Reflections from the Formerly Bullied

I do not normally just talk about these experiences mostly because I do not want to dwell on them. However, one of my nieces and some of my young friends who are in middle school and high school have been going through some tough situations with bullying. Thus, I wanted to try to reach out by sharing some of my experiences in hopes of maybe helping them know that there is someone else out there who’s gone through it and how I was able to move past it. So, please excuse me if this is rather long.

A few months ago, I found this video while browsing through my Facebook news-feed:

Essentially, a severely bullied young woman shares her story and sings for the judges on the show X Factor. I’ve never watched the show before, but I’m assuming it must be somewhat similar to American Idol show. Hearing her story of trying to move past severe bullying was gripping. I choked up with tears thinking of what all she went through.

Suddenly, memories came back of my own bullying experience and what it felt like. I saw myself again as that little awkward 11-year-old with huge glasses starting middle school at a new school in a new state. I only knew a couple of the kids in the school whom I had met over that summer. As one will often find in a small town school, most of the kids in one grade have all been in the same grade together since preschool. Thus, a new person already has the potential of being seen as an impostor. Such was the case with me.The next two years were probably some of the most miserable of my life.

With the exception of a couple of kids, pretty much my entire grade at that school turned against me. It seemed that anything I did turned into a reason to be taunted or mocked, anything I said was stupid, and I was just….different. Girls who had previously been accepting of me turned on me for no reason and embarrassed me or spread rumors in order to make others think badly of me. Some of the kids would join the taunting and rumor spreading in hopes of elevating their own “popularity status”. In one instance, only the intervention of a teacher stopped the taunting and accusations of an entire group of kids who had surrounded me after learning of my rather different religious beliefs.

I became overly defensive as a result which made them then say that I was overreacting  and too sensitive. I was already shy, but I got to where I hated talking at all in groups of people and became withdrawn because I felt vulnerable. I started the habit of keeping everything inside that I was feeling and shutting myself off from others. My parents started becoming very concerned because my behavior was beginning to change and after a couple of incidents that occurred decided that something had to be done before I became unreachable.

The thing with bullying is that it cuts deeper then some may realize. Telling me to just ignore it as some teachers did or that “kids will be kids” never worked or helped.When adults said those things to me, I felt as if they were minimizing what I was going through and truly didn’t even grasp it.  How could I ignore a kid in my face or the terrible untrue things they were saying about me and my family? How could I just ignore them when they pushed me and they called me horrible names that I wouldn’t have even dared repeat to my parents?

Those of us who are bullied often feel as if we do not have an advocate.

The bullies are often excused because of having bad backgrounds or because of various other reasons without the problem ever being addressed. My parents and I ran into this all of the time when we talked to the principal, school counselors, and teachers at the school. “You just don’t realize what homes these kids come from.” they’d say. We didn’t come asking about these kids’ backgrounds or social problems, we came looking for help and a solution. Thankfully, there were a few teachers that felt for me and did all they could to help. A couple of them discovered my love for reading (it was my favorite escape from bullies) and encouraged me in that as well as my other interests. Yet, it still hurt!

Bullying. It’s not just someone being mean although they’re not exactly being complimentary in their comments about and to you. It goes much deeper than that. It’s nearly like they’re trying to break you in order to laugh as the pieces fall to the ground.

That is, if you let them.

How do you overcome being bullied and how do you get through it?

It’s not easy to get through it and it’s not easy to move past it. One piece of comfort is that it will not last forever although it will seem to. One day, you’ll grow up and graduate or move to another area before then and leave those bullies behind. But, how do you get through it now and not let them break you?

The best advice I ever received came from my mom as I lay crying on my bed one night after an especially horrible day at school.  She told me that I needed to pray for all of those kids who were so mean to me. I looked up at her like she was nuts, but she explained that it would help me not to become bitter, and that it was what Jesus had commanded us to do. So, I took her word for it and started praying every day for those bullies, particularly two of the girls who were the main leaders of the bullying.

