Anyone poorly parented and/or the victim of bullies and narcissists knows how extremely difficult it can be for their victims to say no.
To the most absurd and unrelenting demands.
Because what happened after I’ve said no is…abandonment. Estrangement. Rejection. Verbal or physical cruelty. Job loss.
I’ve lived in fear for decades — and readers know I express plenty of strong opinions here and in my writing and books and on social media — of these outcomes in my personal and professional life.
My industry, journalism, is in such utter chaos — with the most job cuts in 2019 since 2008 — that those with jobs will do anything to keep them, and the hell with us freelancers, seen by many as disposable commodities, easily and cheaply replaced with someone, always, terrified and docile.
I have never seen such shitty behavior.
The past two weeks made me snap.
First, a baby editor with zero social skills — who I later found out has been this rude and aggressive with other veteran writers. Then, this week, a source decided it was appropriate to throw me and my skills under the bus.
Then stalk me on Twitter.
In both instances, their entitled behavior — unprovoked and insistent — left me shaking and shaken.
From now on, I’m just walking.
This is, a great luxury, and a measure of privilege because it’s possible only with the explicit agreement and financial and moral support of my husband and a bank account plundered to make up the lost $1,050 in anticipated/needed income from these two stories.
Most Americans don’t even have the savings to say…I’m gone. I’m not putting up with this.
Because without savings, and the ability to never engage with them again, we’re all left groveling to bullies.
A dear friend sent me an e-card for Christmas, filled with birds and flowers and music.
Her message, typically feisty, ended with: “And in 2017 we fight!”
An avowed, life-long progressive — and one of the smartest science writers I know (here’s a link to her terrific book, “Fevered” , about climate change and its effects on health, globally) — she’s full of piss and vinegar as I think we all should be in 2017, and for the next four years.
There has been a shocking and dis-spiriting increase in hate crimes, physical attacks and appalling verbal abuse in the past few months, both in Britain post-Brexit and in the United States, after the election of a President who has vilified women, Muslims, Mexicans and many others.
By “fight” I don’t mean fisticuffs.
I don’t mean screaming abuse back at someone who’s clearly got boundary issues.
Nor do I mean seeking some shouty, nasty draaaaama, if that can be avoided.
But I do mean — stiffen your spine, no matter how scared you are of what might happen if you do. (Clearly, not if you live in an abusive situation, where your life and that of others is at risk.)
In the past month, after long deliberation and, yes, fearful of the consequences, I finally stood up and fought for myself in three difficult and enervating situations, one within my family (I wrote a long letter, snail mailed); one within my parish (ditto) and one with a client whose disregard for basic courtesy (and abysmal pay) were grim beyond words.
It takes guts to tell someone, (who can just blow you off completely): “Enough!”
It takes trust in your own judgment of what you truly most need.
It also means preparing for the potential consequences, the most frightening bit: loss of income, loss of affection, affiliation, respect, losing your welcome within a community.
But the costs of not fighting for what you know is right can be crippling to your mental, emotional and physical health.
To your self-esteem and confidence.
So, eventually, it must be done.
Ask for help before you do it, from a friend, a therapist, a loving partner, to steady your nerves and make sure you’re not about to self-immolate.
But we’re also living in strange and challenging times, politically.
So, it’s also time to go fight the good fight for social justice and economic progress that doesn’t , once more, simply re-enrich the already wealthy; 95 percent of Americans, according to a recent New York Times report, have seen no rise in their income in seven years.
If all we do is whinge and cringe, nothing will change.
Write to your elected representatives.
Work hard – if you live in the U.S. — to get some Democrats elected in the mid-term elections, only two years away.
Donate your time, energy or money to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other groups working daily to protect our rights, bodily and civil.
Write letters to the editor, in print; women, especially! Most of those appearing these days are written by men.
On-line, leave civil, smart comments.
If you’re a writer, send out some op-eds, essays and opinion pieces or reported stories to keep issues front and center.
If you see someone being verbally abused in a public setting, stand beside them to signal that you’re an ally. Speak calmly and quietly to them. Do not ignore cruelty; passivity signals assent.
It’s not the time to shrug and look away.
It’s not the time to say “Not my problem.”
It’s not the time to just soak up fake news and comforting lies.
