So yesterday was a therapy session for me, admittedly one of the events each week that I look forward to the most, next to seeing my kids. When your therapist is such a lifeline for you and you live with anxiety in your life, the safe haven of a session is priceless. I instantly feel a self of relief when I walk into her office, but I digress…
One of the things we talked about, was when I was bullied in late elementary school and into middle school, the mental scars took a toll on my self-esteem then and they still linger today.
Your brain is still developing in those years, of course, and the things you learn and experience stick with you in ways you can’t possibly realize at the time. Positive and negative. The negative experiences can be extremely hard to overcome, the older you get. Trying to rewire my brain from the constant negative attacks it took during those years; I’m finding is unbelievably tough.
In my case as a kid, I had opposite forces influencing me through all of my adolescent years. And as an impressionable boy, I was more worried about acceptance by my peers than my parents. I knew they were supposed to love me, support me, encourage me, and all that. It was the classmates I saw every day that I strived to please, to be like, to idolize in some cases.
One side I had my parents, who fortunately for me were very supportive, encouraging, and gave all of their time to me that I could ask for. My dad always called me “champ”, and took me on walks and hikes, or bike riding, or playing down by the river. My mom always made sure dinner was made each night, lunch was packed for school, helped me homework, etc.
Sounds like I shouldn’t have any complaints right? No issues? I’m lucky to have that growing up, so like what’s the deal then?
Well that’s true, I was fortunate like that, but on the other side I had a brutal existence within the confines of the school walls to deal with 5 days a week. The cool kids calling fat, ugly, stupid, dumb, everything from, I talk funny to my haircut is lame. Having retainers for years didn’t help my case either. If that wasn’t enough, I had a learning disability that required me to go to the special classroom several times a week to treat my lack of ability to abstract think. I can remember trying to sneak out of class early so nobody would see me walk out to the dreaded classroom trailer. It was the equivalent of the LIU vans, if you can relate to that. Add in the usual books getting knocked out of my hand, locker messed with between classes, tripped in the hallway, I’m sure you get the picture. This was my life from about 5th grade through 9th grade.
I would often come home from school stressed, angry, or sad, begging my parents to not make me go back to school the next day. I would threaten to run away, to just not go, you name it, if I could rationalize it in my head as an excuse to not go back, I tried it. This was a private school too, where things are supposed to be different. Trust me, private schools are just as bad, if not worse in some ways. Kids think they have something to prove at the expense of the less popular.
That constant tug of war had me so confused, I didn’t know what to believe. That carries over today as an adult, all those decades later. It’s hard to believe for some maybe. Why would an adult, after all that time has passed, still be affected by the trauma of being bullied? That’s what I asked myself, but as I’m finding out, old wounds and scars don’t always heal the way we think they should. When it comes to self-esteem, I have none, and that’s no joke. Even though nobody is knocking books out of my hand today, or tripping me in the hallways, the inner battle to believe a compliment that someone gives me, to see the good things about me, and just generally feel good about who I am is a very real struggle.