I still feel like the sad kid no one will ever like.
March 14, 2009 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Why am I suddenly unable to stop obsessing about the childhood bullying that happened to me?

I am an adult woman who experienced serious bullying from my earliest memories all the way until I graduated high school. That one kid everyone felt free to make fun of because they were so weird/had no friends to defend them/just didn't fit? That was always me.

I thought I was over it. I even convinced myself it was an advantage. I always seek out the most ill at ease person in any social situation, am friendly but not overbearing and I empathize with a lot of different perspectives. Those are all good things.

Yet lately very specific memories are catching me off guard and even though I do my best not to dwell they tumble around my head anyway. It's like it was yesterday. There's no particular reason I can see why it's cropping up again but it's frequent and each time makes me feel like I've been punched in my gut. It didn't matter what school or what group, I was always at the bottom (with all the teasing, cruel pranks and occasional physical violence that suggests) and I keep wondering why. A deep part of me feels as if those kids were rejecting me from the herd for a good reason. Aside from my partner I don't have any close friends. I basically don't have a social life. It gets harder and harder for me just to talk to people. I feel marked somehow. I know this is irrational but that doesn't stop me from thinking it.

I am on antidepressants and have done therapy but I don't think the answers are there. I don't know where they are. If you've had the same feelings and recovered from them please tell me how. If you would rather not write here you can send something to anonmeta@gmail.com. I don't want to feel like this anymore.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'm dealing with something similar, and my psychologist has recommended a new approach, ACT, which does not involve analyzing the situation, because even if you know why, it doesn't change how you feel, and it's the feelings that are what you are dealing with. The approach I'm working through involves accepting the emotion. Much more information here and here. I am now doing things (socially) that I've been too scared to do for years, and more than surviving them. It's all about living a rich and fulfilling life and not letting fears and feelings control you any more. It's about doing what works, and recognises what hasn't worked so far (eg trying to control feelings, or analyze them).
posted by b33j at 3:53 PM on March 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

I've never seen this ACT stuff but I was on the way here to suggest emotional acceptance. That was trauma you didn't let yourself feel in an attempt to survive--now you have to feel it some.

Also something else now is likely bothering you that you don't want to think about.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:48 PM on March 14, 2009

That one kid everyone felt free to make fun of because they were so weird/had no friends to defend them/just didn't fit? That was always me.

That should read, That WAS me. Mentally, put those capital letters in megaboldface and 100 point font. Of course, reading it and believing it are entirely different things.

Start by accepting that bullying is about the bully not the bullied. Those kids picked on you because they were insecure or miserable or maybe they were just assholes. You aren't marked. You are also not a defenseless child/teen any longer. Don't continue to give them power by seeing yourself as damaged goods.

If nothing else, know that you are stronger and more empathetic for having had a tough childhood.
posted by 26.2 at 4:58 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

You have to stop letting those childhood bullies have control over you. My childhood and young adult experience was similar to yours and I spent a good portion of my 20s still feeling persecuted. As shallow as it sounds, the thing that finally helped me get over the bullying from my childhood was randomly encountering my childhood bullies in public situations as an adult and finally being able to see them as normal people with weaknesses. The girl who had tormented me from grade school from high school for being chubby and timid? I ended up behind her at the grocery store and she had gained a LOT of weight since high school. I saw a flash of recognition in her eyes when she noticed me, but she wouldn't look at me and kept her head down. She had become the the things she ridiculed me for. In another example, the rich, high school jock is now an unhappy 3x divorcee, resting on the laurels of his high school athletic career. I could go on and on. The point is, I really feel like cruel people who bully get their own justice some time down the line. Karma, baby.

Next, you have to start doing things that make yourself happy. Whether those things are with a crowd of people or by yourself, just do it. Socially, I think it's kind of assumed that if you aren't a super gregarious person who is the life of the party and has hundreds of close friends, that there is something wrong with you. This is wrong. Some of the things I got teased for as a kid and teen: being quiet, bookish, serious and smart, are things that have drawn my closest friends to me. I met these friends by doing things that I like to do (crafting, taking classes and going to shows).

