I was bullied, chronically, severely, by my father. I have no doubt at all that my father also was bullied, chronically, severely. It’s not something he spoke about that much. But he didn’t have to. He had an extremely disadvantaged childhood. And his behaviour towards me speaks volumes about how he was treated in his formative years.
When I’m honest with myself, when I remember properly, I can see my own tendency to bully others.
I was going to write that my bullying isn’t overt, like my father’s bullying of me was, that I don’t make vicious verbal attacks on people, that I’m more subtle in my bullying, but that would not be entirely correct.
The word I may be looking for, rather than subtle, is insidious — “proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.” My bullying has involved being a know-it-all, a can-do-it-all and the bearer of supreme morals to boot. I’ve tried to make myself appear to be extraordinarily confident and invincible so that others might appear (to me) to be flawed and inadequate somehow, and vulnerable and afraid.
I’ve been an “admiration junkie”. If I can get you to admire me, then I can feel superior to you. I write this in the present tense because I know this is something I still do. And when I think someone is showing admiration for me, the hook of it is very strong — I want more and more and more. If the “admirer” is quiet or if some part of me perceives they are timid in any way, then some part of me thinks I’ve got them and that it’s okay for me to push for admiration. I brag, I try to be funny, I try to be extra magnanimous. And if they don’t react in an admiring way, I push harder — I overpower and I overwhelm with the bragging, etc. It’s not pretty.
But that’s not the whole truth either. Under stress, when I’ve felt conflicted or threatened in some way, I have attacked people verbally, meanly.
I was going to say that I don’t think it’s happened a lot.
But that would be a lie.
Twenty years ago I ended my marriage to a quiet, sweet, kind man. The truth is that I was a crazy wino bullying verbally abusive b*tch in that marriage.
Since then, I’ve worked hard to change. But there’ve been a handful of times when I’ve lashed out. Always, it’s been when some part of me has perceived that the person on the other end was “weak” somehow, that they deserved what I was giving out and also that they would let me get away with doing it. If that’s not bullying, then what is.
A big part of my work of coming home to myself now is learning to see, to love and to hold the “weak”, vulnerable, timid parts of myself. And learning to see, to love and to hold the young child parts within me that were so terribly and viciously abused by those who were supposed to be my caregivers. Because, as long as I block off those parts, keep them separate, then any reminders of them in other people will cause me to want to block them off, stamp them out, too.
We learn in our society that the greatest leaders, role models and celebrities are powerful and strong and not cowardly or afraid. The truth is that some people who became very prominent started out sorely lacking in confidence, social graces and courage. Ghandi is one such example. Stephen Cope, in his book “The Great Work of Your Life” discusses Ghandi and more like him.
I would like more truths like that to be written.