Why are some of us targeted by bullies and others of us not? This is one of the most common questions asked by victims of bullying. Why me? Based on research, there seem to be many answers to this question, including recent studies that may show there is physical reasons as well as emotional reasons. But overall, the sad part to me is when victims blame themselves for being the target. This personal story sent to me is a case of a person feeling like there is a pattern to their bullying treatment. ~Alan Eisenberg
I have been bullied my entire life and it didn’t stop with adulthood. When one is bullied, the common denominator begins with you. You must look to yourself to understand why you are a target. I was a target because I was overweight, unattractive, was poor, had terrible clothing, very bad acne, and I must have acted in a way that made me an easy target for bullies. Unfortunately, patterns developed over the years that carried into adulthood. These patterns began at home regarding treatment by my parents, especially my mother. My mother was a bully. I may have been lacking an attentive, loving mother and tried to overcompensate at home with childish actions and by overeating. I may have carried childish actions into the schoolroom. I may not have been taught manners and how to behave socially at home so that I was socially awkward at school even if I didn’t realize it or feel anxious about social situations.
Everyone’s story is more complicated than they may realize. The problem begins with them but they alone are not the reason for the problem.
The problems didn’t begin in school but at home. I was bullied at home by a domineering mother. She was overweight and unhappy and made sure I was just as miserable. She wasn’t the nicest woman. I was overfed then made fun of for overeating. I was ridiculed about what I wanted whether it was nice clothes, a certain toy, or what I wanted to be when I grew up. I grew up used to someone always yelling at me and not being allowed to defend myself. So, I developed a habit that became a part of me which I was unaware of and that was being quiet and seemingly backing down from those yelling at me or making fun of me. I couldn’t defend myself at home or at school. To speak up meant to be hit or yelled at which my mother could do with the loudest, booming voice one has ever heard.
We lacked funds for after school classes so I couldn’t join anything unless it was free such as band or choir in school. So, while everyone else was being active, I was sitting at home watching t.v. being bored and eating. I ate out of boredom but also for emotional reasons due to stress and the need for comfort. Home life was stressful and school was as well. So, I gained weight which made me even more unattractive. Good fitting clothes were hard to find. We lacked money which made finding good clothes for my size even more difficult. I was only 50lbs overweight in school but that’s a lot for a child, even for one in high school when the other girls are 100 lbs and you are 150.
All my life I thought I had friends only to have those friends disappear when the more attractive or interesting girls came along in Jr. High and High School. Somehow, to compensate, I began to try to get other’s attention. I found if I were silly, I was noticed. But unlike comedians who make a living out of being funny and honed their skills in school as the class clown, I apparently came across as the dumb blond and was treated as such. So, not only was I fat and unattractive, but now the dumb blond.
Lacking in friends meant lacking in social situations which meant I didn’t have the opportunities to develop the social graces. Because I was ignored and no one bothered to talk to me, I never learned how to talk to others. When I thought I had something to share, it would come out like a bolt and I would talk very fast which of course, added to the perception that I was an idiot who lacked the ability to socialize which made me even more alienated. There were times when I had someone to talk to, a friend in a class, but classes changed each semester so most of them would move on to other classes and I would never get much of a chance to see them again.
When you feel ignored and then suddenly someone pays attention to you, you get all giddy about it. Suddenly, you are very outgoing because someone has noticed you. So, you walk around with a smile on your face, are very effusive but this only contributes to everyone’s idea that you are a social, nervous wreck not to mention still the dumb blond who doesn’t fit in anywhere socially nor physically because you are overweight. You are still extremely awkward. When a boy was nice to me, I thought it was because he was interested in me. I would develop such strong crushes only to find he wasn’t interested, just being nice. I never realized the pattern until I was in my 30s. I would find myself as an adult, sleeping with guys just because they were nice to me but of course, for them it was only sex. I would wait around for them to call, dreaming about what a life we would have together, what we would do on dates, expecting that they would ask me out.
