When I was a kid, my mom didn’t like my refusal to get my hair brushed, wear it in a ponytail, or to wear bows or barrettes; so when I was about 3 or 4, she had it chopped off. I had a “boy” haircut and began to wear only Nike clothes sometime around the age of 7. In order for people to know I was a girl, my mom used to make me wear earrings daily. Her ploy didn’t work.
From the age of 5 onwards, I have vivid memories of always being called a boy and being made fun of. When I started to dress like a tomboy, matters only became worse. I was bullied relentlessly.
Here is one common scenario of what I encountered at school at the age of 10: I walked into a girls’ bathroom during break with other girls from my classes. I wasn’t friends with any of them. I was minding my own business. They started calling me a boy and telling me to get out. Of course, this hurt my feelings because they knew exactly who I was. One of them proceeded to get a teacher who didn’t know me and told her there was a boy in the girls’ bathroom. This teacher came to the bathroom and yelled at me in front of the giggling crowd. I had to convince her I was a girl. She eventually left and everyone laughed at me.
Not only did I get made fun of because of my looks, but I was also made fun of because of my excessive talking and speech impairments. I was unable to pronounce the “R” and “L” sounds. You’d be surprised how many words have those letters together, including my maiden name. I once cried because I was unable to say the word “ruler.”
I gravitated towards the kids who didn’t make fun of me, even though they were few and far between. Only a couple of them were my friends outside of class.
I continued to middle school and high school with these same kids.
Even after I grew my hair out when I was 14, I still had a stigma around me; I just learned to try to ignore it. I learned to be extroverted and developed a strong, witty personality in order to shield myself. I created my own friend group (which was predominantly my basketball team). Although the bullying diminished in high school, the stigma against me was still there. That energy was present daily.
Being bullied throughout my formative years caused me to:
- Lose confidence in myself
- Be nervous to meet new people
- Avoid large groups of my peers
- Second guess and be afraid of people’s thoughts and opinions towards me
- Not trust my peers
- Realize that most people are followers and few are leaders
- See that the majority of people have a hard time being leaders because most are embarrassed to speak up
- Have negative self-talk and doubt my worth.
My confidence and self-esteem improved a little towards the end of high school and in college when I started to find my place in this world.
However, I feel the effects of bullying even today. I was bullied for many years but, I made a choice to rise above my inner conflict and to try to become the person I want to be.
I am so happy and proud of myself that I can say that being bullied no longer defines me.
Although I still have a negative voice inside me at times, some trust issues, and some confidence dips, I usually have the strength to push through them. I tell myself… I have made good friends along the way, have put my trust in G-d, and recognize my self-worth by knowing G-d put me in this world for a reason and He gave me the tools I need to help me accomplish my mission. I also recognize my accomplishments and my own value.
I like to say I trust until given a reason not to, but the truth is, I still have some trust issues. I also still second-guess myself and others a lot.
When a negative, self-doubting thought enters my mind, I accept that it is there, and then push it away. I remind myself that what is happening to me now is not what happened to me in the past.
Being bullied taught me a lot and there are many lessons I try to pass on to my own kids. Some of the things I reinforce with my kids are:
- Bucket filling: bullies try to make other people feel worse to make themselves feel better. They try to empty other people’s buckets in order to fill their own. This results in empty buckets and sad feelings for everyone. To make yourself feel better, you need to do things that make you feel good and thus, fill your own bucket. That includes surrounding yourself with people that make you feel good. When a bully says mean things, you can combat what he/she is saying with nice words. This will ultimately stop the bully from saying mean things because they won’t know how to combat your nice words. And you’ll fill their bucket, too.
- Being a friend to others: everyone wants to be a part of something greater than themselves and wants human connection.
- Not judging others: everyone wants to feel cared for and valued.
- Allowing my children to express themselves freely while giving them the confidence to be who they are: they should feel unconditional love from us, allowing them to unconditionally love themselves.
- Being accepting: we want them to love and appreciate everyone for who they are and where they are at in life.
- Being empathetic: everyone wants to feel heard and understood.
- Asking questions about others from a place of love: words that come from the heart enter the heart- this leads to an empathetic, accepting, and meaningful conversation.
- Defending others: we want our children to be able to stand up for what’s right and to help others when no one else will. This takes strength and confidence that we want our children to have.
- Talking about their feelings with someone they feel loved by, such as me and their father. And don’t stop going to someone for help until they feel heard: I always want my kids to feel heard, seen, and understood. I want them to learn to be their own best advocate and fight for themselves and their needs.
- Leading with serenity and not with anger: choosing to let anger control you will ultimately lead to further negative developments. Serenity can be a choice, and this leads to making better choices.
I talk to my children about bullies and remind them that bullies treat others badly because that is often how they have been treated. I try to teach them to have compassion for bullies and to recognize that some people attack others because they feel so low and terrible inside already. My kids don’t understand what I’m talking about right now since they are 6 and younger, but at least when they recognize a bully, they will hopefully understand how to approach the situation.
I hope my children realize that a bully’s words don’t matter and that everyone needs self-respect, love, and acceptance.
I try to empower my kids and teach them what really matters in life. What matters most is how you view yourself- and not how others see you. The people who matter will love you for you; and the only way they will get to know the real you is if you stick to what you believe in and act like yourself without trying to be someone you’re not.
I also tell my children that I was bullied.
I tell them this so they know it’s not something to be ashamed of. I also tell them this so that they know that they can always come to me or their father, or other trusted adults for help. Being bullied is not okay and as much as I want to empower my kids to solve their own problems, I also want them to know that they do not face troubles alone.
Sometimes I daydream about going to a class reunion and showing my classmates who I have become despite them (or maybe because of them). I am a strong, confident, empowered, beautiful woman who has an awesome family, co-directs a Chabad house, and owns my own physical therapy practice. And I only wear skirts and dresses now since I became a Hasidic Jew. They’ll laugh at that one. I was bullied- but I was not defeated in any way.
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