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When the Bullied Becomes the Bully

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

A good friend of mine, who's an accomplished university professor, was visiting me a few months ago when she told me an unsettling story. She's been teaching at the university level for about ten years and decided she needed a change about two years ago. She went on a series of interviews and had a bunch of funny and interesting stories to tell about them. However, the most shocking was during one where she was told that she would do well there because she was attractive, but not too attractive.

I remember being really taken aback when she told me about this. After all, aren't academics supposed to be focused on intellectual accomplishments and be completely above judging other people based on their looks? Apparently not. It seems like no matter what microcosm of society we're talking about, there's a certain level of judgment that's based on physical appearance in one way or another. In some ways, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But if a person is systemically weeded out of consideration for a job because they're deemed to be "too attractive" or "not attractive enough" I think that's just plain wrong--and probably discrimination.

So why am I sharing this story? I was reminded of it yesterday after receiving some great comments on the blog I wrote, which made me realize that shaming and bullying can cut across all segments of the population and that it's not just the overweight who can be the victims of this type of shaming. It's often said that the worst bullies are those who were once bullied themselves and I think there's a lot of truth in that. And I think that's something those of us who have been picked on or made to feel bad about ourselves by others need to be mindful of.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was guilty of this variety of shaming at times when I was obese. "Skinny chicks" were fair game in my book and making disparaging remarks about girls who, in my opinion then, looked like "they needed to go to a hamburger party" made me feel better about myself in a certain way--at least that's how I felt at the time. But looking back, I realize that NO ONE, regardless of how they look, deserves to be shamed or made to feel bad about themselves, even if they actually do fit into society's idealized version of beauty. Sure, some skinny chicks may have hurt me back when I was obese, but the truth is that the vast majority didn't, and by making disparaging remarks about them, I was on my way to becoming a bully myself.

This realization makes me feel terrible when I think about the hurt I endured when I was obese. I may have been heavy, but I wasn't blind and I wasn't deaf, and I felt the sting of disgusted stares and comments about how "some people should just learn to put down the potato chips". The very idea that I may have made comments that would have made someone feel as badly as I did then makes me shudder and is something I've become much more mindful of. After all, a person may take a look at me and not realize that I struggle with my weight and hurl a hurtful comment at me. But is it right to make a person feel bad who's worked so very hard to lose and keep off their weight, tackling all of the emotional and behavioral issues that go along with that? No. And that's not because people who've reached their goals are extra special, but because it's not right to do that to anyone. Even in places that we think would be safe, like health and fitness web sites, and sometimes here on SparkPeople, you can see how disagreements about health and fitness goals can turn nasty and confrontational. And some people end up feeling (and often actually being) bullied simply because they don't ascribe to a particular philosophy. So for all our talk about loving ourselves, we need to keep in mind that the way to do that is not by tearing other people down, but by building ourselves up and treating those around us with the same kindness we expect to receive.

Just because some people might display their battle scars more obviously than others, that doesn't mean the "perfect-looking" girl you see at the gym has had a life that's been a walk in the park. So as the saying goes, "Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
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    1506 days ago
    emoticon I couldn't agree more... Thank you for sharing!
    1555 days ago
    emoticon V ery true.
    1579 days ago
    Very well said. A great reminder that we all need to think about our words and actions.
    1583 days ago
    You make an excellent point here. Thanks for sharing it.
    1591 days ago
    this is definitely true. I look around and when you see the news or hear things, its like people just react, they don't think at all. Everybody just lashes out at the slightest thing. Part of this bully/bullying thing is likely a result of this ingrained defensiveness we seem to have now as a society. I hate it (and i think its an ironic side-effect of too much political correctness). And I'm glad you wrote this because sometimes we're not aware of how something we say or write can be perceived, and because you're in the pool of people society feels is okay to dump on doesn't mean you're not giving as good as you're taking.

    I'm a bit tired and sorry if it doesn't make much sense, but yeah, those thoughts creep in, and you have to look at yourself. nobody is perfect and someone will find something to use against you. Its hard to get out of the trap of thinking bad about people and judging them. That's one of my biggest resolutions this year, to be more aware--thanks for the reminder.
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  • BRENDY_28
    nice blog. :)
    1604 days ago
    Very good read thank you for sharing your thoughts
    Having always believed that my family was never quite accepted even though our home was the one everyone came to
    Have always had empathy for the underdog cause guess that is where have spent most of my life
    Am content and happy now that happens as we age
    Faith Wisdom Knowledge and lots of Love
    One day at a time May God Bless
    1605 days ago
    A reminder to always consider the other side of any coin. Thank you.
    1606 days ago
    Thanks for sharing. So true. Thanks for the reminders.
    1608 days ago
    of all the blogs i've read here lately, this is my favorite. very thoughtful, and well said!
    thank you!
    1614 days ago
    Great blog and reallyy interesting concept
    1614 days ago
    emoticon I always try to tell my boys when people make fun of them they are usually jealous of them. Sometimes when we are hurting & insecure we lash out. That is a most difficult thing to overcome.
    1614 days ago
    WOW...you really struck a cord with this blog!