One last thing that helped me overcome some crummy childhood bullshit was writing about it LOT. I've blogged about it, wrote short stories about it and written privately in my journal about it. All those pages helped me put some distance between the past and my current life. It also helped me desensitize a bit, which I needed.

Best of luck. You are not alone!
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:12 PM on March 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

I thought I was over it. I even convinced myself it was an advantage......I keep wondering why. A deep part of me feels as if those kids were rejecting me from the herd for a good reason. Aside from my partner I don't have any close friends. I basically don't have a social life. It gets harder and harder for me just to talk to people. I feel marked somehow. I know this is irrational but that doesn't stop me from thinking it.

Doesn't sound as if you are over it. As to why you are feeling more haunted by the experiences now than before I'm not a therapist or such but I could imagine that you may just have reached a point where you feel secure enough to face some of the pain you felt then. And it won't go away until you truly have acknowledged and accepted it. You may be able to do this without help but then again you may prefer help - only you can answer that one.

For what it's worth I was that kid too, having been bullied throughout my primary and secondary education, and I'm not sure I ever will be over it. You may or may not find this helpful but I have observed the following for myself:

- I will not suffer bullies now but this has only happened over the last 3 years or so - about 4.5 years ago I decided to share a house witha friend from university who ended up abusing her relative position of power (it was her house). At the same time I found that a little git at work (my junior) was also engaging in behaviour that can only be described as bullying. It took months for me to recognise both behaviours as bullying and a little longer to work out my exit strategy.

I was astonished, given the years of bullying I'd suffered as a child, that it could happen again and that it could take me so long to identify it for what it was. However this period was a turning point. Since then bullies have lived in fear of me because I will not tolerate them. For example I had my (then) line manager at work wilt in front of me when she realised that I was not prepared to be bullied.

- Whilst I will protect say my team from a bullying line manager I do not graviate to socially awkward people - I am friendly and encouraging when I do interact with them but I take the view that I had to sort myself out and so do they - harsh as that sounds.

- Until a couple of years ago I considered myself to be a very serious, no nonsense and reserved person. However somehow I have since started to feel free - not sure how else to discribe it - and it transpired that I am actually quite playful by nature. I love to have a laugh and to joke and tease people (in a nice way) and I am reasonably relaxed in most social situations/work. This seems to be largely due to 'practice' i.e. the more you interact with people the easier it is - I do find that social interaction is something I had to learn as an adult though because

- A childhood spent largely friendless/hidden away at home for fear of running into my bullies outside school has made me a habitual loner - I am content in my own company and find long periods of social interaction with people (weekends away with friends for instance) draining - I need plenty of time alone.

- That said I do have a circle of close friends - people whose company I cherish and whom I stay in touch with even if we find ourselves in different countries/continents. In addition I find myself very close to my cousins - we did not grow up together (in different countries) but we now live within 20miles of each other and we seem to enjoy each other's company enormously and spend a lot of time together - one of those rare instances where you find that your extended family are people you actually would choose to be friends with.

- But for all the above positives I find it difficult to believe that there is anybody who would actually want to be with me and as a result choose to be alone. To change this I would have to acknowledge and work through feelings that are so unpleasant that I do not feel the benefits of doing this would be worth the pain. Life is good and whilst it would be nice to share it with somebody I have also learned to be happy in my own company so there is no urgent need to change. That makes me sad (but not sad enough to change).
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:16 PM on March 14, 2009

I have had very similar experiences. You're not alone! I felt that I had post-traumatic stress flashbacks from the bullying that occurred throughout my teens, both from my father and a couple of nasty classmates. It sounds like you may be experiencing PTSD too.

My trigger was getting scapegoated by my SO's family. It may not matter what your triggers are or even if you know what they are, though.

I had several sessions of a simple, quick focusing exercise called EMDR. I was skeptical of it at first, but willing to try anything. The flashbacks faded eventually and are now no more than mildly unpleasant memories. I no longer feel any pain remembering my classmates' verbal abuse. With my father's, it's still painful but it doesn't intrude like it used to and I don't obsess over it.

