I think it is safe to say that, by any standards, I am an odd twentysomething. I was also a weird kid and a strange teenager. I am a teetotaler who prefers a good salad over junk food and who would rather have a good night’s sleep if she can have it. I enjoy serious literature, and, whilst I love music (like any human being does), it doesn’t have that much significance for me. I may listen to pop music with the same enthusiasm I have when I listen to Tchaikovsky, and I don’t give it much of a thought. I don’t strive to be cool, or at least, if I do try to be, it’s by my own standards and not those of my peers. I have some mental health issues (especially related to my General Anxiety) that have somehow become known and prominent without my being able to avoid it. I am slightly socially awkward (I used to be THE socially awkwardness in person, but I have bettered myself in that aspect). I am opinionated and outspoken, but I am also reserved and far from a people pleaser.
Thus, it is only natural that I was always the target of all kinds of bullying all through grade school, high school and even college. Guys I have gone on dates with in my twenties have mocked me in unpleasant ways (they did me a favor by keeping me from falling in love with assholes, though, so I have nothing but gratitude to them for showing me their true colors early on).
My experience with bullying has reached a point where I don’t even care anymore. I just demand respect, and if you don’t give it to me, well, then consider yourself officially ignored. I guess it helps that I have somehow managed to make friends and slowly build a support net. Once upon a time, of course, the bullying did make my life miserable, but, in hindsight, I am weirdly thankful for not fitting in and for being the butt of all jokes. And that is because of the life lessons I have taken with me because of it. Those are:
1) There is always something better for me in the big wide world.
I barely suffered leaving my hometown in favor of my college town, and I think that, when the time comes to move someplace else, it won’t be hard on me either. Being bullied for so long has taught me not to settle for something mediocre, and to always look for ways in which I can make my life better and weed out toxic people. It has taught me not to get too comfortable, to go outside my comfort zone in order to find something better and to always have hope in the future. It has also given me the realistic sense that I can’t change other people and I can’t change my surroundings, but I can look for different ones and try them out, see if they are any better. It is probably partly because I was bullied that I became so interested in foreign languages and how people in other parts of the world live. I ended up becoming a Translation major and I study a literature produced far from where I am from. I can only chalk it up to the deep desire in my heart to find a place where I truly belong. Regardless of whether or not I find it, I am thankful for all the ways looking for something different and better has changed me.
2) Standing in the margins of your community gives you a perspective on it no one else has.
Sociologists and cultural anthropologists often try to be an active part of the communities they are trying to study, but they also keep some distance from their subjects. Why is this? Because, you see, when you become too involved with people, you start to have a biased view on them, based on how much you like them, how much they like you, how are your interactions and so forth. Keeping some distance from my peers in the past has made me a good people observer, being able to rationally and sort-of-objectively dissect and analyze their relationships and personalities. You can’t deny that a good knowledge of human nature isn’t something useful to have!
3) The people I want to have in my life will love/like me for who I am, not for the masks I put on in their company.
This is a very basic lesson that looks obvious at first glance, yet a lot of us struggle to learn it (including me). I still see people in their twenties (which is relative adulthood) pretending to be someone they are not so they are better-liked. And sure, being well-received by your peers is a benefit more than it is a hindrance, but it isn’t as fulfilling as having two or three people know exactly who you are and love you with all your strengths and flaws. So there is really no point in pretending to be someone you are not. Being bullied has taught me to embrace my personality and own up to my faults in a way that nothing else has. Kurt Cobain has said that he’d rather be hated for who he is than loved for who he is not. I endorse the sentiment. Pretending is exhausting. People will have to take me exactly as I am or leave me. And if they do decide to ignore or hate me, hey, no big loss here.
4) I deserve respect, but the fact that I deserve it doesn’t mean I’ll authomatically get it.
