Over the last few days, I’ve been doom-scrolling and watching the news out of Ukraine (and I blogged about it yesterday, too). And I began to ask myself why I’m having such a strong emotional reaction to it other than fear of a huge conventional war breaking out in Europe or worse, nuclear war. But then I realized it was because I was watching a nation of forty-four million people stand up to the bully that is Russian President Vladmir Putin and the corrupt government and military leadership of the Russian Federation.
Now I’m not equating my life with what the Ukrainian people are going through in any way, shape, or form. They’re fighting for their lives, but they’re also fighting to live on their own terms. Under seventy years of Soviet-Russian occupation, the Ukrainian people were brutally oppressed. They were banned from speaking their own language and practicing their culture and customs. And now they’re being told by their neighbor that they can’t determine their own path in this world by joining the European Union and NATO simply because some asshole in the Kremlin is a joyless, soulless ghoul? Fuck no.
Bullies are loud, rude, obnoxious, and totally convinced they’re in the right even when they know they aren’t. And it’s not my job, or anyone else’s for that matter, to figure out why they’ve jammed their heads up their asses and decided being asshole is better than being a decent human being, or to figure out why they have decided to live without conscience, empathy, and compassion. I’m here to talk about the damage these people cause and what I’ve learned to repair some of it.
Some of my earliest memories are of being teased and bullied as a young child because I was fat and clumsy. I am probably one of the most un-coordinated people you will ever meet. I have balance issues like my late mother did though not with her motion-sickness thank goodness. But it lead to a lot of teasing, bullying and worst of all, alienation. Or to simplify that, it sucked and hurt like hell to always be picked last for any team.
While I suffering through the hell that was PE (physical education) class, I was suffering from another hell in the classroom and elsewhere by being shy then proving I wasn’t stupid for not babbling and running my mouth without trying to think about what I was going to say first. I have a brain that runs at about a hundred and fifty miles an hour on a good day and that means I over-think a lot of shit and have since my age was in the single-digits. I still do that though I’m really trying to get that under control.
Now here’s the really shitty part about all this: the human brain imprints repeated exposure in order to learn. Basically, if you hear something often enough you start to believe it even if it’s not true or just plain wrong and awful. And because of that, the human brain itself doesn’t really learn how to filter out things negatively impacting you emotionally as well as it should. Learning not to believe the lies and bullying about yourself is very hard to do. It took me over thirty years to realize that not only were people wrong about me being stupid and weak, but the way I had internalized their shit was wrong, too.
By the time I reached my late thirties, I believed every single person on this planet had their shit together and knew everything, and that I knew absolutely nothing and was a total loser. I did this in the severely-misguided belief that if I beat the shit out of myself first then other people wouldn’t do it to me. But then I realized something: most people honestly don’t give a shit about you after they’re through mouthing off at you about something. Because I used to fear people mouthing off at me then if I made even just one peep of noise or movement, they’d pound the shit out of me and put me in a cage somewhere far away.
That never happened. All my bullies were gutless cowards who didn’t have any heavy weaponry to come after me, and if they’d had access to any of that they wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I realized this when I had this thought come into my mind and started believing it: everyone else is just as full of shit as I am sometimes but that doesn’t make me a bad person. What that means is no one has all the answers, and if they try to bullshit and bully you into making you think they do, call them out on it even if it’s just in silence and not letting them live rent-free in your mind, or saying it to their face.
From that lesson more came to me and they all culminated in the big one: people can say whatever the hell they want to, but I have the right to respond in any way I choose to, even if it’s in a way they don’t like. If you stand up to someone and say they’re hurting you, you’re not wrong.
I think the best way to stand up to a bully in daily life is this: you don’t run and hide. You say, “I’m still here. And you need to go off and ask yourself why you think and feel the way you, and keep asking until you find all the answers you can though I will warn you, you might not like the answers you find. And sooner or later you will have to deal with them. Just like I’ve been dealing with mine.”