Bullying in Childhood Stays With Us

Childhood bullying takes many forms. We tend to think and talk of it as a phenomenon that happens in schools; which is of course often true, but not always. Bullying frequently occurs in families, and is enacted by older, stronger, or more able-bodied siblings, cousins, and even older adult family members that include aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents. Growing older, we often tell ourselves that it was “kid stuff,” that we outgrew. Forgive and forget, right? Except when we do neither, but tell ourselves we’ve done both.

Peering back down the long road we’ve travelled since that season of our life, we tend to shudder and attempt to slam the door shut on those memories. Yet, the door doesn’t close all the way, flying open at inopportune moments.  In those instances, we vividly recall not only the incident(s), but the awful sensations that accompanied it and how helpless we felt in that moment. We never like to revisit the things from our past that make us shudder. So why go there?

It’s a legitimate question. After all, nobody wants to revisit a painful past. Why would a distant memory of being bullied matter to us today?

Well, what happened in the past doesn’t really stay in the past. From that first time each of us learned what it means to be Other, something transformed in us.  In our remarkable knack for human survival, we began to learn a set of characteristics to keep us safe from future hurt. We learned to confront or avoid as a way to keep moving through life.

As we grew older, our strategies for continuing to act these basic fight or flight instincts grew more elaborate, our awareness of how to avoid rejection and humiliation more keen. In doing so, we may have well learned a method for keeping people who would harm us at bay. An unfortunate by product of operating from these same strategies, though, is that we often push away the people we care most about at bay, and we restrict new opportunities for growth. We fear new ventures because the doubt from our childhood remains instilled. Our fear of failure is so prevalent that we keep ourselves from soaring; often sabotaging ourselves before we even take flight.

Questions to consider:

  1. Have I kept myself from soaring, reaching, and creating because of fear that was difficult to explain or pinpoint?
  2. Did I ever settle for less because I didn’t believe I could do better or be more?
  3. At my most doubtful, whose voice do I hear telling me I can’t do, be, or achieve? 
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