It’s unfair, but it’s true. There are people out there who’ll try to walk all over you if they can, if you let them. Standing up for oneself is an important life skill to have. You can’t demand love or like from everyone you meet, but you can demand respect. You might as well start now. No one else will demand it for you.
5) Being normal is vastly overrated.
What is the joy in being exactly like everyone else? Or more like pretending you are just like everyone else, because truth is we are all different, even if it is just in small ways. What sort of thrill can the world give us if it is purely populated by people who only drink beer and only listen to top 40 hits/obscure musicians you haven’t heard of? What’s the point of having a world filled with people who have the same hobbies and the same opinions? If everyone had just one definition of beautiful, one definition of interesting, where would that leave all of those who don’t fit that definition?
The world is so much better if you embrace its diversity. And you start to embrace the difference by flaunting your own little quirks and peculiarities.
6) Learning to enjoy your own company is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
When I was a teen and during my early days in college, I didn’t always have somebody to go with me to see that new movie or to try that new restaurant. That didn’t stop me from partaking in the fun. At an early age, I threw all social insecurities through the window and just went out to have some solo fun. I was forced to meet, greet and get to know myself, and I am deeply thankful for that. Now, I am a pretty independent person who is never bored because of the stimulating dialogue going on inside my head.
7) Making new friends is a necessary skill that you can actually have purely out of practice.
When I was a teen and went to parties, I had acquaintances but not friends, so I always ended up to talking to other people who went alone – be it cousins of the hosts or that girl from a year above whom I only knew from afar. You should take into account that I am by nature a very socially awkward girl. If I was going to make new friends, I had to work on that. And that is exactly what I did: I taught myself (with the help of books and mentors) how to be less socially awkward and how to be nicer and more polite. I had to master the art of small talk. I have also met a lot of interesting people because I was never too caught up in a clique to prevent me from talking to new people.
8) I am far more than what people think I am.
If other people had the ultimate say on who I am, then I should have killed myself or started life as a recluse a long time ago. Yet here I am. That is because I learnt early in life that I have to find validation and meaning within myself. I shouldn’t sit and wait for people to tell me how awesome I am – I have to get out and do stuff so I can prove myself how great I am. I had to prove the world I was a worthwhile inhabitant of it, and sometimes the approval had to be taken and observed only by myself.
I also had to develop a mental framework that could remain solid and strong no matter what people said about me. The phrase by Eleanor Roosevelt, “people can only make you feel inferior with your consent,” isn’t only true, it is a way of life – one I have been trying to embrace for a long time.
Oddly enough, the fact that some people have tried to undermine my self-confidence in the past is the very origin of the extreme confidence in myself I have today.
9) In a way, high school never ends, so we may as well learn to live with it.
When I was a high school senior, I had this naïve idea that, the moment I set foot in college, people would magically be nicer and more inclusive of nerdy me. Boy, was I wrong. The truth is that some of the social mechanics of high school go on into adulthood, even if seasoned with more subtlety. Instead of becoming bitter and resenting everyone, we should accept it and take life for what it is.
10) Sometimes, the problem is me, and not other people.
I would be extremely delusional if I didn’t think I was at least partly to blame for being bullied so many years. I used to be obnoxious, and, in some aspects, I am still annoying today. It would be way too easy to call other people envious for whatever I think I have that they don’t, but I have to recognize that sometimes envy isn’t the case. Sometimes it is me being a huge pain in the butt, so I should as well accept it and work on being better.
11) Being inclusive and tolerant pays off. Always.
One of the main reasons why I decided to be less judgemental and more open-minded is the fact that I was bullied. I wanted to treat people exactly in the way I wished I was treated. I gave chances to everyone. I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. I industriously read and listened about other ways of life. I wanted to take it all in so I could treat other people with the respect they deserved. I tried not to look down on other people, ever, and I bit my tongue before insulting somebody. I tried to be inclusive with those that felt out of place.
This attitude has brought a host of interesting, colorful people into my life that I am madly grateful for meeting. And this is all because I was once bullied.