Life is a series of lessons. What’s important is what we learn. Good things teach us but so do the bad times. Often, however, we learn the wrong lessons.
I did not enjoy school terribly much. I enjoyed the learning. I enjoyed reading and singing. I liked doing well. But I did not like feeling wrong and insufficient. I did not like being anxious. I did not like feeling desperate for approval.
Most of all, I didn’t like being bullied.
I have a long history of being the victim of bullies. Part of it has to do with fear. I very rarely stood my ground. I caved over and over, let myself get attacked, belittled, and hurt. I even went so far as to suck up to my tormentors, evidence of a twisted hope that maybe if I ingratiated and prostrated myself enough, they’d like me or at least back off.
It rarely worked and if it did, I hated that too. I hated how servile and sycophantic I was, being nice to people who abused me and cared nothing for me other than as an ego-stroker.
I learned some lessons for the protracted abuse. I learned not to trust people. To keep mostly to myself, and to definitely keep my inner self private. I learned to create a wall between myself and the rest of the world in order to be safe.
It works, it keeps you safe but it also keeps you alone and lonely. You’re alone even when you’re with others because you dare not risk opening up too much or being authentic. You’re afraid of repeating history, afraid of the people around turning on you and attacking.
You cannot change the past, however. I might wish I’d had a childhood free from bullying and abuse, but that was not my reality.
I’m reading The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Deborah Ford. She writes about learning to look at yourself and seeing everything, the good qualities and bad. Because, of course, we all have moments where we act badly, where we embody arrogance, or intolerance, or cruelty, or judgement or any one of an infinite number of negative qualities. Luckily, we have an infinite number of positive qualities to balance them. But we have to own all of ourselves if we are to grow and develop into our potential as a whole human being.
She suggests looking at the hard, difficult, damaging, and guilt-inducing times in our lives and figuring out what lessons they taught us. We cannot change what was but we can change how we react to it.
It’s an interesting exercise.
I thought about the bullying. At times it was really bad. It was change schools, hide at home, stop answering the phone, think about killing yourself, so glad we didn’t have social media bad. It hurts and makes me angry to think about it still. I developed very thick walls as a consequence. But is “people can hurt you very badly and people are often mean” the only lesson I took away?
I am a kind person. Part of it is nature but part of it is a choice. I try to speak kindly. I try to treat people – all people – well. Okay, I’m not as good on social media – sometimes I lose my temper. But I try. I’m even kind towards insects. I’m compassionate. I understand other people’s hurts and if I don’t, I listen and strive to “get it”. I’m patient, a lot of the time. I understand that time changes things and that life is, above all, impermanent.
I wonder, however, if I would have these qualities if I hadn’t experience prolonged bouts of unkindness, harshness, cruelty, and impatience? I suspect not. The act of thinking that, of thinking about past events lightened me up somewhat. The act of owning my history helps as well. I am not to blame but my choices are my responsibility. I didn’t stand up or fight back. I was afraid and anxious and hid. Things might have been different if I had made different choices; I didn’t.
My history is not what I might have wished for but it brought me gifts and qualities that I might not have otherwise have or choose to exercise.
That’s the lesson I needed to learn. That even the harsh, ugly experiences and personal truths have and can help us to grow, if we pay attention to them in the right way.
What hard experiences have brought with them unexpected gifts?