    I too have several times been on the receiving end of bullying (lost a career because of a 'hostile workplace') and in high school stood up to a bullying teacher when all my 'friends' avoided standing with me for fear of retaliation.

    But somehow (from somewhere, I don't know where: my parents? the Bible? some forgotten person?) I early learned that the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD that I had to please was myself. People come and go all through life, the only person I can never escape is myself. I want Me to be proud, not ashamed, of me.

    Sometimes odds are overwhelming and we are helpless to do anything for ourselves or someone else. Even the Son of God was crucified by an evil world. It is then that the internal battles against shame, frustration, anger, bitterness, and self-condemnation must be fought...and won!

    I fail many times. But it is not how many times one falls down that matters but how many times one gets back up.

    A small success happened in a restaurant a few years ago. I was with a male friend and in came a family of three who sat near us. When their time came to order the little boy could not make up his mind and the father began to be verbally abusive. I don't mean piqued or impatient, but spewing forth really cruel invective...loudly. Many people at other tables heard and looked away. "Somebody should do something," I said to my friend. He just looked sheepishly at his soup.

    So I got up and walked over to the table. "I think you're being pretty rough on the boy," I said. "He's just a little kid and I don't think you realize how scary your anger is." Well that man glared at me and I thought for a moment that he was going to jump right up and punch me in the nose in spite of the fact that I was female and we were in a public place. He had such a fierce expression I was really shaking. "NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!" he growled.

    At this point my motive for being there changed. I had no hope that I could influence the man but I wanted the child to see that there were adults in the world not as angry as his father and not as enabling of it as his mom and all the other adults in the restaurant.

    "That may be true," I replied. But I just want you and your son to know that I for one do not approve of your behavior." And I beat a hasty retreat.

    The father cooled down. They left before my companion and I did. When they left the mother came up to me and said: "My husband really isn't like that." I didn't say anything. I thought..."Yeah, sure. What people display in public is usually one tenth of what they are like in private."

    Hopefully more than one person in that restaurant learned a lesson. But even if nobody ever changed because of that incident I can feel proud that I did a little something rather than forever feel ashamed that I never even tried to do anything. Me likes Me for that.

    1614 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/22/2013 4:06:07 PM
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    1614 days ago
    Awesome blog...I could feel it...
    thankyou so much for taking the time to write it and share it....
    1615 days ago
    The old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" must one of the most inappropriate homilies ever! Verbal bullying and name-calling can be every bit as damaging as physical abuse and, where bruises and injuries will hopefully mend to a point where there is no longer any evidence of the onslaught, nobody can see the lifetime of internal suffering left from more insidious forms of bullying. When I was a just 5 years old and in infant school, I remember - with excruciating clarity as I write - my first experience of humiliation. Our class was having a Physical Training session in the playground and we were queuing up to negotiate two climbing frames linked by a ladder set horizontally. It seemed very high to me and open heights, such as fire escapes, open-rung stairs, external glass lifts (elevators) are a fear to this day. Most little boys and girls had climbed up and gone across and down the other side but, in my navy blue knickers which were de rigeur in those days, I froze at the start of the ladder, with the ground so far below. With all the class now looking at me, the lady teacher called out in stentorian tones "Hurry up Fatso!" and everyone screamed with laughter. Actually, I'm 62 now and almost in tears as I write. The awful thing is that she was the wife of the vicar at our church school. I didn't tell my parents until I was well into my teens and we were living abroad. My mother, who also taught at the school at that time, was incensed. After that, although photo's will show that I wasn't fat at all, but had a round face and stocky little legs, I had to get used to being called Fatso by children who copied that teacher; as a teenager, although by no means overweight but just not as lean as the other girls, I had to tolerate being called Hoss, Two-ton Tessie and similar, especially by the boys who would tease us girls on the sports field. It left me with terrible internalised worries about what people think of me. I interpret probably wholly innocent glances as unspoken criticisms and the horror of rejection by ANYBODY is acute. I worry desperattely about how people see me although I come across as supremely confident. As a officer in the WRAF in times when men got away with such things, there was more than one occasion when some bloke or other would simply walk right up to me in the Mess and tweak my uniformed breasts, much to the amusement of the crowded bar, but rather than cause a scene II would be as paralysed as I was on that ladder and never responded. I had been inculcated to never show that I cared, but inside I would be dying with shame.

