Once bullying is understood, it can be conquered.
I learned pretty early that my biggest bully was my own mother. For whatever reason, she just never really liked me at all. She even made sure to tell me that, quite often. She would tell me that she loved me, but she often didn't like me very much. It all started there. I figured out after many, MANY years that the whole reason I allowed others to bully me was that it was something I was quite accustomed to. If I'd ever talked back to my mother through her bullying and narcissistic sociopath behavior, I'd have gotten spanked - or far worse. My father was more the 'hands-on' kind of parent. My mother conditioned me and taught me young to just take it, "or else."
The bullies in school certainly helped to reinforce those early lessons, especially as our ages progressed. Things became more and more violent as the years went on. Strangely, I was more accepted by the kids in my school once my mother bleached my hair blonde at 16 years old, but I was still incredibly self conscious. I didn't have a firm grasp on who I was as a person. I'd never really been allowed to be who I was, or to figure out who that might be. It wasn't OK for me to just be myself, not in my household. Systematically I was stripped of my dignity, pride and all personal possessions because I finally decided to fight back. I'll never forget the day I sat at the dining room table, being told what the newest creative punishment would be. I said nothing. I reacted not at all. I just sat there. At the end my parents asked what I was thinking. That was truly the first time I ever stood up for myself and I spoke through a trembling, frightened voice. But my strength and resolve grew as I spoke. I smiled the entire time I spoke.
"You've taken everything away from me. Everything. My bed, all my clothes but what I'm wearing, my radio and my music. Any TV or phone privileges, my friends. My bedroom door. Absolutely everything. But you haven't taken away my spirit. And you never will. You can't take away anything else, there's nothing more to take. You can hit me all you want, but there's nothing else you can do to me. You'll never break me. " I got up and walked away. I fully expected to be pushed down the stairs or kicked while I walked away, but I'd simply "taken it" for so long that I left them dumbfounded. My heart pounded like a jackhammer between my ribs as I walked away. They didn't say a word as I left them sitting at the table and I walked the entire length of the house and all 14 stairs, all the way to my bedroom. Every step was deliberate and forced, knowing that if I stopped, I would show weakness and I'd be consumed by their pending rage.
Things began to change, but change is sometimes slow.
That was a turning point for me. It wasn't until years later that I really stood up for myself and told my father that I had friends who had been there for me more than he ever had, and that happened at his step-mother's funeral. I told my mother she was a bully and that I wanted nothing more to do with her at my grandfather's funeral only weeks later. They still try from time to time (last week in fact) to have an impact on my life. They've tried to tell different radio and news publications that I've never been kidnapped or raped or nearly sold into the human trafficking industry. They've tried to turn my friends against me, telling them that I'm full of lies, just as they did when I was a teen. They even tried to end relationships of mine (and on occasion have succeeded with profound pride in themselves). These days when I get to know someone well enough, I preface any friendship commitment with the fair warning that my mother might try to contact them, and that it will be venom they receive. Time and again, they've only proven that to be correct. Last week was only the most recent.
Say What You Need to Say.
In 2013 I attended a seminar for Flight Attendant training. In that seminar, we were challenged to "Say what you need to say." All of us, no matter who we are, or where we've come from, ALL of us, have something we've never said to someone because we are afraid of hurting their feelings, making them mad, causing irreversible damage to whatever relationship we might possibly have. They challenged us to finally say what we've always needed to say to someone in our lives. It just happened to coincide with a recent run-in with my mother where she had lashed out venomously at me for not telling her I was in flight attendant training. There was a catch, though. Everything we said had to be passed through three filters.
- Is it kind
- Is it true
- Is it necessary?
Believe me, this is much more difficult than you would think. When it came down to it, I wrote a three-page letter to my mother explaining why I wouldn't have anything to do with her, and that I needed to focus on what I was doing. I asked her to respect my time and do not reply or attempt to distract me from my studies, and that if she could hold out for two weeks we could have an adult conversation together, in person, rather than through emails. Of course, she responded within 10 minutes with one of the most painful memories she could conjure, telling me that she was convinced that it would be a 'good' memory for me. That was the last time I spoke to her, though she continues to try. I miss my parents, but I can't let them into my life. They will always be my bullies. They look friendly and sweet, but looks, as we have heard all our lives, can be deceiving. They might be those you call a friend in school, they might be siblings, or as in my case, they might even be your own parents or extended family.
Let go of the abusers.
It's perfectly OK to not allow abusive people any room in your life, no matter who they are. Some people don't deserve to be in your personal space. It might be easier to do that with kids at school, or a co-worker who decides they don't like you for whatever reason than it is with family, but it's OK. You're allowed to set boundaries. Some people will simply never change. The abusive will likely always be abusive. They see nothing wrong with their own actions because clearly you deserve it or they've done everything for "your own good" as I so often heard. How could it be their fault, they justify, saying that you're the only 'common denominator' and that surely you must deserve to have people be mean to you if so many of them are. It's not real. YOU are not alone. Cruelty shouldn't be a part of your personal space, no matter where it's coming from. In my case, it was easy to cut out the people at school who would mistreat me, but I was well into my 30's before I finally had the courage and ability to tell my own mother how much she constantly hurt me and to formally ask her to stop. When that didn't work, I finally felt justified in cutting her out of my life. I finally learned that it wasn't my parents I really missed, but the ability to have a normal, loving relationship with the people who raised me. That was never going to be possible. It wasn't my parents I cut out of my life, but the negativity they sprinkled everywhere like a filthy black fungus they disguised as glitter.
I grew my hair out finally. I'm proud of having red hair, and I'll go right on being proud of it no matter what. Nobody will ever convince me to grow it or cut it, dye it or bleach it, shave it or recreate it. It's about time I learned how to be me. I'm certainly flawed, and my self-esteem may still falter from time to time. But finally, I've chased the bullies away - including that inner voice. Mostly. We should all be so lucky.
Now, go say what you need to say.
If you have been affected by anything in this article, you can find assistance at https://www.stopbullying.gov
This series will be continued with a last follow up article, interviewing some of the people most strongly affected by the bullying of their past. Stay tuned and read the tales of those who've both conquered their bullying and those who suffer permanent and life-threatening damage due to the bullying at the hands of others in this gripping conclusion of Redhead Bullying.
Amanda Blackwood is the founder of Redheads Unite! and author of Detailed Pieces of a Shattered Dream: The true story of one kidnap victim's run for her life. The book is now available in paperback and Kindle. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Redheads Unite at www.redheadsunite.org. Follow Amanda Blackwood on Facebook. On 22 Feb 2018 Amanda will be a guest speaker on bullying at Dungeons and Drafts in Fort Collins, CO.
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