Gradually, I noticed that the anger I felt and the hurt began to lessen. I started to see through the darkness that there was hope, and that I would get through this with God’s help. I began to pity my bullies instead of feeling bitterness towards them. This doesn’t mean the bullying ended though or that it didn’t still hurt. Things were as bad as ever. I never learned how to let it just roll off my shoulders either. All I knew to do was to pray and this was even before I’d really officially committed my life to Christ. Through all of this turmoil He was calling me to follow Him by showing me how He could work even in the midst of pain and trial.

After I finished 7th grade my parents pulled me out of school to home school. I can’t say that I was instantly cured from the pain of bullying. It leaves quite a scar on your life even years after the fact. However, the pain faded and I began to gradually forget some of the awful things the kids said and did. I was still rather awkward and hated having to speak up in large groups of people because of fear of being ridiculed all over again. I also still felt friendless.

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One of my dear friends Kara and I around 5 years ago

Yet, that next year, God blessed me to meet three girls who were somewhat older than me who that took me into their circle. They all lived far away from me, but we are still all friends today. I also met one of my best friends that next summer, and it seemed that each new year brought new friends and over time my confidence began to return. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still sometimes feel like reverting back to fear. I still struggle sometimes to want to make my opinion known and even have to work on not fearing what others think of me. But, God always reminds me what He has brought me through and where my strength lies.

You see, my dear young friends who are going through this, you will never be able to get through this victoriously on your own. If I had tried to get through it on my own, I would have been forever questioning myself and bitter. I would have never been able to go on and accomplish the dreams that God gave me in the years that followed. The fact is, you have to let God help you to get through it and to use that experience of being bullied as a stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.

If you’ve ever read the book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom relates how she went around the world speaking of the importance of forgiveness after World War II. If anyone knew something about bullying, she definitely did. At the end of the book she mentioned how after she finished speaking one of the guards who had guarded her at the concentration came up and asked for forgiveness. He held his hand out and Corrie hesitated for a minute.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”-Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place

When I first read that, I didn’t truly understand it. How could she forgive someone who had threatened her life and beat her? Then, God gave me a somewhat similar experience in allowing me to meet one of my bullies again. It’s interesting how He does that.

About three years ago I was at a sink washing my hands in a bathroom on my way to a class at the university when I turned around and nearly ran into one of my former bullies. I paused a little shocked. She was delighted to see me and said that she’d heard so much about all that I was doing from seeing my mom at the store where she was working in the small town we were from. I stood there rather dumbfounded. This girl was nothing like the kid who had been so ruthless in her comments about me for two years. We chatted for a few minutes, and I felt the hurt slip from me. It was then that I knew I had overcome those horrible two years when I could smile back at her and ask her how she was and what she was studying. She never asked for forgiveness vocally, but I felt in her gesture of reaching out to say that she was proud of me that she essentially was asking for forgiveness. I never have run into the other bully who was even worse than this one, but I hope if I ever do, that we can have a similar meeting.

I know maybe it doesn’t seem like you’ll ever get through it and maybe, like me, you just hate to have to get up in the morning to go to school and face the bullies again. But, you can get through it one day at a time with the help of the Lord.

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2 responses to “Reflections from the Formerly Bullied

  1. I just loved reading your thoughts and words, Stacey! I too had a really hard time with bullies growing up, and still have a real hard time being around some. I need to pray more, and I am eager to show my son, who is being bullied a little on the school bus, a better way to handle this, though I am proud of how he is already doing just that! Love you!

  2. This is very good. Thankful you shared your thoughts.

    Something else that helps tremendously is understanding the nature of man untouched by God’s grace. When we fully understand that, we know that man is capable of much worse than the worst we ever experience in this life. It’s only by God’s providential restraining of evil that things aren’t much worse.

    In understanding that not all children have God’s Spirit within them (and some never will), we understand why some act so terribly. Perhaps the bully with whom you had the later encounter was not born again when y’all were younger but came to be born again later before you had your more recent encounter.

    Anyway…good thoughts!

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