The summer of my discontent: the far-reaching impact of being bullied

if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you simply don’t want to
any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

FROM THE TRUELOVE, A POEM BY DAVID WHYTE

As I looked out the window of my childhood home, memories of my younger days came rushing back. Summer holidays spent cycling up and down the lane outside my home, while my mother kept a protective eye out the window; long strolls by the river bank as we skipped stones across the surface of the water, taking care not to let our parents know just how close to the river we were straying; evenings spent perched on the cemented park bench, whispering about our latest crushes.

But amid all those cherished memories, were the not-so-lovely ones. Of all the times when I was picked on and made to feel like the outsider, bullied mercilessly by kids at school and in my neighborhood, until one day I found the courage to stand up and fight back.

It takes tremendous courage to go from meek and submissive to strong and bold — or tremendous love. In my case, it was the latter. It wasn’t until someone tried to bully my little sister that my inner lioness woke up.

But being bullied can leave lasting scars — ranging from anxiety and depression to loss of confidence and self rejection, which can show up long into adulthood in numerous subtle ways.


Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

A few years ago, when I started to take my art practice more seriously, I knew I wanted to do “something more” with my art. I wasn’t sure what that “more” was. But as a first step, I decided to approach a professional artist I was acquainted with for a critique of my work and some mentorship advice.

I approached our meeting with equal parts excitement and dread — maybe a little more dread than excitement. I thought I was starting to develop a distinct style and I personally loved most of my paintings. I knew that any critique that was not delivered with sensitivity would probably puncture my burgeoning confidence in my art.

I didn’t realize it then, but one of the reasons why my self-confidence has always been a rather fragile thing stems from the bullying that I suffered as a child.

Luckily for me, not only was this artist empathic and skilled at mentoring upcoming creatives, she saw tremendous potential in my work, drawing comparisons between my paintings with those of Marc Chagall’s surrealist landscapes and Mark Rothko’s color field paintings.

After my initial disbelief followed by excitement settled down somewhat, I found myself in the grip of a terrible uncertainty: what if everything I had done so far was a fluke and I couldn’t paint like that anymore?

Needless to say, this complete lack of belief in my own abilities sent me into a creative block, but I had developed a strong-enough art practice to be able to pull myself out of the ditch that my brain gremlins had so cleverly dug for me.

This lack of self-belief — yet another fallout of childhood bullying.


“The stories we tell ourselves about what we are worthy or unworthy of — from the small luxuries of naps and watermelon to the grandest luxury of a passionate creative calling or a large and possible love — are the stories that shape our lives.”

BRAINPICKINGS.ORG

Sitting on my meditation cushion with my eyes closed, I followed the voice of my creativity coach as she led me into a meditation to meet my creative self. As is often the case with guided meditations like these, it can take a while until things suddenly start to click, and then the realizations come in fast and thick.

One of the biggest takeaways of going within to meet my inner creative self was how I had erroneously wrapped up my creative work with my self worth.

At the time, I was trying to sell my paintings {half-heartedly, if I am being honest} and I was frustrated with the lack of sales {because of course I rarely mentioned the fact that my paintings were, in fact, available for purchase}. I was convinced that I just didn’t understand marketing, that no one understood my art, and that I was a failure because I chose to drop out of the rat race at the 9 to 5 so I could focus on my art. I had nothing to show for my life — no fancy designation, no yearly promotions, no fancy holidays, and no fancy art career. I may as well have got a giant L for loser tattooed on my forehead.

Photo by Ismael Sanchez on Pexels.com

My meeting with my inner creative self shook up all of these negative stories and sent them flying out of the corners of my mind. I realized that I was approaching the idea of an art business from a place of begging for acceptance at the table. I wanted my art to prove my worth — not to anyone who mattered, but to all the people who had bullied me and never given me a place at the table. I wanted to prove that I was worthy of their respect. The funniest thing — I am {obviously} not in touch with any of the people who bullied me at school, nor do I consciously want their acceptance.

The other interesting thing — this meditation brought to mind the respect that I earned from my biggest tormentor on the day that I finally stood up to her. It was a stark reminder that I don’t need to prove myself or beg for acceptance, I need to just stand up for myself. In my own truth. And for now, that truth is that I paint more for myself than for anyone else. I paint for the love and joy of it and I share it because I love to share my art, and that is valid and that is enough.

