Words matter: how bullying shaped my writing

Bullying: a theme I’ve had thrown at me a lot recently. It’s not a subject that sits comfortably with me. It yanks at my heart and I’ll explain why a little further down. But it’s important that we talk about bullying, whether in real life or through fiction. Mainly because there are many people who have never experienced bullying, who don’t understand the gravity of it, and because, more now than ever through the internet, people (not just kids) will be at the mercy of bullies.

First things first, you NEED to watch this (it gets more amazing, past 1.20). Bullied or not. This powerful piece of poetry reminds us that bullying isn’t all fisty-cuffs, bullying is about how people use their WORDS and ACTIONS to make somebody feel worthless, and you may not even realise you’re doing it.
I don’t find bullying easy to talk about, because often the bully is a victim too. I didn’t fit in brilliantly at school, but I had a handful of friends to eat lunch with. I had the odd-piece of abuse thrown at me. Bullies have brilliant timing in seeing when you’re at your weakest.
But the reason I was at my weakest, and the reason I didn’t fit in at school, was because I was terrified of what they might to do me, because my self-esteem was about as small as it could be, and that was all down to one person really: my brother. The brother who has epilepsy. (Now you can see why I feel a mix of guilt bringing it up.)
People don’t often consider sibling abuse as bullying. But when those closest to you call you bugs bunny (I had sticky-out teeth), fat, ugly and stupid on a regular basis for years, you can’t help but begin to listen. It seeps in somehow. It messes you up for quite some time.
And my ‘problem’ was being SENSITIVE.
Let’s call it ‘being human’ now. But in a way, I am more sensitive, and for all of those people out there who’ve been told to ‘stop being so sensitive’- don’t. I tried that game and you lose your heart for it. Your sensitivity is gold dust.
My brother was a victim. His moods, anger and hatred were all influenced by drugs and his inability to cope with his condition. And, unlike a school bully, I couldn’t EVEN hate him very well at all, because it tore me apart. To hate somebody + see them helpless in a seizure + be your brother = one MESSED up and confused teenager.
My brother and I never spoke to each other (apart from the abuse), just lived side by side. Until one day, when I was in my early twenties… One strange, crazy day, long after I stopped hating him for it, when we saw a glimpse of someone we once knew, I told my brother how horrible he was.
It was out of the blue. I think we’d been watching something on the telly. I didn’t say much, probably no more than a sentence, a non-emotive fact, and walked out of the room, knowing I couldn’t talk about it without ripping open a wound. He followed me out, questioning it. 

And then hugged me. He said he had no idea he had being doing that to me.

We talk now. 🙂 In a way, I’m glad it happened. In knowing how words (even small ones, tiny ones that don’t seem like much) can shape someone, I try my very best to make sure that mine are not misshaping anyone. 

So remember, whether you’re a writer or not, words matter. Make yours count. 

Lift people up. The fact that you are here at all, is a miracle in its self.
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13 thoughts on “Words matter: how bullying shaped my writing

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Freya. I suspect many people will identify with something in it, and for somebody it might be just what they need to know they're not alone. Sibling bullying doesn't get much press, same as workplace bullying, but perhaps it is more destructive because of the conflict of emotions?For my part, I was never "properly" bullied, but in my last year of primary school – when suddenly the ideas about being cool/fashion/dating etc. reared their heads for the first time – I found myself laughed at by all the other girls, even my "best friends". For years I struggled with low self-esteem and paranoia because of it, pushing friends away because I was sure they'd stop liking me anyway sooner or later and I wanted to be in control of when that was. I did get over that but it took until nearly adulthood – 7 or 8 years later – for it not to affect all my relationships every day. I hate the whole "sensitive" thing. It's such a crappy excuse. Same as the "you need to get a sense of humour" when people are laughing at or humiliating you. Ugh.

  2. Thanks Chloe! I hope so! Thanks for replying so quick too – heart in mouth over here with all the vulnerability. I had the same thing with "friends" – not nice at all and it does have ripple effects through all relationships.I was going to go over workplace bullying as I've recently been on the receiving end of that one – but there was only so much I could fit in to this blog post! Plus, might be too soon. The worse thing about work place bullying is that it's not always easy to pin down.Anyway, I'm glad you're feeling more healed about it all. : )

  3. Good post. I think there's a fine line between a bit of sibling teasing and a consistent draining of one sibling and if the former becomes a habit or consistent pattern then it's a sad situation. I'm glad you managed to find resolution with your brother, and I think this is a useful post for people who have been in the same position, and also parents who need to keep an eye on sibling dynamics. It matters that we are kind to one another.

  4. Brave post Freya, and amazing Shane Koyczan piece. I'm constantly observing the relationship between my two children, though have been more concerned about it falling into gender stereotypes than bullying. You have opened my eyes to this. Thank you. Isabel

  5. Thanks Tracey and Isabel for relieving me of my stress about this post! I was lucky not to have to worry too much about gender stereotypes – my family were good at breaking those and I was into playing football etc.I actually have three brothers – the younger two sometimes would echo him. The one that I would nip in the bud with any child or friend of mine, is when people use the word fat as an insult. Young girls have it bombarded at them all the time "be thin" and insults like that (no matter how constant) will always tip the balance. It did with me.

  6. Yeah I totally relate to this however it was my mum who made remarks about my weight since I was 13. Since then I have fluctuated between not eating at all and then binge eating and now have finally ended up with depression. Mostly because I'm too sensitive to things. So it really does mess you up. No matter how much my boyfriend tells me there's nothing wrong with me, I completely hate myself and it can't erase the damage already done, if that makes sense. Makes me determined not to let my future kids be exposed to it, especially by me.Amanda.

  7. Totally agree words matter. I too was on the end of some nasty remarks in school and when self esteem is low (as mine was) it can be hard to see past. Brave post and one I'm sure many will be able to relate to.

  8. I think I know how you feel. There was someone who was terrible to me all the time. And I hated him for it. Then he died of cancer. Very suddenly to us, but not as suddenly to him. He was still terrible to me, but it's hard to hate someone who was dying. It's very confusing. I'm glad you talk to your brother.

  9. Amanda – I'm so sorry to hear your mother did that. People have no idea how their words can do that to people, and that never ceases to amaze me. I hope some day your husband will find a way to make you feel beautiful, for always.Suzanne – Thanks. I hope those words aren't following you around to loudly. Rena – that's a horrible situation in so many ways. Life is such a complex mix of people and emotions, and trying to understand them can be the hardest. And we have to understand them, so that we can be sure not to pass anything harmful onto anyone else.

  10. An important post, Freya, and sensitively written.I think that bullying is about the transfer of shame. Very few people feel part of the 'in crowd' growing up. And even when they are, they're vulnerable to having that sense of security taken away from them. And sometimes those behaviours are either learned from parents or simply not challenged by them.

  11. Managed to get to about 5 1/2 minutes on that poetry video before I started blubbing! Thanks for sharing Freya, and for your awesome post. I was bullied at school and even though it only lasted for about a year before I moved away, and even though it's a really long time ago and I've come such a long way since then, it was a truly horrible time that's still there in my most shameful memories. If it weren't for the fact that God has taught me all the wonderful things He believes about me, I'd no doubt still hate myself, as I did for so many years.

  12. Hey Derek – you make an interesting point. Not one I've thought about before. Thanks for the award too!Rin – I know – such an emotional video. Sorry to hear that you've been bullied, but am so totally thrilled that you've come out the other end of it! YAY!

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