“Why are you being mean to me?” A friend of mine’s first grade son marched up to the 4th grade bully ring leader and demanded an answer. He’d been bullied for days now.
“I don’t know your name,” she said.
He told her his name along with a reminder there was no need to call him mean names anymore. I listened as my friend shared her son’s recent experience with bullies. I remembered my own first grade experiences with bullies. My bullies were also in the fourth grade. They taunted me and pushed me around on the ½ mile walk home from school. (This was 30 years ago when kids walked on their own to and from the neighborhood school and the lack of adults was obvious.) I would run as fast as I could trying to get somewhere safe.
Several 4th grade boys caught me once in an entrance hall to a neighbor’s house; I hadn’t run fast enough. I couldn’t make them stop attacking me so I fought back. I went home that day with a bloodied lip and several chunks of hair missing. I was terrified to tell my mother what had happened, that, yet again, I had upset the precariously unstable balance of peace in the house.
My father’s fury was undeniable, it terrified me. He stormed back out of the house not bothering to put his coat on. When he returned an hour later he seemed less volatile. I don’t remember dinner that day, but I do remember being summoned by my father into the dining room. This was worse than being beaten by the bullies.
My father, reeking of diesel fumes and alcohol, ordered me to close my fist tight and punch him in the face. NO WAY! I won’t do it, it’s a trick. I froze in fear while my father yelled at me to hit him. I had seen what happened when someone started trouble with my father. He usually came home from the drunken bar brawls with no more than a few bruises, not always true for the other side. There was NO WAY I was going to raise a fist to that man.
The minutes passed; it was obvious I was not going to move. My father calmed, slurring a few words about how he was going to teach me to protect myself, to fight. He spent the next hour, longer than eternity to a scared seven year old, showing me how to punch, hit, scratch, kick—whatever I needed to do to protect myself. However poorly delivered, the message was…no one had the right to hurt me.
I learned to run faster, and fight back harder. Eventually my fighting skills sharpened and the bullies decided they would simply tease me.
Over the years, there always seemed to be a group of kids who found my presence so distasteful they spewed venomous words. Every recess, every lunch period was torture. I suffered in silence as not to spark my parents. I knew it was me, it had to be. I was reminded of this regularly at home.
If only I did better at ___________ (school, behaving, coloring in kindergarten) my father would not have ruined the ____________ (holiday, dinner, a party.) I was somehow broken, innately inadequate. My mere presence deserved to be punished.
Finally in 7th grade, the suffering overwhelmed me. The guilt of ruining my family’s life simply by my birth coupled with the incessant assault of classmates was more than I could bear. In a moment of utter desperation I begged God to let me cease to exist or to send me a solution. By turning my will and my life over the care of God I have been blessed by His mercy time and again.
I am no longer the insecure, fearful child who walked into people, walls, parked cars because I couldn’t lift my head up in case someone looked at me, saw my brokenness. I’ve since learned, God never wastes a hurt. Today, most of my difficult childhood experiences allow me to help someone in a similar situation, whether a mom with a child who is bullied or a dad trying to protect his daughter from the cutting words of a mother with eating disorders.
God is bringing me full circle and I am following His lead. What life experiences is God asking you to use? Will you follow His lead?
About Kate Powers: Published author, speaker and coach, Kate shares information, experience and useful tools to help women rethink their limiting beliefs, incorporate their values in all areas, reduce emotional baggage and move forward with confidence and knowing. Kate has been a passionate advocate for her clients for over 10 years and recently released her second book.