The year was 1983 and I was in the first grade. I was so excited for show-and-tell that day, and I let a few of my friends peak at my yellow fisher price recorder from my knapsack, (child of the 80s all the way!). Suzie wanted to see my item de jour. Show and tell wasn’t until after story time. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take it out. And I didn’t really want to share, so I said no.
Having witnessed this, Sara decided that what I had done was unkind. She got the other students in the class to join in a taunt, as they danced around my desk, “We all ha-ate Nancy! We all ha-ate Nancy”. The only other part of this memory that sticks out is this: I remember every few seconds lifting my head off the desk that I was sobbing uncontrollably at, and looking up to the teacher sitting at her desk, wondering why she wasn’t doing anything, why she wasn’t helping me.
Around 16 I relayed this story to my mother, and she told me that the school would often call home that year saying that I was crying and wanted to come home, that I didn’t want to be in school, (I have no memory of this). She said that the teacher assured my mother that this was natural behavior, and not to worry or be concerned. She sensed there was something more, but her concerns were dismissed.
A crushed spirit does awful things to a small child, and my once bubbly, extroverted-self became a shy, socially awkward, anxiety laden wallflower. To make matters worse, my shyness was often misinterpreted for being aloof or snobbery, which only served to intensify my difficulties in social situations.
Over the next 11 years of my schooling, I would continue to struggle socially. I desperately wanted to be accepted by my peers, to fit in. Sadly, more instances of teasing, tormenting, bullying and being left out (or being ostracized), followed in various classrooms, play grounds and on the school bus. I was teased for all kinds of things. My arm hair was too long. My eyes were too big. My front teeth stuck out. My clothes were out of style. My chest was flat. And the resounding questions I cried were, “Why me?” and “Why is this happening to me?” and over time, they became, “Maybe something really is wrong with me” and “Maybe I really am unlovable.”, and even “Nobody cares about me.”
I can’t even begin to tell you the depths of my self-esteem and self-image took in my early years, or the impact it would later have on my choices as a teenager and young adult. It wasn’t until my mid-20s, as a divorced single mother, freshly dumped by my first boyfriend post-divorce, that I was able to cast down the lies I had believed and regain a healthy sense of self.
My faith had everything to do with that.
And I rediscovered it when I started attending a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), group in the area. Through MOPS, in a setting where I was comfortable, pampered, accepted and loved, where I was at in my life; I found my faith in Jesus. I found Jesus in the speakers, the singers, the mentors, friends, books, small group leaders, and in the building itself. For the first time in my life, I had acquired self-worth, self-esteem, and self-respect. I now was able to set boundaries, my priorities were in line with my values. I had found a confidence I didn’t have before.
And I thought my years of bullying were behind me. I was wrong.
Defamation. Libel. Slander. Malice.
The definitions of these legal terms may sound scary, but more frightening is the damage done to individuals and companies from viscous personal attacks. What makes these acts so heinous is that most have them have precisely the intent to harm the victim’s reputation.
When it happens to teenagers we call it “Cyber Bullying”; and if a teen, tragically, takes their own life as a result of the emotional damage resulted from the bullying, news is made. Debates are fought. School board meetings are held. Parents and community members are outraged. And rightfully so.
But what happens when these acts happen to adults, from adults, and to moms, from other moms? Well, let me just say that you had better have a thick skin. I thought I did. I really thought I did. My first husband was abusive, and in every sense of the word. I was active duty enlisted Marine Corps for four years. I completed my business degree while working two part time jobs and going through a separation, divorce and remarriage. I thought I was tough.
Then the attacks began. They started as subtle leading comments here and there on my business page, and progressed to outright personal attacks and blatant lies pasted on various social media forums and groups. They followed me from one forum to another. It has been a tumultuous 10 months. The torment still goes on today in “secret” and closed Facebook groups though I’ve gotten much better at ignoring it. I sank very low into a deep depression, and though I was never suicidal, I was very near to that end of the spectrum at times.
October is national bullying prevention month. So what better time to highlight a few things we ought to remember:
- Words do hurt. Written words, spoken words, screen shots of words, emailed or tweeted words.
- Don’t be a bystander to bullying, boldly stick up for and defend the victim.
- Children’s spirits should be nurtured and protected, so please listen with empathy and validate their feelings. Trust your mama-bear instincts.
- The Internet spreads rumors like wildfire, please remember there is a person, a REAL LIVE person, on the other side of every screen, device or phone; so if you wouldn’t say it in front of your children, parents and PTA board, please, don’t say it online.
- As mothers, let’s strive to use our words to lift each other up, not tear each other down, thus setting a good example for our children to follow.