Dear adult who tells the kid getting bullied to “get over it” because bullying happens and that you turned out fine as an adult,
Stop telling them that.
Not all of us turned out “fine”. You can’t guarantee they will. In fact, most of us probably didn’t because we choose not to face our childhood trauma. We bury it and think that since we grew up and no longer have to deal with the relationships or situations that caused that trauma, we are fine. Just because you no longer have the situation in front of you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t continue to have a hold over your life. It manifests into other areas of our lives, and we go on existing for years. We go unaware that the cause of other issues emerging—the ones that no matter how hard we try to “heal” them but can’t—is a root we thought was already ripped out of our foundation. “Fixing” surface symptom after surface symptom after surface symptom won’t fix the root cause. The decay will still occur.
My root cause
The first time I discovered how cruel kids can be was elementary school. A boy would shout down the sidewalk as I walked by, “Hey everybody watch out for the semitruck”, then run off laughing. I can still feel the heat in my cheeks as they grew red from embarrassment. I learned to walk with my head down that day, afraid that every eye that met my gaze was judging me. This interaction told me I should be ashamed, that I was something too big to handle. I was a nuisance. At this moment, the seed of doubt of my value in other people’s lives was established.
Junior high. Everyone can pretty much acknowledge that these years of your childhood just plain suck. Going through growth spurts, menstruation, voice cracks, acne, graduation onto real bras from the training bra. The ugliness of puberty rears its nasty head. Hormones run wild. One moment you are calm and collected, the next moment you just want to punch someone in the face. It was also the years that gave power to that seed of doubt in my life.
Every day when I walked into orchestra, another student would make low rumble sounds and move his arms around, pointing at me, pretending to be an elephant. The anxiety started to boil within me every day that I had to step foot into the orchestra room, something that caused an even bigger struggle with the one class I was most passionate about. He’d make constant comments about my weight and snicker at me every chance he got. Call me fat. Call me ugly. Make judgmental comments about my lunches.
The moment of pubescent years where the hormones start developing and my attraction to guys started to emerge, in the same beautiful years when I should have started to develop desire and naturally be drawn to others, I shut it down. I didn’t allow myself to feel that. Because, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, in the moments of his echoing laughs, I deemed myself undesirable. Even though I didn’t see him again after junior high, the lack of self-love stayed evident in my life.
I didn’t realize just how much it had infested other areas.
How this manifested in my adult years
It created a very troubled view on relationships, men, and sex.
I don’t know how to date. I don’t know how to be casual. I don’t know how to communicate well and voice to others what I want and need (emotionally or physically). I’m either nonexistent if I don’t feel a connection or I’m “too much” as a result of feeling the need to hold onto that connection. I don’t know how to let go of past hurt without it affecting other connections I have with new people. In the end, most of the time I end up forcing something too quickly because I can’t trust something to happen naturally.
I’ve had friendships end and potential romantic relationships fizzle out because I was incapable of communication and processing. Even though I had started to discover what it was to love myself and celebrate myself, the fear of being undesirable still ruled. There was still a part of me that believes I don’t deserve it. Friendships and relationships are not sustainable when you don’t see yourself as a positive contributor to it. And that’s how I saw myself.
I am constantly telling people it has always been difficult for me to be drawn to someone enough to be physical with them. I find them attractive, but I’m not attracted to them. My sexual desire and drive have never been a primary initiator in my life when it comes to human connection. I shrug it off nonchalantly and assume that that’s just how I am, an explanation I provide so I don’t have to examine what the true cause is: I shut that part of myself down years ago. As a result, there have been very few times in my life that I’ve felt drawn enough to someone to want to be physical with them.
In fact, there have only been two.
Guy #1: Was the first guy to express that interest in me. He was the first that made me feel desired and wanted. But he chose to take a break from me to focus on his career. That “break” wasn’t really a break though but an end.
Guy#2: I slept with out of fear and insecurity (something I didn’t realize until later on). Fear and insecurity that if I didn’t sleep with him in that moment, he wouldn’t want to spend time with me again. Turns out, he chose not to allow me into his life and he decided not to see me again anyway.