In a culture that glorifies the hustle and the passion to profit narrative, being able to stand in this truth is a radical act of self-acceptance.

And as someone who has battled with issues of self-acceptance, self-confidence, and self-worth for most of the time that I have spent on this earth, being able to ease into this realization is, for me, a radical sign of healing and growth.


A note on being bullied

Merriam-Webster defines bullying as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger or more powerful.” Children are often bullied repeatedly by their classmates and peers, a cruelty that often leaves deep and long lasting scars on their delicate psyche.

A 2014 study released by researchers from the UK’s King’s College London found that the negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are evident up to 40 years later.

“The study examined data from the British National Child Development Study, which included information from all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during 1 week in 1958. In total, 7,771 children from that study – whose parents provided information on their child’s exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11 – were followed until the age of 50.

Similar to modern rates in both the UK and US, 28% of children in the study had been bullied occasionally, and 15% had been bullied frequently.

The researchers found that, at age 50, participants who had been bullied when they were children were more likely to be in poorer physical and psychological health and have worse cognitive functioning than people who had not been bullied.”

MEDICAL NEWS TODAY

The statistics for bullying in India are equally, if not more, alarming. According to a survey conducted by the Teacher Foundation, around 47% of school-going children in India between Classes 4 and 8 report that they have been bullied by their peers.

Being bullied is linked to social anxiety and low self-esteem, which more often than not lasts into adulthood. Inexplicable bouts of anger to a lifetime of feeling inferior to other people are another consequence of bullying. On the more serious end of the spectrum, depression, suicidal ideation and even suicide attempts could be linked to being bullied. And if you experienced severe bullying over a prolonged period, it could lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Luckily for me, I had a supportive and loving home environment, and I was, eventually, able to stand up to my aggressors assertively. I earned their respect and their grudging admiration. Despite that, I developed certain coping mechanisms and negative beliefs, but it took me years to uncover where they stemmed from and to therefore start countering and replacing them with better thoughts and choices.

One of the fall-outs that I have long struggled with is lack of self-love and self-kindness. This isn’t surprising, as the psychological impact of social or emotional bullying lasts much longer than physical bullying, and often maims the victim’s self-image. According to Dr. Mark Dombeck of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, “Bullying is an attempt to instill fear and self-loathing. Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual.

It takes awareness and work to get rid of the demon that takes up residence in your head, but it does, eventually, get easier to ignore it and many times, to banish it. In my case, writing, photography, and art helped me to develop trust in myself and to find the resilience I needed to deal with challenges.

This video goes into why we are unkind to ourselves and offers some suggestions on how we can develop self-kindness + you will find some additional resources below.

..

Resources to help you deal with the long-term consequences of bullying

Adult consequences of childhood bullying

Childhood bullying can cause lifelong psychological damage – here’s how to spot the signs and move on

The psychological effects of bullying on teens and kids

Long-term effects of bullying

What to do if your child is being bullied in school

As a parent, it is important for you to provide a safe and loving environment for your child, and to guide your children through tough situations so they are better able to stand up to bullies. It is also important to build an open line of communication with your children, so that they can tell you if they are being bullied.

Here are some resources that can be of help to you as a parent of a child who is being bullied, or to prevent your child from being bullied.

How to deal with bullies: a guide for parents

How to talk to your children about bullying

If you or your child have been bullied, please know that you are not alone, that healing is possible, and so is success.

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2 comments

  1. I’m sorry to hear that you were bullied, Shinjini. I shudder to think of what children who have no recourse to being heard and understood at home must go through.

    My own trauma is a little more confusing – while I know that I was loved, I realize now that there was a lot going on in our home that affected me adversely. At 56, I’m still coming to terms with some of it.

    But isn’t it great that we’re willing to look within and find a way out of the long-reaching effects of childhood trauma. For me, that is a victory in itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So do I, Corinne. Being bullied is traumatizing enough – add to that not being heard and understood by your parents and caregivers, and that makes things much worse.

      I think we all go through trauma as children – the important thing is to understand that and be willing to find a way out of it. And it is a victory to even be willing to look at that! Not everyone understands or even looks into it.

      Like

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