Perhaps the worst thing about bullying is not necessarily the things someone has said or done to us, but rather the long-term impact which such actions have on the rest of our lives. As an individual who has experienced many moments of bullying and humiliation throughout my childhood and early to mid-teens (as well as saying and doing things to others which I’m not proud of) such moments have inevitably shaped my personality as well as my overall confidence which I have in myself and around others.
I feel like I’ve wanted to write a post such as this one, because the more I’ve matured as an individual throughout these past few years, the more I’ve realised how my overall behaviour, identity and ultimately the way I tended to perceive certain things was often the result of past bullying. Therefore, in this post I wanted to write about some common thinking traps that we generally fall into as a result of being bullied, the way in which such thinking traps can adversely affect our identity and overall confidence in ourselves, and ultimately the steps we can take to effectively move on from the past and live in the present.
1. Lack of confidence in ourselves and around others – the is ‘there something wrong with me’ feeling!!
Arguably the most detrimental impact which bullying has on us as individuals, is the way it adversely affects our overall confidence in ourselves and in the decisions, we make. The more we experience abuse from others verbally, physically or online (which has unfortunately become very prominent these days) the greater we tend to perceive that there is something inherently wrong with us as individuals. In my early years of high-school, I remember being constantly humiliated in my front of my peers, having my stationery damaged and violated, and having people I barely knew call me names such as ‘Robbie the retard’ and telling me that ‘no one likes you (me)’. Because of this I would often feel, and to a significantly lesser extent still feel as an adult, that there was something inherently ‘wrong’ with me as an individual.
Accordingly, this led to me experiencing periods of loneliness and depression. As I would often feel reluctant to introduce myself to new people and make new friends, join sport clubs, apply for part-time jobs etc . Because I felt that through doing these things, this would only reinforce the notion that something was wrong with me and I would continue to experience bullying as a result. Not only did I lack confidence in myself and around others, I would also lack confidence in the decisions I would make. Once I started to become more outgoing and make new friends, I would often find myself becoming stressed and apologetic to people for the most quasi issues: IE: Meeting a friend 5 minutes later (than originally arranged), forgetting to bring the right pair of shoes to a soccer game etc… in the hope that I would not create any conflict or let anyone down.
In an attempt to change all of this, my behaviour became more obnoxious and arrogant. I would find myself constantly trying hard to ‘fit in’ and lying to people about all sorts of stuff (hobbies, grades, friends etc) in the hope that the new identity I would create in people minds, would be drastically different to the one that I was bullied for in the past. Ultimately, such a strategy was ineffective and did more harm than good to my self-esteem and led to me being more conscious of myself; as I no longer genuinely knew what my strengths were and what made me a likeable person.
I think the best thing we can do to overcome the lack of confidence we have in ourselves as a result of bullying; is to really take care and develop ourselves as individuals on a physical and mental level. It’s through doing this that we get rid of the negative ‘labels’ which people have imposed on us, alleviate any sense of self-pity we have in ourselves, and move on to become more mature and confident individuals. For me personally, I found it easier to take care of myself physically through exercising, playing sport and eating well, than taking care of myself mentally. Because even after years of not encountering any form of bullying, I still questioned whether there was something wrong with me and whether the names people had called me as a child and early adolescent reflected who I was as an adult. Ultimately, the strategy I found that helped me the most in tarnishing these negative labels which bullying imposed on me as a person, was to build evidence against these labels. I started to look at how far I had come over the past few years, examined my achievements, looked back at all the amazing friendships I had established. It was through doing this that I no longer felt like an individual who was an ‘outcast’ and different from everyone else, but rather a resilient and confident person who could achieve any goal that I set my mind to.
The final thing that has helped me in increasing my overall self-esteem is to find hobbies and activities that give me a sense of identity and belonging; whether that be sport, volunteering, music etc. This has probably been the most effective self-help advice I have ever come across, yet through doing this I have found that my confidence in who I am as an individual has ultimately increased. Since the end of 2018, I have been volunteering in my community legal center. Not only has this allowed me to work with and make friends with like-minded individuals with similar interests and hobbies as myself, but it also gives me a sense of belonging as I have a rewarding opportunity to listen to and potentially assist individuals who have been disadvantaged or marginalized. Through doing such work, I have noticed that a lot of the doubts I have had in myself as a person have disappeared, and I have found it easier to treat everyone like a human being and display empathy , as well as genuinely interact with any person I meet in my life.
2. Overanalysing every situation, expecting the worst and constantly stressing about what people think of us.
I think the other way in which bullying tends to affect the way in which we think, is that we generally tend to overanalyse every situation and become increasingly self-conscious of ourselves.
Personally, I have noticed that I could constantly stress over the most minor and petty things I had done and then jump to irrational conclusion of what people though of me. For instance, if I have felt that I have said something that I perceive as ‘stupid’ in front of my peers I could stress for days and think ‘oh no, everyone thinks I’m crazy now’. Or if I had written a text message to a friend that I had found to be a bit awkward or poorly constructed I could think to myself ‘oh no they must think I’m a moron, no one is going to want to be friends with me now’. I would replay the things I had said or done a thousand times in my head, or constantly read over back and forth any texts or emails which I had written, and even go as far as ask people if they thought I was ‘crazy’ or ‘weird’ ; in the hope that they would reassure me and tell me that I wasn’t any of these things that I thought I was.
Accordingly, overthinking generally tends to only exacerbate our anxiety, because we go from thinking things such as ‘does everything think we’re crazy/stupid/weird etc.’ to questioning whether we are ‘crazy/weird/ stupid etc…’ to finally reaching a conclusion that we are indeed ‘weird’ or ‘stupid’ … Therefore, leading to a seeming endless amount of negative thinking.
I think the best way to really overcome such negative thinking and to really become less self-conscious of ourselves as individuals, is to realise that the spotlight is not always going to be on us. Our friends and everyone else who we interact with on a constant basis, all have their own busy lives and are not constantly thinking about the things we have said or done continuously.
However, if we are still feeling self-conscious and anxious over something, the next best thing we really can do is to examine whether there is evidence to suggest that people genuinely believe we’re ‘x’ or ‘y’. If there is evidence (IE: Someone telling us that what we have done might have been out of line), the most effective thing we can do is to address the issue with those around us, acknowledge our mistakes , apologise and move on.
However, if we deem the thoughts that we are experiencing to really be irrational and intrusive, the most effective thing to do is to just acknowledge that what we are thinking is really just plain ‘bullshit’ and not allow ourselves to allocate any time or any energy to these thoughts.
I hope everyone has enjoyed reading this post. This has probably been one of the most difficult posts I have had to write, but by writing this I hope that some of my readers who have encountered bullying in their childhood or adult life can relate to this post. And even potentially find it useful in moving forward with their own lives. It has been really sobering to write this post because it has allowed me to reflect on the past, observe how it has shaped me as an individual in the present, and what I can do to develop myself moving forward.
As always thank you for reading, I would be more than happy in hearing about your experiences in moving on from bullying !!!!!!