Life isn’t always what we expect. As the survivor of domestic abuse; emotional and physical, I learned from an early age it was going to be a “bumpy ride.” Many of us have experienced at some time in our lives, playing both victim and/or the instigator in abusive behavior. How can we not be affected and shaped by it in one way or another? As a victim, it can take years of healing to overcome the effects of being teased, belittled and pointed out as the oddball no one wants to be associated with. As an abuser, the payoff is being at the top of the pyramid, working to knock down the next in line vying for the spot at the top. Abusers are the leaders of a pack, teaching others that the way to the top is by clawing, fighting and intimidation. In turn, they set an example to those below, who learn and practice the same behavior. This chain reaction is what I refer to as The Bully Effect.
We all want to feel loved, validated, blend in, and enjoy ourselves with the wonderful experiences life has to offer. When someone is hurt, however, by the abusive behavior of others, it is life changing. What I know now, that I didn’t know then, was that the bullies in a position of power, were also abused and coping as best as they could to deal with their own pain and broken hearts. They behaved the only way they were conditioned to behave, by lashing out and overpowering others, the way others, had done to them.
It’s easier to hurt others when you are hurting inside. The real work is acknowledging the painful choices, taking ownership and doing the work necessary to change and heal. People would rather remain clueless; (or worse, pretend to be clueless) not taking responsibility for making bad choices and perpetuating The Bully Effect. Then, there are those movers and shakers, with Darth Vader-like blinding ambition and energized superegos, who in their forward momentum, clear out their own path plowing over anything or anyone who threatens to veer them off course, or prohibit them from achieving their goals.
The media is focused on bullying in the schools, because of the alarming rate of teen suicides. I have so much compassion for these kids. When you are abused and disrespected in your home you think it’s normal. When children experience caregivers abusing and bullying, those children learn that behavior is accepted and even encouraged. My family identified that as “tough love,” “survival of the fittest,” and encouraged us to “take it like a ‘Spartan’”.
The Bully Effect was rampant in our home. School and church were my escape. As a child, I looked forward to beaming out of the gloom and doom room to participate in school and church events. Learning new information, interacting with others kept me focused, but most of all, I enjoyed being of service and helping others. I found folks that seemed grateful and appreciative of me. We weren’t praised or complimented at home. It was reinforced daily how incompetent, unattractive, and lazy I was. One abuser even tried to convince me that the love I had for my parents wasn’t real; that I was faking it! How does a child respond to that without contamination?
We were a family of souls all starving for approval and validation, young and old. My siblings and I, each trying to figure out who we were in this Greek “family tribe” and what we had to do to survive as well as contribute without getting our booties whipped yet again and beaten down for the gallant efforts we WERE making in trying to please people who just wouldn’t allow us to do so, because they didn’t know how to please themselves.
We were bullied every day in our home. The adults bullied each other, with the men at the top of the pyramid that bullied others, in and out of the home. The women enabled the bullying from the men and also bullied each other as well as the children. In turn, the kids bullied each other according to pecking order, who found it just as easy to take their anger out and bully kids at school. The Bully Effect was now in full swing from elder to offspring.
Junior High and High School was another game changer. Teenage hormones were raging right and left, and the parents were in full blown midlife crisis as well. The years of abuse was taking a toll and had reached maximum capacity. Everyone was ripe and ready to explode at the smallest gust of wind.
As much as I tried to adopt and blend in outside the home, growing up in a strict, sheltered family Greek Orthodox family, still made me stand out from the others. I carried my own weird Mediterranean food to school, was from a European family with different beliefs and dressed differently. Plus, we moved every few years. Making and keeping friends under those conditions was a challenge. We moved so much because my dad couldn’t speak fluent English. He was raised in Greece. Our US home land was the foreign country to him. He had difficulty fitting in and getting along with others.
As a result, I spent many a day hiding in the girl’s bathroom at school during those middle and high school years. I didn’t want to be seen without a friend or group of friends to hang out with. I didn’t want people looking at me because I hadn’t developed physically like the other girls my age had, which my grandmother was more than happy to point out. I wasn’t allowed to wear make up; I carried a lunchbox and wore clothes other kids made fun of.
One day a kid in class put a tack on my chair in hopes that I would sit on it. I was unique and usually sat down, hands first on my chair. The tack didn’t go full force into my bottom side, like the culprit hoped it would. Instead, it became lodged deep in the palm of my hand; so deep, it hurt more when I tried to pull it out. I left that tack in my hand all day, until after school when I got on the bus to go home and asked my brother to pull it out. He laughed at me. He thought it was some kind of magic trick. When he finally realized, from the tears in my eyes, it wasn’t a trick, he couldn’t believe I was so shy, so scared of the repercussions, that I wouldn’t seek help. He was the only person I trusted to help me with my dilemma (even though he made fun of me). That was one of many examples of how the Bully Effect impacted me.
The abuse in our home continued to escalate until it reached critical mass. My siblings and I had become teenagers dealing with new survival issues. The game, however, was about to change, yet again. My parents were divorcing, the abusive grandmother had been booted out, given a one way ticket back to the old country and the teens were getting thrown out of the nest, one by one. I went from being a completely sheltered kid, living in a world at the bottom of the bully chain of command, to freedom from the abusers. I was now free to figure out how to navigate a little more safely through my life.
Bullying begins in the home. When parents are abusive, they teach that behavior to their children, who in turn do the same to others (The Bully Effect). However, that’s not always the case. I‘ve met families that are very loving, respectful and honor each other, yet their children, because of entitlement and whatever others reasons, internalize their own pain by behaving cruel and abusive to others … usually under cloak and dagger.
I have learned, in order to find the path to healing from the Bully Effect, I had to learn how to be more plugged in to myself, my children, my neighbors and my community. I now look for the signs in others, and am better equipped to spot abusers of adults, children and animals. I’m not talking about acting as a spy on my neighbors I’m talking about embracing a more loving life; one where I respect and deeply care for myself and others, as well as the environment that provides us food and shelter.
It begins first, with giving ourselves a “zap” of loving energy, then zapping everyone else we interact with of loving energy, especially our enemies. I call this, The Love Touch. It is my belief, that by education, practicing love, forgiveness and open communication, in our homes, we can then share and extend this to others. This is a path that will help guide us out of contaminating situations, and can assist and inspire us to continue to evolve becoming happier people, making better choices.
I encourage everyone that reads this, to join me in doing our part to plug in to each other, be conscious of helping and lifting ourselves and each other; not trample and destroy one another. The way to a new world, begins by creating a home life we all feel safe in; with love, respect and honor. Then we are in a better place to continue to expand that reality in our schools, communities, cities and the planet in whole.
I welcome your comments and invite everyone else that feels inspired, to do the same. Stand up to bullying; make a conscious effort to create a safe loving home and encourage others to follow suit, with the intent of creating a world tribe of respect, honor and service. It begins in the home.
I posted a public service announcement on YouTube in an effort to affect change (link below). Please feel free to spread the word by joining a support group standing up against bullying, or form your own in your community. Join the movement and do your part to help bring on a positive change.