As Winter break comes to a close and those who are in school return to classes and cliques, I think it’s important to discuss the effects of an insidious phenomenon: bullying. We are raised to believe bullying is an unavoidable part of growing up. Bullies have always existed and always will exist; problem is, that is a self-created reality. We create bullies, and we choose to be bullies. It’s possible to choose otherwise.
In kids’ movies it’s easy to identify the bully as a villain. Afterall, that’s how kids view bullies. As adults, however, we recognize that a bully is a kid in pain; a kid who is probably emulating behavior he sees at home. It’s on us to stop acting racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, petty, and just plain mean. Until we do, the children and teens in our lives will pick up those behaviors and bring them to school with them. This essay by a young woman named Jasminder outlines in painful clarity the lifelong effects bullying can have on a person–but it also demonstrates the resilience and power that survivors can use to heal.
If you know a bully, are a bully, or have ever been bullied, this story is for you.
Jasminder is a self-declared philosopher, crafter, college student, and full-time dream-chaser. When not tripping down the rabbit hole, she can be found sipping herbal tea, dancing around her bedroom, and finding new ways to love her life.
How I Recovered From Bullying
Trauma recovery isn’t the first thing you’d put on your Instagram page. There are no flower crown filters, colorful frappuccinos, or ootd’s. It’s a lot more of ugly crying, journal entries that you will NEVER let anyone else read, hitting your head against a mental wall, and curling up in the fetal position. At least that’s what it was for me. I can’t speak for anyone else but I like to think of myself as living proof that it does get better—I promise.
I can count on one hand the number of days I actually wanted to live when I was deep in the throes of things. Now, I choose my life everyday because there’s nothing more I could ask for. It was a very long road coming here, but I hope by telling my story I can help at least one person through their pain. That’s the only thing I would change if I could turn back the clock to when I was hurting. I would have reached out to those who cared about me instead of pushing them away. Now I can only wonder what could have been.
Childhood Bullying Took Seed Early
So how did I reach this point? Let me start from the beginning. As a kid, I wasn’t exactly popular with other students. They were on Tamagotchis (obligatory accidental age-reveal) and I had my head buried in Harry Potter. Luna was and still is my favorite character because she isn’t afraid to be herself. Go figure! Then there was the fact that I was brown, I had lots of Indian hair on my arms, I listened to my parents, and whatever else it was about me that threatened the bullies’ self-esteem. I never bothered asking them what motivated them to bully me in literally every form that existed at the time.
I could cherry-pick plenty of traumatizing memories from the top of my head but I’ll only go over a couple. You know how kids are always making fun of cooties right? It’s not as fun when every single student you come across runs in the other direction or rubs their shirt if they ever happen to even brush against you for an instant. I felt so dirty I didn’t want to lay a hand on my skin for several years after that.
What made me change my mind? Once I left that school, I realized that other students didn’t fear their own skin. They could scratch their back in class and not feel the urge to immediately rub a table to scrub off some invisible dirt ingrained in their very being. I wanted to be like that too, so I slowly challenged the belief burned into my flesh. It started off as a finger on my knuckle then another and another until I grew comfortable enough. Then I moved onto a hand on my leg and eventually my collarbone. Over time I realized that nothing bad was happening when I touched my skin. That meant I was no more dirty than anyone else and I could feel at home in my body again.
The Motivation To Heal Can Come From Surprising Sources
Then there was the time that three boys turned my name into a sexual innuendo. What did the teacher tell me when I complained to her?
“Boys will be boys.”
I had to deal with them for the whole year and one of them followed me into middle school. Is it any wonder that I didn’t want to use my real first name for years after that? I started using a shortened version; a whiter version that nobody could make fun of. Sure it didn’t feel genuine or good, but it got at least some students off my back.
I did that for so long that I stopped questioning my choice until the first day of my second year of high school. My geometry teacher asked me my preferred name and I told him I had none. He told me I should live to be true to myself and that made me question everything. I hadn’t been bullied in years at that point and—sure I was scarred—but I had to wonder what it would feel like to truly be myself for once. So I told him to use my real first name. I followed through with every other teacher I had afterwards.
