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The Good Life: The lasting effects of bullying
September 04, 2013 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
When I entered Junior High at Gering, like everyone else, I was excited but nervous. Itís a scary experience to be thrown into a pool of the unknown with a lot of strangers. Right off the bat, I had a challenge with bullying. It was the first week of school and gym class had just finished, we were all in the locker room getting dressed. I was about to leave the area when several girls surrounded me. I didnít know any of them.

One girl who stood in the middle of the circle confronted me. She said, ďI heard you called me a bitch!Ē and then paused for my answer. I was terrified. All of the girls looked scary and I didnít know what to do. I said, ďI didnít call you anything, I donít even know who you are.Ē That was a bad idea. This girl, I found out later, was named Lori. Her response was to slap me hard across the face and scream at me to stop lying. I started to cry. They all laughed and ridiculed me. Lori threatened Iíd better stop talking about her or there would be worse, sheíd sick her brother on me.

I didnít know what to do, so I went to the physical education teacher, Miss Greenwoodís office and told her what happened.

The next day, Lori and friends circled me again. This time they called me a narc. I didnít even know what that word meant at the time. Part of being an only child is you learn the tattletale lesson later than others. Lori slapped me again, this time more than once during the incident. I learned to stop talking in these sessions because anything I said resulted in getting slapped.

I did tell Miss Greenwood again because I couldnít believe it was wrong to do so, and I figured being a narc was better than getting slapped every day. I kept hoping it would stop but it didnít. Lori and friends only got cleverer.

The next day when I went to change back into my street clothes, I found my pants in the sink full of water. Miss Greenwood was kind, dried the pants for me and talked to me with compassion and concern but didnít seem able to find a solution.

That night at the dinner table, I told my parents again what had happened. They didnít have any helpful advice either. But something I said about the brother prompted my dad to ask more questions. As it turned out Loriís father worked on my dadís crew.

The next day, armed with this information, I waited for the inevitable slapfest. When it came, I was cocky and told Lori that she might want to lay off me. The change in me confused her. I asked her if she knew where her dad worked, and when she did not, I told her. I also told her that if she touched me again, maybe her dad wouldnít have a job anymore. Lori didnít believe me, and I just calmly told her to go home and ask her dad about where he worked.

Lori never bothered me again, nor did her friends; however, when I updated my parents that night over dinner about the incident, I got in trouble for what I had said. I didnít understand at the time why my parents couldnít see that I had solved the problem. But it didnít matter, my dad sternly told me that in no way would her dadís job have been affected, and made me promise never to say something like that again.

As an adult, I understand his perspective clearly but as a young person getting slapped every day in gym class I couldnít understand why none of the adults could put a stop to what was happening to me. I felt the only thing I could do was use the information about Loriís dadís job to stop it.

Later, in high school, my momís way of teaching me to respond to verbal badgering from other girls at school was to advise me to keep my chin up and ignore it. I know she meant well but later in life I came to understand how this advice was not very helpful.

It was years later, in fact, that I realized this. I went out with friends one night and one of the people who had been verbally abusive to me in high school was sitting in the group. There are no longer hurt feelings between us; however, it took time for us to work through the residual feelings. After socializing for awhile, this person told me and everyone at the table that I was pretty cool, and seemed surprised. When I asked her why she was so surprised, she went on to say that I had been a ďplastic bitch in high school.Ē I was shocked and blurted, well; "you were a loud-mouthed bitch in high school.Ē We were both shocked but ended up laughing it off. To be honest, I was embarrassed.

Over time, we had more opportunity to chat about what had happened in high school. As it turned out, my motherís advice to keep my chin up and ignore verbal taunts had left others with an impression that I thought I was better than they, which was far from the case. I had developed a protective device that shut others out whenever I was in what felt like a threatening environment. This realization was a powerful one for me.

Bullying experiences change a person. How can one be unchanged after having a locker door slammed hard on oneís neck? How does one remain themselves after being followed home from school, having your clothes ripped and getting your face punched, ending with a fat lip? What do you do after girls corner you in the bathroom stall and shove Jell-O squares into your ears and mouth and nose?

Yes, these incidents and more all happened to me. And when these experiences keep happening to a young person, it causes them to see the world differently as a result. It forces them to look at themselves and wonder why they are a target. In my case, my mom told me it was because of jealousy. Perhaps some of it was, but I have learned since then that most of what feels personal to us, isnít about us at all.

Most of the ways people respond to us are really about how that person feels inside at that given moment. It might be about what they experienced at home before going to school or work, or perhaps they get treated harshly at home and have no other outlet to release that pain but to pick on someone else.

Remember last week when I told you about Christina Baker in sixth grade and how I became her bully after being bullied myself? My picking on Christina had little if nothing to do with her. The truth is, I felt like a victim at recess, and when I got a taste of approval and acceptance from the other kids when we picked on Christina together, I went with it. I took my own feelings out on Christina. It was never about her at all. And this is what is insidious about bullying. Bullying turns one against oneself in the search for why. It can cause violent thoughts, violent behavior, sadness, misery and emotional pain that doesnít end when the blood is wiped off and the tears are dried.

Iím betting that a large part of our problem with adult depression in this country stems from childhood bullying. I know that adult bullies walking among us are people who were bullied as children themselves. This is why bullying needs to be treated seriously when it happens, not swept under the rug or ignored and forgotten.

Bullying has lasting effects on children, who then grow up with those effects manifesting in adulthood. They have children and the cycle continues.

I donít have ill feelings toward any of these girls who tormented me back then. I will never know what caused them to behave the way they did. I pray that they have found peace by now and like me, have managed to create a life of joy and blessings.

It isnít easy to process those experiences and heal from them but it can be done. We need to do more to heal the cause of bullying so that someday, we can look back fifty years and say, isnít it odd that we ever had a problem with that?
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