It’s not the time to ignore the news because “it’s too depressing.” It’s our world.
There is never a “time and place” for cruelty. By staying silent, you robbed the little girl of the acknowledgment and the apology to which she was entitled. And you deprived the boy of learning the consequences of nasty behavior. He may not understand how mean he was. But your inaction ensured that his ignorance persists.
It’s been quite a week for those of us who live in the United States and who watched the second Presidential debate on Sunday night.
Like many of my friends, male and female, gay and straight, I slept very badly that night and have been exhausted ever since.
The thought of Donald Trump with access to nuclear codes?
One of the elements of the debate that horrified so many women I know was Trump’s persistent moving around the small stage throughout, his scowling and his bizarre need to stay physically very close to Hillary Clinton throughout 90 minutes.
Defenders said he simply wanted to make sure he was always in the line of the camera’s gaze, even when she was speaking.
Asked about it later, she gamely laughed and admitted she felt his presence.
If you’ve ever been physically and/or emotionally bullied by a man who is relentless in his determination to scare the shit out of you, it leaves scars.
Most of us are physically smaller and less muscular than men, so they know they can “get away with it.”
Most of us are heavily socialized to make nice and stay calm, to laugh off, dismiss or ignore the appalling things some men say and do to us, at school, at work, on public transportation, in a bar or restaurant.
Very few of us have the appetite to lash back, fearful of physical harm, even death, if we retaliate with the full strength of the rage and disgust we really feel.
From The New York Times:
to many victims of sexual assault, Mr. Trump’s words struck a particular nerve. It was not simply that he is the Republican presidential nominee, and that a hot microphone had captured him speaking unguardedly. It was his casual tone, the manner in which he and the television personality Billy Bush appeared to be speaking a common language, many women said, that gave Mr. Trump’s boasts a special resonance.
What he said and how he said it seemed to say as much about the broader environment toward women — an environment that had kept many of these women silent for so long — as they did about the candidate. And Mr. Trump’s dismissal of his actions as “locker room talk” only underscored the point.
It creates a kind of PTSD that is very real — like many women, I was shaking with rage throughout his attacks.
It’s shocking and depressing that so many young people, struggling with their sexuality, identity, self-confidence and future wonder how they’ll even survive the next few hours — bullied 24/7 by peers whose toxicity is relentless, vicious, heartless and widespread.
In Internet shorthand it began “Yes, ik” — I know — “I bullied Rebecca
nd she killed herself.” The writer concluded that she didn’t care, using
an obscenity to make the point and a heart as a perverse flourish. Five
weeks ago, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a seventh grader in Lakeland in central
Florida, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo
after enduring a year, on and off, of face-to-face and online bullying.
The Facebook post, Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said, was so
offensive that he decided to move forward with the arrest immediately
rather than continue to gather evidence. With a probable cause affidavit
in hand, he sent his deputies Monday night to arrest two girls, calling
them the “primary harassers.” The first, a 14-year-old, is the one who
posted the comment Saturday, he said. The second is her friend, and
Rebecca’s former best friend, a 12-year-old.
Both were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony and will be processed through the juvenile court system.
What on earth is driving these wretched children to torment one another to death?
“As a child, I can remember sticks and stones can break your bones but
words will never hurt you,” the sheriff said. “Today, words stick
because they are printed and they are there forever.”
I’ve blogged about this before and will likely return to it because, as someone badly bullied in high school for three years, I’ve lived this firsthand. It was long before the Internet, so my bullying was only daily, public and within the physical confines of my Toronto high school.
I arrived at my school at 14, reeling from the sudden move into my father’s home after seven years with my mother; arriving halfway through the year into a group of people who had all grown up together in neighborhood schools and a girl both plagued with acne and intellectual confidence.
I was nicknamed Doglin, barked at in the hallways and a dog biscuit was laid on my desk. Three boys spent a lot of time and energy making sure I was as miserable as they could possibly make me.
Thank heaven for dear friends, male and female, who kept me going. Thank heaven for winning awards for my writing, which buoyed my confidence. Thank heaven for a teen quiz show (then hosted by Jeopardy’s host Alex Trebek) which I competed on two years in a row, taking our school to the semi-finals.