    I recently returned to SP after a long break and was, I'll be honest, terrified of finding any former Friends who wouldn't want to hook up with me again. I worked myself into quite a stupid state about it because I knew how I would feel. And all becaue of that wretched teacher 57 years ago! It took ages and some cajoling from a wonderful SF to push me into action and so I'm back.

    As a result of my experience, I am pleased to say that I have never called anyone names and will never EVER called anyone anything remotely to do with their physical characteristics or otherwise. The emotional damage can become a truly terrible legacy. Your blog very aptly puts all of this into perspective and you have been extremely articulate in setting it all out. I am not polishing a halo here, nor am I having a pity party, and I'm certain that even the most sensitive of us may have inadvertently hurt someone without realising it. However, Thank you, thank you, thank you. Very well said.

    1615 days ago
  • BECKY0111
    You remind me to be kind, thank you.

    1615 days ago
    Thank you for posting this blog..I think you have said it all ..well done .. Hugs Susie emoticon
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  • 2DAWN4
    Well said! So glad that I came across this blog!
    1615 days ago
  • _CYNDY55_
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    1616 days ago
    Well said Tina! Keep 'em coming!
    1616 days ago
  • JANEDOE12345
    1616 days ago
    I think that most people, if being brutally honest with themselves, would have to admit "Guilty as charged". Not pretty, when you think about it but it might be the dark side of human nature. Fortunately, like anything else, we can strive to do better.
    1616 days ago
    Thought provoking. Thank you.
    1616 days ago
    Awesome blog. It is always good to be reminded that being judgmental/disparaging toward others is wrong. I often think that the mentality of making others feel bad about where they are in life is often a 'high school' mentality. Humans appear to be good at comparing themselves to others. If others are not like you than it appears to be ok to critically note that. Being positive with others is so much more uplifting and life changing. As I have noted, just because I have pain in my life, doesn't mean your pain is any less painful. Thanks for sharing, by the way. emoticon
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  • LIZZYP609
    thank you for this. I have been on the receiving end many times as a young person because of being 5ft tall and 100lbs all through high school. My husband was asked many times "don't you feed that poor girl?" in the first years of marriage. I hurt and lead to a lot of my emotional eating issues and "wanting to get heavier". Sadly as i got older it worked.
    I am now back down to my goal weight (not 100lbs but 115) and I am again getting the "you look great but you should eat more" comments (talk about backhanded compliments!) and to this day, I am working my way through this.
    1616 days ago
    ive been sadly on both sides of this issue, i lost a teaching career over a bullying administrator.. long story,, but 12 years of work destroyed because of the bullying of one person..

    HOW ever I fell on the bully side once myself.. had this coworker, dont know why she brought out that side of me,, I was relentless.. and thats not my nature,, to this day i dont know why, but, she was a sub and after she left I realised what i was doing,, felt totally horrible.. wanted to apologize,, finally several years later she came into my clasroom one day and I was able to,, It is so easy to fall into this if ones not careful..
    1616 days ago
  • ANGELN325
    Great blog and so true. Always treat others the way you'd like to be treated.
    1616 days ago
  • PANIK257
    1617 days ago
    Thanks for this insight.
    1617 days ago
    Thanks for sharing, its ever so true. Sometimes the bullying comes from family members, and that, I think is even more difficult to deal with
    1617 days ago
  • JAMER123
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    It brought to mind one trip we made on the airplane when I was by the window and my hubby sat in the middle seat. For a long time, we thought there was no one for the other seat (yes!) and then comes in a lady, medium build & height and she looked at me immediately putting a sneer on her face. She said in the seat with her legs under her and her back turned. Read a book the entire flight. No matter how one looks at it, this rejection hurts and one wonders what was wrong with that person, not me. The positive way to look at psychological injuries.
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    1617 days ago
  • MISSLISA1973
    1617 days ago
    Thanks for sharing so candidly with its. There is so much truth and wisdom to be learned along this journey we are on, and not all of it relates directly to the numbers on the scale or what we are eating.
    1617 days ago
    Having lost my career (hard earned as a university educated teacher) over being bullied by another teacher and she was supported by the principal, this blog was significant to me... well done.... and may we all remember to Walk a mile in someone else's shoes before we judge them.

    1617 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    Great blog. We should always think twice before opening our mouths and as our mothers always told us, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all is really good advice. We don't know what is happening in anybody elses life and what they are going thru. Thanks for sharing this with all of us!
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  • MAREE1953
    A reminder about the "golden rule" is always welcome. Great insight into being a truly authentic person, too.
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  • PATTYJ48
    Thank you so much for sharing this. I think we all have been judgmental of others in the past whether we realize it or not. As the golden rule states:

    Treat others as you would have them treat you.

    May you have a blessed Christmas and fantastic New Year.
    1617 days ago
    Thank you for saying, and for sharing.
    1617 days ago
    So true!. Thank you for sharing.
    1617 days ago
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