Being bullied doesn’t make you a victim. And yet, standing up for yourself can easily make you a “bitch.”
I’ve been bullied my whole life by a variety of people. In grade school, I was made fun of for my eccentric clothes (it was really just well put together outfits), the fact that I was a teacher’s pet (straight As), and the fact I had no friends. I had no friends because everyone was a bully! Why would I want to hang out with people who made fun of me?
I was called names and harassed on MySpace (oh how old I am!). Anonymous people wrote on my board that I was ugly, a whore, stupid, annoying, and the list goes on…
I got messages on AIM (throwback!) every day telling me basically the same things.
In school, people laughed and whispered about me in the next aisle over, several going so far to complain when I was partnered with them by the teacher. It was an easy gig, honestly. I always did the work to perfection and got an A, so they had nothing to complain about. Of course, I always elected to do projects by myself when it was allowed because I knew the work would get done my way (the proper way), and I wouldn’t have to contend with anyone else.
A specific individual was my lead tormentor as they deleted my in-school projects not once but twice from school computers. Both times administrators were able to see that it was this person, but all they got was a slap on the wrist.
In gym class one day, a girl came up behind me and told me to “Go die.”
In the bathroom, a group of girls kicked on my stall door continually while laughing.
These are just the highlights and don’t come close to the daily struggles I had to face. I was treated like a pariah. It was unspoken gospel that Nicole is off limits. No one befriend her. No one help her. No one be nice to her.
The bottom line is this: everyone who made fun of me, alienated me, or did cruel things was jealous, insecure, and/or threatened by me. The same can be said for basically every bully in existence.
I knew who I was. I knew what I liked. I knew what I was good at. Truthfully, most people are followers. They follow others like a confused herd waiting for someone to point them in the right direction. It’s scary standing up for yourself and what you believe in when you’re the only one. Nobody wants to stand out, so it’s easier to look, talk, and act like everyone around you even if that’s not who you are.
It takes courage to truly be yourself, which none of these people had or probably have to this day.
I generally tried to brush off the hatred that emanated my way. It wasn’t just one group of people that treated me horribly–it was everyone. One clique would start in with me, and then they would give it a rest. As soon as they took a break, another group would come in. I kept to myself and focused on schoolwork. I had more in common with my teachers than fellow classmates, which further fostered my maturity.
I really want anyone who is being bullied or feels alone to know something: not having friends doesn’t make you weird or unlikeable or a loser. It makes you super cool. You don’t need people around you 24/7 to feel secure. I chose not to have anything to do with the people in my school because I knew I deserved better. I also tried not to victimize myself. Who needed friends when these people wouldn’t know a true friend if they hit them in the face?
It’s easy to think you’re worthless when everyone tells you that you are. My motto was I would rather have no friends than people who aren’t friends at all. My confidence, support system, and motivation to make something of myself carried me into college.
Bullies can’t possibly be outside of high school, right? Wrong.
Internship after internship I saw firsthand the undermining, jealousy, and backstabbing that takes place in the workplace.
One supervisor who shall remain nameless had me scheduled to work a book release party with celebrities. I had helped prep the party and was told to come early to set up in party attire, so I could work the door during the event. I showed up, did the prep, and was told right before the event started that I should go home. Here I was, all dressed up in heels, tights, and a dress and was prepared to stay (I had looked forward to this for weeks), yet I was “dismissed.” Letting me go early was intentional, cruel, and the mark of a bully. Needless to say, I ended that internship quickly.
Bullying takes all shapes and sizes. It can be your “friend” pressuring you to do something you don’t want to (like drink, smoke…), a co-worker making a snide remark about your outfit, or an employee in the supermarket talking down to your inquiry as to where the milk is.
In middle school, I got so fed up with this one girl in particular that I asked, “Where did you get your makeup, Home Depot?”
Ironically, I was the one reprimanded for that comment. When the vice principal brought everyone together, he told me, “They just want to be friends with you,” to which I said, “But you don’t treat friends like that.” The administration did absolutely nothing despite my complaints. I was left to fend for myself.
Around that same time, another group of girls made a rude comment to me. They were acting like animals so I asked, “Did you grow up in a barn?” One girl responded very seriously: “No, I grew up in a house.” Let’s take a minute to face palm.
Early on I saw that I was just on a higher level. I presented myself with class and finesse while this bunch didn’t even know what those things were. It’s okay to know you’re better than others. It doesn’t make you conceited or stuck up. It makes you honest. Don’t settle for anything below you and you’ll always find an equal.
Speaking up in school might get you in trouble, but that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat. And when you enter the real world, you have carte blanche to call people on the carpet.
As a kid, I was tired of hearing “it gets better” because when you’re in it, it seems like the whole world is cruel. The world does suck a bit once you’re an adult (and I’ll admit it’s hard to find genuine gems to call friends), but you do have the freedom to do new things, visit new places and meet new people. It can happen organically in college, at a new job, through a Meet-Up group, in a class, or on the street. Don’t box yourself in before you’re even legal to drink.
You always have a choice. You can choose to focus on yourself instead of the losers who feel so crappy about themselves they have nothing to do but pick you apart. I spent my time reading, writing, and educating myself on topics of interest.
I have to admit, the few kids I thought were nice ended up disappointing me by not doing anything. Being a bystander is just as bad as being a bully. The few that “befriended” me were just users. They wanted something and once they got it they were gone. I no longer participate in friendships that are “convenient.” And because I spoke up for myself when necessary, I was (and still am!) viewed as a bitch.
Life can seem a lot like high school, but you have the power to react. I wrote a bunch of emotionally charged poems in my book Personal Prose About People I Hate To Make Myself Feel Better to do just that. They might seem harsh, but it’s just my reaction to other people’s actions.
One of my college roommates said something to me which really stuck after I confessed I had been tormented in school: “Isn’t everyone?” And she was right. Everyone is bullied to some degree. That will never minimize the hurtfulness or trauma, but it doesn’t have to define you either.
Adults have the same antics as teenagers, most of them never grow up. Learn how to stand up for yourself early on and you can build that skill as you grow. That can mean calling someone out for a mean whisper, not giving bullies the satisfaction of seeing you upset (it’s not worth your tears but let them flow when you need to) or actively sending the message you won’t put up with their crap.
Don’t be surprised when they call you “mean” or “rude” for saying something. I’ve been called worse for standing my ground. Funny how when they’re terrible it’s okay but the second you defend yourself it’s like “Oh no she didn’t!” Let them balk, fume, and get flustered. They deserve a wake-up call.
Most importantly: you don’t need to justify yourself. You don’t need to prove yourself. The only person you answer to is you.
Also by Nicole: Opinion: #selfie Culture and The Perfect Woman
Get more like this–sign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!