I've also had counseling with a therapist who specialized in family issues, and it helped a great deal simply to have her empathize and understand, and to help me learn that my father did not treat me that way because I was born with something mysteriously wrong with me that no one would tell me about. You weren't, either!

I've read a lot of literature on bullying, and that also helped. I learned that bullies often prey on people they're jealous of, or those who are kind and gentle and trusting. The stuff I read said that people attract bullies not because they are defective humans, but because they're outstanding in some way.

Start here. It's a great site.
posted by xenophile at 5:20 PM on March 14, 2009

>Yet lately very specific memories are catching me off guard and even though I do my best not to dwell they tumble around my head anyway.

Whatever the stimulus, things are starting to bubble up from the subconscious. This may be a good time for some therapy, to begin to analyze them.
posted by yclipse at 5:22 PM on March 14, 2009

I just want to chime in and advise that you don't comfort yourself with the idea that karma will somehow repay those who bullied you. Contrary to the popular idea: "the jerks who teased me are all fat, unemployed losers now", I have met a few old bullies who were doing quite well in my time. What is key, is that you realize that you are giving a tremendous amount of power to those who bullied you, by allowing them to cause so much distress in your life now. I think alot of this stems from a lack of self confidence, which can come from many places, not just the bullies. As others suggested, speaking to others, whether it be a therapist or even just a loved one, will do wonders in helping you realize that you deserve to be happy and proud of who you are.
posted by scarello at 5:49 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this led you to develop a real gift for spotting the people who may feel uncomfortable in social situations and putting them at their ease. When you do this what do you think about them? Do you think it's their fault for being awkward and that they deserve to be picked on? My guess would be no. You're able to make them feel comfortable because you see them as humans who could do with an extra bit of friendliness, not as someone who "deserves" to be excluded. So can you start to extend that same compassion to yourself? Can you try to turn the conversations in your head to sound like what you would say to these people?

I spent all of my 20s feeling like I "deserved" to have not had a relationship work out yet, because there was "obviously" something about me that made me different than my peers who seemed to have an easier time forming long-term relationships. And even though I had an active-ish dating life, I still saw myself as that kid who didn't get asked out in middle school or high school, and felt like this must have been because of some obvious flaw in me.

It really hasn't been until the last few years when I've been hanging out with friends 5 and sometimes even 10 years younger than me who are struggling with these same feelings that I've been able to see that there is absolutely nothing wrong or different about them that distinguishes them from their peers who are in relationships. So... maybe this is true of me too?

And when I had that revalation it was seriously one of the most liberating moments in my life. I dearly hope you can come to feel the same.
posted by MsMolly at 6:00 PM on March 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Have you done the emotional work in therapy? I think there are a lot of therapists out there that focus on reducing current symptoms through problem solving and cognitive work. This can work for the immediate issues. But, for the painful stuff that goes way back, you need to do the work of really bringing up, embracing, feeling and acknowledging those painful feelings in a safe, supportive atmosphere. This requires telling your story, talking about the details and having someone validate you in this process. If you are interested, Emotion Focused Therapy, is the theory that I'm referencing. Theorists are Les Greenberg and Sue Johnson.

Another valuable reference (that probably won't heal the pain but may be validating at a more intellectual level) is the book Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco. I heard her last year on NPR and was extremely impressed with her knowledge about the issue.
posted by rglass at 6:31 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The thing that helped me a lot with having been the omega kid was finding out that my primary tormentor in grade school had ended up becoming one of the nurses who cared, compassionately and expertly, for my grandfather before he died.

In the process, my family and I found out that her mother had been absolutely horrendous to her, and her father had finally wised up, divorced the woman, and remarried. Her stepmother had shown her the compassion her mother never could, and she went on to demonstrate that compassion for others-- even my own family, after all the shit she'd done to me.

