Being bullied changed who I am. Thankfully, for the better.
Here’s the common set-up: an awkward girl, socially weird, terrible at any sports, loved books, Greek mythology and video games, from a family that couldn’t afford the fanciest/newest things.
To the cool kids? My clothes were wrong. I had braces. Being bad at sports was worthy of ridicule. I loved all nerdy things freely.
I clearly remember coming home from Elementary one day in tears over the girls making fun of my sweater. The things they said were stupid, but kids can be some of the blatantly cruelest creatures. My Mom was the one who catapulted my mental shift, who gave me the right armour to combat the barrage of iron-tipped insults that’s changed my entire adult life.
I can’t remember the exact words, but the core of it was this: remove the power their words had over me. Laugh when they laugh, ignore rather than seek revenge by trading mean words.
Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” -Romans 12:20
To my young brain, it sounded like it could work, but would be extremely difficult to put into practice. When you’re in the middle of getting bullied, usually the last thought is to laugh it off. Our culture says to get revenge, to have the better comeback, to bully back, and that’s when you’ll be victorious. But that’s not what Jesus says. It’s pretty opposite in fact:
“But I say to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” –Luke 6:27
It didn’t take long for a practice run to come my way. I deliberately wore that same sweater to school, knowing the girls were bound to say something about it. I walked in, the ringleader looked right at me, at my sweater, smiled a smile that said ‘thanks for the easy kill’ and unleashed her arrows. After she was done, her followers waited for my face to crumple, for a shameful walk to my desk in silence. Instead, I remember laughing. I don’t know how laughter came so easily or so quickly in that first trial, and I can only think it was by the Holy Spirit’s help.
To the bullies, it was like they’d walked into a wall.
They didn’t know how to react. So they made confused faces then just…walked away from me. And I reveled in it. I probably had the biggest smile on my face at so cleanly escaping a bullying attack and feeling like, finally, I was the one who had the power.
So I did that again to the same group.
And again, again and again to the same people and to others.
And each time the bullies got the same result. I laughed. I shrugged at them with a ‘I don’t care’ expression.
It didn’t take very long to notice that the bullying slowed down to a trickle rather than a constant stream I had to struggle against.
I kept this up from Elementary to Junior High, and guess what? The bullies learned. I went through school with mostly the same peers, and they learned they couldn’t get a rise out of me, they couldn’t get me to cry, and in fact they were the ones who left feeling powerless. So, for the most part, they stopped. I’d still get a nasty comment or physically roughed once in a while, but never to the same degree. Some of the bullies even gave me grudging respect or simply stayed out of my way, a few even left off in the middle of bullying other kids when I started coming their way. I’d successfully learned how to cope with and defuse bullying attacks. That was huge.
On top of learning that, I gained another precious lesson, and I have bullying to thank for making me into a better person because of it.
Here’s the golden nugget: I stopped giving people so much power over how I feel about myself.
Someone spouted off something mean to me? Why should I care what a cruel person has to say about me? Why should I let that change my clothes, my interests, my self-worth? That isn’t a wise, kind person that deserves to be listened to–they’re undeserving. Why does their opinion of me matter? It doesn’t. In fact, it means so incredibly little, that those barbed arrows may as well be wet noodles. They’re still soggy and gross and leave a little bit of slime behind, but they’re not leaving scars.
This mental shift had rolling benefits into my teens and on. I never wanted to be in with the ‘in’ crowd. Why be friends with cruel people? It just didn’t (and still doesn’t) make sense to me. I didn’t want to hang around with that. I never wanted to be popular with those types of girls/people; in fact, I didn’t even want to wear clothes or make up like them. I rarely had the compulsion to fit in, to blend, to change my opinion so I didn’t rock the boat, to be interested in the same things just because the other thing I liked wasn’t cool. I cringe every time I watch a movie or read a story where the main character is desperate to be in the group of ‘cool’ kids who are ruthlessly mean, self-centered bullies. Why? Just….why?
I wanted to be as separate from their behaviour as possible. I wanted to be the way I was because I wanted to. I love quirky, weird, awkward people. Normal is boring.
This is the armour I carry with me every day. People’s opinions don’t have power over me or my choices. The only one who deserves that power is God. He’s the ultimate source of love, truth, and grace and the only one whose opinion I need to seek.
I can not over-emphasize how crazily freeing that is. I’m still a very happy socially awkward nerd. I like anime, I don’t like high heels, I don’t like bars, or drinking alcohol terribly much, I love video games, usually prefer reading and animal company to people company, and would unashamedly say all those things to a random stranger or the CEO of my company. Doesn’t matter who you are. And it feels wonderful.
Being bullied as a kid gave me the chance to change my response in meeting cruelty head-on, about embracing who I am rather than trying to alter myself to better fit in with society. Cruelty, whether coming from children or adults who never learned to be better, should not ever drive you to make different decisions about yourself. God made you the way you are on purpose. You belong. It’s them who need to take a serious look at how they’re living their life.
Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”