Imagine being the age of 7 or 8 at school, a boy approximately 11 years old (and in your mind looks like a man) appears, looks you in the eyes and threaten to beat you up for no reason. You know his name is Jack, you know he’s an older boy but you’ve never crossed paths… ever.
There is a moment when you’re confronted where you get to decide how you are going to respond. I was silent, sacred and stood there staring at him, fearing if his threat was real, wondering if he was serious. That’s the anxious part, the uncertainty of it. I stood there powerless with no response, just a submission to what might be. Luckily, his friend persuaded him to leave me alone. He did. The feeling of that experience didn’t leave me alone.
That experience wasn’t the final time I’d encounter a bully at school.
Getting teased regularly throughout my schooling was normal. It didn’t end when I got to intermediate or even college. I experienced it time and time again. I’ve been bullied and teased for being skinny, small, for the colour of my skin and for my religious beliefs. Throughout those years I dealt with it physically through sport but didn’t deal with it emotionally because I didn’t know how.
One of hardest things about these experience is feeling powerless, because you believe that someone who appears as a threat has taken that power away from you. It can cause internal anger to grow within and you feel angry because you don’t know what to do or feel confident enough to do something about it. This stems from the imagination of what might happen if you speak up. This leads to low self-esteem and belief over time.
You see, your brain will do any to avoid pain, that’s how it protects you from potential danger. The power of your imagination can create scenarios that haven’t existed yet. Injecting intense emotions into it form a reality that can seem real even though there is no real evidence to support it. Standing up for yourself can mean pain, so your amygdala will send signals that doing something about it is too risky. The problem is staying as you are is risky as well.
I decided sometime in my journey to never show fear despite the fear I felt inside. I turned to heroic characters in movies and sport who overcame tremendous odds as a reference to give me the courage to believe I can be just like them… brave.
I remember, one day when I was 13, I walked out of class with my friends and out of nowhere a senior college student grabbed me and pinned me against the wall posing to beat me up. Remembering that decided to never show my “enemy” fear, I looked him straight in the eyes and stood my ground and my eyes said “I’m ready when you are” gave me enough of an advantage to see him change his mind. I wasn’t trying to act tough or invite conflict. I was trying to communicate that I don’t feel threatened by you so your tactics will not work.
What I learnt from that experience is that bullies look for individuals they think are weak and want to feel powerful by taking away someone else’s power. However, they themselves are also victims of having their own power taken from them and in order for them to feel powerful, they follow the same pattern they received… take away from someone to feel powerful. They are individuals who haven’t felt loved and their behaviour to feel loved is counterintuitive to how one can give and receive love. Essentially they’re in pain.
You don’t have to fear anyone when you realise they don’t feel loved and are looking for a way to fulfil that need. Having the courage to be brave however you define it grows each time you act. Look fear in the eyes and stand your ground.
Note: This was written for Pink Shirt Day. To learn more visit www.pinkshirtday.co.nz