Today, I have undergone a transformation. I have stopped being someone willing to allow bullies free and easy access – and have become a woman willing, and able, to say, ‘No! That is out of order!’
It has been a painful process – and, like all transformations, will require courage and determination to keep in place.
But, for the first time in my life, I have seen that I have the right to object to bullying behaviour! It is my hope that someone reading this post might also be transformed.
I was bullied at school, with words and fists, terror and boots, as a child and adolescent. My boundaries, as a result, have always been extremely weak and pliable – and it has been dead easy for people to get at me and then claim that their response is either tough love or that I am over-reacting.
Tough love is a concept which is very open both to debate – some think it is helpful; others don’t – and abuse. But, whatever the truth, it only works if love is a component part of the toughness. Otherwise, it can come perilously close to outright bullying.
Other children saw me as nice and, for the bullies amongst them, WEAK. Two factual things made me stand out from my peers at primary school: I had a weird name and an upper middle-class accent. Both made me a target.
But underneath that lay a little girl who made allowances, who tried to be kind, who felt sorry for other children’s hurt and, all too often, confused the rage of the bully for ‘honesty’. As a result, boundaries were tested – and, every time I accepted insults, name-calling and cruelty, jumped over with ease. The bullying became physical.
But even back then, I was far more aware than I realised – though I discounted my intuitions as unkind or as some form of prejudice against certain children. I would always get a slithering uneasy feeling in my tummy about certain individuals. I am not an aura reader in the colourful spectrum sense – but I have an eye, or perhaps a digestive system, for darkness.
I allowed others children to shout names at me, to surround me in the playground, to beat me up after school and on buses because their excuses for doing so seemed so plausible to me: I deserved it; I was a snob; I was looking at them the wrong way; they were only teasing and I was taking it all far too seriously; they were using tough love.
This openness to bullying has been with me for decades. The pattern which developed during my marriage was typical: Unpleasantness, followed by reaction from me, followed by accusation of over-reaction to imagined insult.
It took me far too long to face the fact that, back in my childhood, the way I spoke and my given name were not good excuses for bullying; that the bullies, like all predators, sensed incoming prey and went for the jugular. It has taken me far too long in my adult years to stand up and act upon that inner unease certain individuals still inspire in me – and to say, ‘That was out of order,’ irrespective of whether they agree with me, and accept my right to autonomy and barriers, or not.
The question I ask myself now is this one: ‘Did I genuinely need to hear that message of unkindness – or is it more that the other person needed to say it for their own personal reasons?’
Because, let us be blunt here, people use the Get Out of Jail Free card of HONESTY to openly abuse, insult and hurt others – and then, when quizzed, say, ‘I was only being honest…’
My problem all my life has been a tendency to give others the benefit of the doubt – and, instead of responding with an immediate, ‘That was unacceptable,’ think – because this is how I have been trained – ‘Oh, maybe I have got it wrong. Maybe I did deserve that comment. Maybe it was meant kindly…’
But, once you allow anyone over the line of what is acceptable to you, there is no going back.
I can see now that I am not a weak person – but I do have fragile borders to my kingdom, and have allowed invasions by metaphorical Vikings far too often for my own inner safety.
It has got to stop. Tough love should only ever be used sparingly and in worst case scenarios. It is not an excuse for bullying. It is not a card used to get under the radar of what is acceptable.
The idea of over-reaction is, far too often, used by bullies as a justification and a form of projection. Instead of focusing on their behaviour, the whole thing then revolves around your (supposedly hysterical) reaction.
If something feels off, or nasty, or plain weird, to me, I have every right to object to it. I do not expect to be told that I am in the wrong for standing up for myself!
Been there. Done that. Got the ‘I Let Bullies Win’ t-shirt to prove it.
Said shirt is going into the incinerator today!