These people might well have hurt you because they were being hurt, badly, by the people they should have been able to trust for care and concern-- and in turn, they created situations where we the bullied couldn't turn to adults to help us, where we couldn't trust our own peers. Those situations change, though-- bullies can be brought to compassion, and we can learn to trust our peers again. It's a slow process and takes a supportive environment with the right kinds of people, though-- therapists who listen and show empathy, maybe, or good friends, or understanding partners who keep level heads and provide calm reassurance.

If this stuff is bothering you now, there may well be a fundamental lack of trust and/or compassion going on in your life that needs to be addressed, either professionally or by evaluating your own peer group and partnerships.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:40 PM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

My take: yes, bullying is about the bully. They feel the need to torment because they have some issue or another.

However, they choose their targets for a couple of reasons:

1- Target is easily manipulable.
2- Target is not apt to fight back.
3- Target seems physically and emotionally weak/insecure.

Now, do you change who you are because of bullies? No. But chances are, people who have these traits want to change them anyway. So learn to master your "weaknesses" and become happier.

One easy way to diffuse bullying is to change your frame of reference. Instead of being the target of the joke, or escalating somehow, make yourself "in" on the joke.
posted by gjc at 7:00 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

A deep part of me feels as if those kids were rejecting me from the herd for a good reason. Aside from my partner I don't have any close friends. I basically don't have a social life. It gets harder and harder for me just to talk to people. I feel marked somehow.

You're not marked, and it's not your fault anymore than it's the fault of someone in the path a torrnado. I'm really sorry you've had such bad luck with people, I don't know what else to say.
posted by nola at 8:10 PM on March 14, 2009

EMDR therapy is another therapy that might help you. It is still somewhat controversial whether it works or not, but it worked for me. But I recommend therapy even if you don't try something specific like that.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:06 PM on March 14, 2009

2nd EMDR for this sort of issue. There's also EFT, which is used in or out of therapy. It may look hokey, but there are more and more reports of success, particularly with a well trained practitioner.
posted by buzzv at 1:12 AM on March 15, 2009

Is there any way you could check up on these people/run across them?
There were kids who gave me no end of grief growing up. One of them is now 23 and living with his parents and no license due to DUI: The others are living in apartments with their junkie friends collecting tattoos and drinking a lot. I'm going to school in Austria.
Funny how it can turn out like that.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:38 AM on March 15, 2009

A friend of mine who does regular therapy and meditation and who has overcome huge family and life issues in those ways had a very visceral issue that still wasn't budging. She has been doing EMDR and it finally unlocked the issue enough that she could use the other tools she's developed for dealing with issues to have some of the breakthroughs she was looking for.
posted by salvia at 10:15 AM on March 15, 2009

Another thought: even if you were marked back then, you're a different person now. All the cells in your body replace themselves every seven years. Even my own sense of self seems to dramatically shift on 5-7 year time scales.
posted by salvia at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Love your life. Work on your goals, a little bit, every day. Make progress toward your dreams. Surround yourself with people you love. Learn how to light up a room with your presence. You can do it, darling. You're a good person, not a flawed outcast. You can be whatever you want to be, and do whatever you want to do.

Living well is the best revenge. It's not about how miserable the bullies are nowadays, though if the jerks got eaten by rhinoceri I'd shed no tears. Who gives a shit about their relative happiness? The most valuable, important thing in your life is your happiness, and you have complete control over who you are and how your life is lived. You deserve to be happy, and you have the power to make it happen.

Letting memories haunt you is "letting them win;" you never deserved the bullying, and you don't deserve the pain it's causing you now. You deserve a full, rich life that makes you happy. You really do. Convince yourself of that, and work a little bit every day to make it happen. Then, when painful memories hit like a kick in the gut, you can take comfort in the fact that you're not the sad kid no one will ever like, and you know it perfectly well even if you don't feel like it right now. You're not the same person any more, you've triumphed, you're living well.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, kid. You deserve better.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:56 AM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

« Older How can I tell a friend I am interested in...   |   CartographyFilter: Help me find a strange map Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.