The Internet has done amazing, wonderful, stupendous things for
connecting the world, promoting freedom and diversity, enabling distance
learning and online friendships, and establishing whole new worlds of
commerce, but there is a dark side to it that is really starting to
bother me. All of this interconnectedness has created a meanness in us,
or maybe it has simply revealed a mean spirit that was there all along,
but I wish it would go away. Even kind, loving people I know are
susceptible to it, and my hope is that this post will get folks to
reconsider before hitting return.
I’m talking about the Mean Photo. You know, the snapshot of someone
grocery shopping, or going to the prom, or on the subway who probably
thinks she looks perfectly okay, but some stranger (or worse, a friend)
takes a picture and posts it on the Internet for the rest of us to share
and “like” and write snide, superior comments.
If I see one more picture with the caption, “Oh. Dear. God!” I may just lose it.
That is a human being in that picture. A person who got up that day,
got dressed and left the house without ever thinking it would make her
the subject of public ridicule, simply because her shorts are too tight.
Maybe she’s gained a lot of weight recently due to a medical condition
and can’t afford new clothes, or doesn’t want to buy things in a size
she intends to reduce. Maybe it’s a single mom who had to choose
between doing the laundry and going to her son’s baseball game, so here
she is, cheering him on, making the better choice, even though this
outfit is all she had to put on.
I’ve never seen a site like this that mocks people, nor do any of my 600+ Facebook friends indulge in this special brand of nastiness, (at least on that site), so this was news to me.
But — seriously?
As someone who was bullied for three years in high school, I have zero tolerance for this sort of shit.
Bullying, in any form, makes me insane. It’s cheap, crude, pathetic behavior on the part of people who have some sick need to project their toxic insecurities and judgement onto others.
Here’s a wild idea. It’s easy to remember because it’s the first three letters of the alphabet: ABC.
Always Be Compassionate.
I get it…we all have lousy days. We all have times that our lizard brain kicks in and starts spewing. We’re not saints and some of us have no desire to be one, either.
But, a default position that others are struggling (too) is probably a safe choice, because:
You have no idea what someone else is facing, emotionally, financially, intellectually, physically.
You have no idea why someone’s hair needs a cut or their shoes are scuffed and filthy or their kids aren’t wearing designer clothes like yours do.
You have no idea why they’re driving a crappy, banged-up old car or don’t have a car at all.
You have no idea why someone is 30 or 50 or 100 pounds overweight.
Like the man in my building who was trim and handsome for years — and now has such big jowls I didn’t recognize him when I saw him the other day.
He isn’t eating donuts or being a lazy slob stuck to the sofa.
He has a brain tumor, and a brave wife and a gorgeous little white dog, and his medications have blown him up into someone who looks like he can’t stop eating.
His appearance breaks my heart — and all I think is “There but for the grace of God…”
I can’t fathom a world in which people are using their phones and the Internet to mock others for malicious amusement.
“The experience of bullying in childhood can have profound effects on mental health in adulthood, particularly among youths involved in bullying as both a perpetrator and a victim,” she added.
The study followed 1,420 subjects from Western North Carolina who were assessed four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16. Researchers asked both the children and their primary caregivers if they had been bullied or had bullied others in the three months before each assessment. Participants were divided into four groups: bullies, victims, bullies who also were victims, and children who were not exposed to bullying at all.
Participants were assessed again in young adulthood — at 19, 21 and between 24 and 26 — using structured diagnostic interviews.
I read this story, which my husband chose to highlight for me, because I was badly bullied for more than two years when I was a high school student in Toronto. I arrived halfway through Grade 10, into a school where everyone had attended the same local schools since kindergarten. I was pimply, socially awkward and had been attending single-sex schools and camps since fourth grade. Boys were an alien species.
Worse than acne, I had confidence, the kind that often is deeply nurtured by single-sex environments, where every teacher and student leader is female. Deferring to male authority? Why would I do that?
And so a small gang of boys made sure to teach me a lesson. They called me Doglin, barked at me down the echoing hallways, even brought a dog biscuit and laid it on my desk. I walked home every day alone, in tears, often getting into bed with all my clothes on to cry and sleep and recover before it all started again the next day.
Hell. School was hell.
