Bullying is a topic that is constantly circulating. There are always stories in the news about people or groups of people harassing others, especially about teens committing suicide because they feel that it is better to die than to live while being hassled every single day. Why is it so common? Anyone can be a bully or can be bullied. Anytime that one individual or group says or does something with the intent to harm another person or group of people, they are bullying. That can range from physical to emotional to virtual to sexual to mental… and all of these are connected.
I know because I was bullied throughout my time in elementary school. Every day, I went to school knowing that some of my peers would laugh at me, manhandle me, ignore me, and taunt me with comments about my difference. Some days I dreaded school, even though I loved learning, because I hated being treated that way. My differences were not that great: I didn’t wear expensive or popular clothing brands, I didn’t conform to the same ideas about beauty, and I didn’t have a cell phone. My priorities were different from theirs, and they had to punish me for that, to show me that being different was not okay. Nothing that I did was right… even on days when I tried to change myself to ‘fit in’. I was frustrated by how easily my peers could hurt me with degrading comments and how much impact their opinions had.
I consider myself lucky because I was never physically assaulted the way that many young people are at school. I have never been ‘circle beat’. Most of the bullying I experienced was verbal and virtual, with emotional and mental implications. My peers barely physically touched me, and when I think of students who ‘run the gauntlet’ every day, walking through crowds of students who push, punch and kick them, I realize that I was lucky that my tormentors barely laid their hands on me.
But that doesn’t mean that their abuse didn’t affect me mentally and emotionally for years afterwards.
And it is very problematic that I am actually HAPPY that my bullying was not as severe as many other cases.
Bullying shouldn’t happen at all, and I shouldn’t be grateful for the lesser suffering I endured compared to other victims. There shouldn’t be ANY victims of bullying at all.
I look at myself now and see a strong, confident twenty-something woman who has taken bad experiences, learned from them, started to practice self-care, and moved forward with her life. I have gone on to study, travel, and work in different places across North America and Europe.
I know that surviving the bullying experiences, even though they were sometimes so bad that I didn’t want to get out of bed or go to school, made me a stronger person because I had to learn to recognize that the opinions of others do not matter in comparison to my own or the opinions of my loved ones.
But the argument that “bullying makes kids stronger” and “surviving that made you a better person” is inherently problematic because it DEFENDS my tormentors. It says that they did me a favour by harming me. That’s unacceptable.
When I think of bullying, I think of physical acts like pushing, hitting, kicking, tripping, locking people in closets or lockers or places they don’t want to be, and any other form of unwanted physical force you can imagine. I see one person being circled and beaten from all sides. This happens. We can’t pretend that it doesn’t.
I think of the emotionally-damaging effects of bullying, of how repeated negativity about yourself can become internalized… how you can start to believe the horrible things people say and lose your self-love, self-care, and self-respect. I see people changing themselves in order to ‘fit in with the crowd’ rather than loving themselves as they are, following their impulses, allowing their individuality to shine.
I think of virtual bullying behaviours, from text messages to emails to instant messaging applications to Facebook to Twitter to comments on articles, videos, and other internet communications. I think of message boards, chatrooms, and websites being created solely to harm others.
I think of sexual harassment, so easily brushed off as ‘not a big deal’, but having such a huge impact on our lives. Walking down the street without being hollered at, appraised, and groped is a basic human right. I’m the one who lives in my body. No one should be able to touch me without my permission. No one should touch you without your permission. No one should have to live in fear of the way they will be sexualized by others verbally or physically.
I think of mental health and how it can be damaged by others’ hurtful words and actions. Things that happen in childhood, during formative years, can affect the rest of a life. No one should have to live that way.
I have a real problem with all of these. I think everyone should.
The second we start making excuses like:
- “Kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls”
- “It’s not a big deal”
- “She/he ACTUALLY likes you”
We are defending harassment, encouraging the negative behaviour, and even teaching ourselves and others that bullying is a sign of potential love and affection… which is dangerous advice! Telling children that people who harm them do so out of love teaches them to associate love with abuse!
We need to stop making excuses for bullying and we need to call it out. We should be siding with victims rather than protecting the perpetrators. It is not okay to hurt other people and the individuals and groups who do should be stopped. We should be calling out bullies and bullying behaviour. We should teach young people that it is not okay to put others down in order to make ourselves feel good. We should remind adults of the same lessons.
Every day I hear and read about new stories of bullying in the news, with victims of all shapes and sizes.
Isn’t it time for that to stop?
It should have stopped yesterday.
Is bullying important to you? Do you have a story to share about bullying? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear it!
If this post about strengths, bullying, and my personal encounters with it interested you, check out my thoughts on Surviving a Cheating Partner and What Feminism Means to Me also about strength and social justice.
Thanks for stopping by!