In both cases, I regressed back to the mentality that I was undesirable as a person. I internalized everything. Questioning what was wrong with me, why they didn’t want me, why they didn’t find me desirable, questioned why this rejection in my life was happening again. I believed that if they didn’t want me physically, no one would want to know and understand any of me. I want emotional intimacy, but searching for that in a foundation of the physical will only leave me constantly searching.
They weren’t the problem, though. They were just two ripples in the pattern I couldn’t seem to break. It’s not that they didn’t find me desirable. It’s that I didn’t consider myself desirable. The instigator goes back to my childhood. It goes back to those moments my bully spewed the cruel words at me. It goes back to the moment I deemed myself undesirable in the middle of the orchestra classroom. I deemed myself undesirable first because I had no one telling me otherwise.
At 13 years old, I set the precedent for how I reacted and responded in adulthood. If my bully considered me less of a person, treated me with cruelty instead of kindness, made me feel undesirable, then that’s how all men must see me. I had created a very broken perception of human connection that seeped into my adult relationships. As a result, for years I have sought out my identity and affirmation from men, hoping one would actually see me as someone worthy of getting to know. I created a skewed image of men in my life: they were supposed to “save” me, but at the same time, they were the reason I struggled with desire the most. My interactions in my childhood left me clinging to misguided ideas that if someone would just find me physically desirable, it would make up for the words the boys made me believe about myself. But that’s not the case. In this past year, I’ve had more men tell me than ever before:
“You’re so hot”
“You could get any guy you want.”
“I bet you have 100 guys lined up to take you out on a date”
It came from men trying to impress me online and from the men that I actually wanted to take me out on a date instead of just telling me that. And yet, the words still remained empty, unbelievable, insincere. I struggled with being drawn. I was “too picky” “too close minded”…too apathetic. I couldn’t trust the words being spoken to me because I didn’t believe those words about myself.
If you don’t believe you yourself are desirable–and not just physically, but as a human to build a relationship with–your spirit and body won’t be open to desire someone else. I closed myself off to desiring other people. If you aren’t open to desiring someone else, whether that is an emotional or physical connection, you will always end up feeling unfulfilled in any relationship, allowing toxicity to trickle in, seeing the pattern continue in what feels like history played on repeat, instead of discovering the beauty of what it is to thrive in a healthy relationship. You must love yourself first.
My lack of acknowledging my childhood years has muddled a few other areas of life: how I view and interact with authority and former employers, how I viewed my connection and relationship to food, how I approach social interactions. But it all comes down to how I percieve everything in relationship to myself. It’s taken me awhile (and still learning) that it’s ok to celebrate myself. Find yourself first then, hold onto that relationship and the others will fall into place.
Don’t tell them to get over it. Help them thrive instead.
So again, adult who keeps telling the kid to “get over it”. Or “Toughen up” Stop. Not everyone is responsive to “tough love”. Let them have a voice. Let them feel their emotion. Give them compassion. Give them an ear to listen. Give them reminders of who they are. Give them truths to tell themselves instead of the lies another voice gives them. Show them the positive of their character instead of giving excuses for the other kid’s behavior or justifying the negative traits of the bully. Telling something negative about the other person will not help them see their positive traits within themselves. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the comment “If he’s picking on you, he has insecurities of his own and is taking it out on you.” Yes, they might have struggles of their own, but don’t fuel that assumption. Don’t breath life into an excuse for someone’s actions because you don’t know what the other person is thinking or going through. That comment, if anything, made me feel weaker instead of stronger. Give them the strength, the drive, the desire to thrive not just survive in those years. As a kid, I could escape for a few hours when I left school. Forget his comments, forget my pain. Kid’s can’t do that anymore. They are reminded every minute of the day with social media and technology. It isn’t fair to them for us as the adult to not show them empathy. They see us as safe. As someone to trust. Don’t let them question that. Show them how to own their power instead of giving the power to their bully. Remind them that the only person’s opinion, the only thoughts that should matter are the ones they think of themselves. Teach them radical self-love, how to be kind to themselves, and how to celebrate themselves instead.