I don’t know if there’s really a lesson to be learned here, but I think it’s important to remember that even the unlikeliest of people can change you forever. There really wasn’t anything stopping me from using my real name, I just never thought to do so because I had become complacent. The key to recovery is refusing to let anything go untouched. You have to turn over every rock no matter how small that rock may seem because it could have an entire pond underneath that you never knew about.
How To Heal From Traumatic Bullying
How do you go about treading those waters? Get a journal. Write down your maladaptive thoughts so there’s NO denying them. Think inside the box and label your problems. Trust me: they seem way more solvable when they have a definite size and effect area.
For a long time, I ignored my demons because I thought they were too powerful for me to ever face. I constructed a fantasy in my head so I wouldn’t notice I was falling apart at the seams, but it didn’t really work. I became so emotionally numb I felt like I was watching my life like a movie and I had no idea how to cope with any emotions — let alone the ones I silenced — when I had to stop living in a dream.
Re-learning how to deal with happiness, sadness, and other emotions while you’re in the thick of puberty is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. I went off on my parents a lot, my relationships with my friends were tense and toxic on both sides, and I truly felt I was losing all control of myself. I don’t know exactly how I pulled through that but I distinctly remember there was a shred of me that wanted to live. Maybe it was because I was a young idealistic kid, but I legitimately felt that there had to be more to life than my pain. It was just an inkling of an idea and I held onto it tighter than anything else. The thought that I could be truly happy, in love with myself and my life, and far away from any monsters under my bed intoxicated me. Even though on the surface I wasn’t forming any plans to live past 15. Recovery can be contradictory like that.
Hope Kept Me Going
That dream of better times was really what motivated me to make the effort. I kept pushing myself to make friends I could count on and challenge my unhealthy coping mechanisms because a shred of me believed me that I would go somewhere and that was enough. I had hope and a healthy dose of skepticism, and I don’t think anything else could substitute for that.
Of course, there were days I lost faith and it felt like I was taking steps backward instead of forward. I used to get really down on myself when that happened, but eventually I realized they were an inevitable part of the process. The reason you keep hearing people say recovery isn’t linear is because it isn’t. What I thought was my highest point developed into self-harm, and I had to see a counselor to finally stop the urge.
I strongly encourage you all to get professional help if you ever feel like something is too much for you to handle. These people have studied for years so they could help people like you. They will listen, they will care, and they will do their best. Some aren’t as good as others — I’ve had experiences with lackluster therapists for sure — but nothing else compares to a great therapist. It will be scary stepping into that office for the first time; my English teacher had to walk me over because I ran away at the last moment! (Take a buddy with you, hint hint.) Make sure the therapist’s values align with yours and that they’re not putting words in your mouth. They should make you feel validated and understood, and never be afraid to walk out if they’re not doing anything beneficial for you.
Writing Out Your Feelings Helps A Lot
On top of that, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get a journal or Google Docs or anything to write down your feelings and maladaptive cognitions, behaviors, etc. Physical evidence of what’s going on with you is crucial because you CAN’T deny or ignore it. Suddenly, your habit of digging your nails into your arm after a failure seems way more real. Once it’s a real problem, naturally there has to be a real solution.
When I wanted to stop self-harming, I kept my nails clipped so that it was physically impossible or at least difficult enough to make me think twice. I tried drawing on my arm instead since I love making art and it was another way to hold myself accountable. I couldn’t have come to those conclusions if I didn’t acknowledge exactly what I was doing.
Another thing I highly recommend is getting an accountability buddy. Find someone in your life whose opinion you care about and you trust and tell them what you plan to do. More points if you’re socially awkward like me and don’t know how to tell people “actually no I didn’t do ______” so you do it even if you don’t want to because disappointing people is anxiety-provoking. Make your weaknesses into your strengths, seriously!
I hope this post has been at least slightly helpful in some way. I’m not an authority on the subject and am going completely off my own experience, but maybe that’s more convincing in a way. I’ve been on both sides and I have no reason to lie about what I was going through. This piece is as healing for me as it hopefully is for you.