects of bullying please reach out for help.
Read 10 things every parent needs to know to protect their children from bullying to know more about how you can prevent, support and protect a child.
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