The Hurt Soul (A Personal Story)

This story was sent to me by Will and, at least for me, touches on many areas that I feel are the long-term effects of bullying. Will’s honest and straightforward story speaks of the damage to the internal psyche that I feel affects us as bullying continues in our early lives. It can and in many cases does take away a belief in self and creates anxiety and anger. It even makes you believe that you don’t deserve to have good friends or be happy, as you will read below. And for some reason, this may be the most damaging part of early bullying. ~Alan Eisenberg

The Hurt Soul

It was physical education class. All forty of us third-graders sat on the basketball gym floor and obediently waited for our next instructions. Silence. I yelled with all my strength, “Stop making fun of everything I do!” My booming voice shattered the stillness and ricocheted off the walls. More silence. The lesson resumed as if nothing had happened.

I was reacting to verbal abuse, the unremitting oppression that I faced nearly every day from the first grade through the tenth grade. Kids relentlessly imitated me, taunted me, and picked me apart using a massive arsenal of petty behaviors and attributes: my remarks and comments, how I said them, how I looked, how I moved. They even made fun of my name. There was nothing unusual about my name, but to them, I was so obviously bizarre that no explanation was ever necessary. In fact, just identifying me often sated them. Uncomfortable topics were another favorite stock of weapons. The tormenters fired generalized obscenities and adolescent discomforts to make me squirm, and then years later, ridiculed my resultant lasting aversion to dating, relationships, and sexuality.

The bullies also flaunted their ability to steal my belongings. For example, in the eighth grade, one kid who had discovered my locker combination called, “Hey, Will! 23-37-5!” whenever we had an audience. The numeric key corresponded to my locker door’s built-in security mechanism, so I had to convince the middle school administration to change my locker assignment. Also, for a few weeks in the tenth grade, two peers regularly stole my backpack during class. They did not stop until I began to lock it to my desk. As for high school lockers, I was one of the only three padlock users in a building of seven hundred students.

At home, I endured my older brother. He seldom hurt me physically, but he roughhoused to dominate. In fact, my earliest memory is an episode when he pinned me under a blanket as I tried to escape. In addition to manhandling, he tirelessly looked for opportunities to criticize. He played a never-ending soundtrack of “No, Will. What’s wrong with you?” and “Watch where you’re going.” I hated him as much as I hated myself. He backed off when I matched his size and strength, but I still think of him with mixed feelings.

My experiences left me anxious, defensive, angry, self-loathing, and ashamed from the age of six. By then, I was convinced that I deserved the abuse. Something was wrong with me. Why else would so many different kids pick on me so often? Acceptance, encouragement, warmth, support, and respect made me feel confused, nervous, embarrassed, unprepared, and unworthy. Being in a healthy situation felt like wearing mud-soaked jeans at a wedding.

I chose destructive friends. They snatched my food from the lunch table whenever my gaze or alertness faltered. If I walked away for a minute, they hid it. They played this game almost daily for four years. I was their only target. Also, nothing seemed to excite them more than a chance to humiliate me. The instant I said or did something stupid or embarrassing, they rushed to broadcast their news as far and as loudly as possible. They obsessed over my mistakes long after the jokes grew old, sometimes for years. Still, they were my friends. I tolerated them, and I even fueled their fun with intentional blunders. I finally cut them out of my life in college.

Yet, my childhood was not as difficult as many. It was stable. My parents were alive, happily married, and financially secure. No one assaulted me. No one at school even touched me. No single incident was egregious. I survived. My cohort was just part of the background noise that distracted me from my refuge of schoolwork. I plugged my ears and earned enough affection and respect from my teachers and parents to manage.

Real pain came after the kindest girl I knew interrupted my isolation. She approached me during my junior year of high school, and we shared a relationship for over a year and a half. I liked her, but my romance aversion and my lack of trust kept me secretly miserable. Also, my involvement contradicted my ostensible asceticism and attracted the prying attention of peers, teachers, and parents. A month before graduation, I finally left her. However, for the next three years, I resented her because she instantly moved on to other men while my anxiety and my reclusive patterns imprisoned me. It hurts to watch others form deep connections and to feel incapable of ever doing the same. It makes me want to die.