In high school, there were three girls who were my tormentors. Despite being the dumb blond, my grades were good enough that I was in some of the higher level honor classes with them in addition to school activities. They made fun of my ugly clothes, my bad skin, the way I walked, everything about my appearance. They made me so uneasy that I doubted my abilities. But it’s not that I doubted my abilities, it’s that I was self conscious about putting myself out there because they would nick pick and make fun of everything. I was always so anxious and therefore, more socially awkward. I learned to clam up and not let others see me do anything and I tried to keep quiet and to go unnoticed, all of which would backfire and provide them with more reasons to make fun of me. But sometimes I wouldn’t understand that they weren’t being nice. On occasion, someone would smile and come up to me to talk and I would smile and be overly friendly because I was relieved that we had a friendly interaction. I would think that this was a good thing. Only, it wasn’t because they were always up to something and I, in addition to making a fool of myself by being effusive, would allow myself to be set up for whatever mockery they had devised. Two of the girls weren’t all that attractive but were very thin and outgoing and smart. One girl was very attractive and I could have used her help but instead of helping, she preferred to hinder me even more by pointing out my flaws in comparison to hers. I realized years later that the girls in school, who survived being picked on, had a smart ass retort to the girls who would make fun of them. I wish I had done the same instead of clamming up. Keeping quiet makes the bullies think they have won and that they can get away with anything they do.
As an adult, I would put up with bad behavior from men and women friends because I thought that was how it was, that it was all I was going to get. I’ve had friends who would dump me for more interesting friends only to come back if those friends weren’t around, only to leave again when the next interesting person came around. People would walk all over me and I’d let them and even if I got angry with them I would take them back into my life. I’ve lived with roommates who were bullies, who would either yell at me or would be passive-aggressive about how they wanted things. They always treated me as if I was dumb, ugly, and worthless. People have made fun of my appearance and what I do and do not know. During college and post-college years, I lived with people who came from “normal” families which had money. So, the students had had experiences, travel, and had met people I could only read about in books. I still didn’t fit in for lack of money and rearing. I kept saying “I’ve read about that.” Being well read never helped me in social situations.
So, years later, I’m even more overweight. Why? Because there isn’t any difference between being teased at 150 lbs or at 200 lbs. If you are socially awkward as a child, you still are as an adult. If you lack social graces because you lacked social opportunities, you are still lacking those as an adult. If you shut down when yelled at as a child, you still do as an adult. If you are ignored and suddenly talked to as an adult, you still are overly friendly in return. If you are bullied based on your looks as a child, you will be as an adult. My “friends” hang out with other friends and talk to them and share with them but I’m on the fringe of the group and no one really shares with me. My family treats me as if I’m dumb even though I have a college degree. My father still jokes about past mistakes I made as a child and likes to question everything I do as if I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m still not trusted or believed-no one wants to really give me a change to do things, or lead things, or be in charge of things. No one trusts my judgment or knowledge. I’m still disregarded for my looks-weight, clothes, and skin. I’ve learned if I am quiet, I am well regarded. If I speak up to contribute with actual information based on research and facts (not just my opinion) I’m barely heard. If I want to voice my opinion, I have few opportunities. No one asks how I am or what I’ve been doing but they will others.
Some things have changed. I’ve had therapy and realized the part that my mother played and how I was reared have contributed to how I reacted in school and as an adult. I’ve discovered some patterns such as being too effusive, talking too fast, being too easy with men, and about how I never set limits on others or on myself.
But the most important thing I’ve learned is that bullies only understand being bullied. You have to bully a bully to get their attention and meet strength with strength. I’ve learned to stand my ground and to talk back when being yelled at; I’ve learned to threaten when threatened; I’ve learned that talking nicely to a bully doesn’t make them stop. You must stand up for yourself to stop bullies. A smart ass, well placed comment does the trick.
~Trying to Survive Adulthood