Later, I sought talk therapy and anti-anxiety medication. Treatment is a long and uncertain process, but I am improving. I want to be happy. My former significant other taught me that some people can be enjoyable and fulfilling, a message that my wonderful college friends confirmed.

Thank you for letting me share.

~Will L.

6 thoughts on “The Hurt Soul (A Personal Story)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Hurt Soul (A Personal Story) « Bullying Stories: This story was sent to me by Will and, at least for me, tou... --

  2. I am so sorry you endured so many years of isolation and misery. I wonder how your parents missed seeing your pain.
    I’m grateful that it sounds like you have friends in college, maybe some relief from the way you were living. Your story is powerful.

  3. Thank you for the kind words, sr.

    I indeed have genuine and supportive friends in college. I still feel anxious and aloof, but I am growing closer to a couple of them. Relief takes time. I wish we had more of it before we scatter at graduation this spring. I feel as though I wasted most of undergrad, by far the best social setting I expect to have.

    Your comment about my parents is important and perceptive.

    My father was seldom home during my childhood. He would leave for work at 5 or 6 AM and return at 11 PM or midnight. While home, he mostly read and slept. And he was so laconic and unemotional that it was hard to bond, even when I had the opportunity. He acted as a kind and distant uncle until I began to communicate with both parents equally after high school. The distance was a shame. I could have used an adult as wise, unshakable, and forgiving as he.

    My mother was present and loving. She had the normal, healthy, obsessive instinct to clothe me, feed me, take me to school on time, and tune into my superficial wants and moods.

    But somehow, she failed to connect with me at a deep enough level. I approached her about my bullying problems early on, but I later resigned to my desire for punishment and my observation that she did not understand what I was trying say. Now, she guesses that she did not expect a small child to talk about issues as profound as mine. She also fumbled with nonverbal signs. When she and other parents saw times when I chose to play by myself instead of with other kids, they thought that I was just temporarily upset. When my first grade teacher alerted my mother to an episode of frustration in which I repeatedly banged my head against an auditorium stage, they put me in a supplemental special education program for the next seven years. The goal was to provide a mellow sanctuary, but I had no idea what to do with it. Incidentally, this was before bullying awareness became a pedagogical fad.

    Somehow, she also failed to fully protect me from my brother. This issue still makes her feel terrible. When I most recently expressed residual anger towards him, she broke down.

    I think that the manifestations of my pain were scary and hurtful to her, and remain so. Sometimes I feel as though she was too afraid and fragile to engage with my problems enough to help.

    I will never understand her role in my struggle. It is too difficult for her to explore with me. But I am lucky to have her as an ally, even though she will always be a mystery.

  4. Will something about your mother really reminded me of mine. Today years after I have told her some of the things that went wrong and how I felt unsupported and she told me that she never thought that I child could feel so deeply, she just thought it was normal growing up pangs and that I would forget it within a few days, but I never forgot and it haunts me even now. I have and still suffer verbal bullying, right now struggling at work with assertiveness, so much so that in my mind all of these people are just different versions of my school mates. I try hard to be objective, but the stories still stay and I work at not feeling breathless about going to work. Its created a lifetime inability to deal with authorities.

    • cheesychic30,

      I apologize that I did not see your post earlier. I expected an email notification from the website.

      I am sorry to hear that you are struggling with the damage of verbal abuse and that your mother misunderstood and trivialized you. With such rotten luck in the past, it is so hard to expect any better from people now. I have found that it is a mistake to seek understanding in certain people, my parents included. But there are people who make healthy attachments, and if we find them and weaken unhealthy connections, I have hope that some of our destructive patterns will change over the years.

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