I eventually managed to turn it around, snagging a cute boyfriend, starting a school newspaper and — score! — was even named Prom Queen. It taught me that a shitty situation can, sometimes, be transformed.
But there are days I feel like there’s still a target on my back. I’ve experienced much bullying since then, mostly in work settings where casual cruelty is considered normal. I also come from a family of people with explosive, nasty tempers — being the recipient of verbal abuse will set me back for days, even weeks.
I know why people bully. I get it. I don’t care.
And far too many of those who see it choose to turn a bind eye: “Suck it up. Man up! Kids will be kids.”
My husband, who was small and slight as a boy, was also tormented by bullies. We both know what this does to you, then and later. There is no excuse for verbal abuse or physical harassment — we all refuse to tolerate physical assault and know it’s against the law.
In the wake of the suicide of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince, school administrators whine they didn’t see much damage, that Prince was too private (likely her pride, shame, humiliation — and perhaps the naive expectation adults are observant and will act accordingly) to complain and that — gasp — actually expelling the little brutes who drove her to despair with three non-stop months of verbal abuse might suffer if told to leave the school and find somewhere else to take their toxicity.
“To our knowledge the action taken was effective in ending their involvement in any bullying of Phoebe,” he said.
Prince, who had recently moved with her family from Ireland to South Hadley, hanged herself on January 14 after enduring what Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth B. Scheibel described to reporters Monday as “a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm toward Phoebe, on school grounds, by several South Hadley High School students.”
Six students were named in an indictment returned by a grand jury Friday and made public Monday. In addition, Scheibel said three female students received juvenile charges, but she would not clarify if they were among the six named in the indictment.
That left even Sayer confused. “There could be as many as nine, but I believe that six” is the correct number, he said.
Though authorities did not consider that the actions or failures to act by the faculty, staff and administrators of the school amounted to criminal behavior, prosecutor Scheibel called for them to undergo training to learn to intervene more effectively in such cases.
But administrators in the school district, who oversee the education of 2,100 students in four schools, are being unfairly blamed for the death, Sayer said…
None of the six students identified in the indictment remains in school, he added.
Sayer said he supported the punishments meted out to the students.
“If they, as they have been charged, committed crimes, they should face the consequences for those crimes,” he said.
But, he added, expulsion is something educators are reluctant to countenance.
“It’s a terrible punishment because that changes their whole lives and what they are capable of doing, and they have to figure out a way to renew and complete their education.”
I was bullied for three years in high school. Bullying is toxic, damaging, sick behavior and those who who deny its power are lying to themselves and their consciences.
What greater “terrible punishment” could Prince’s parents face than the loss of their daughter?
What the bullies were “capable of”, quite clearly and effectively, was destroying the confidence — and the life — of a young girl in their midst. Renewing and completing their education might include learning the most basic of lessons — deliberately, publicly and consistently selecting a victim, and mentally torturing them, is unacceptable behavior.
Cops are investigating whether cyberbullies contributed to the suicide of a Long Island teen with nasty messages posted online after her death.
Alexis Pilkington, 17, a West Islip soccer star, took her own life Sunday following vicious taunts on social networking sites – which persisted postmortem on Internet tribute pages, worsening the grief of her family and friends.
“Investigators are monitoring the postings and will take action if any communication is determined to be of a criminal nature,” Suffolk County Deputy Chief of Detectives Frank Stallone said yesterday.
It is not clear what some students at South Hadley High School expected to achieve by subjecting a freshman to the relentless taunting described by a prosecutor and classmates.
Phoebe Prince, 15, a freshman at South Hadley High School in western Massachusetts, hanged herself in January. Her family had recently moved from Ireland.
Certainly not her suicide. And certainly not the multiple felony indictments announced on Monday against several students at the Massachusetts school.
The prosecutor brought charges Monday against nine teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.
The charges were an unusually sharp legal response to the problem of adolescent bullying, which is increasingly conducted in cyberspace as well as in the schoolyard and has drawn growing concern from parents, educators and lawmakers.
In the uproar around the suicides of Ms. Prince, 15, and an 11-year-old boy subjected to harassment in nearby Springfield last year, the Massachusetts legislature stepped up work on an anti-bullying law that is now near passage. The law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents and principals to investigate them. It would also demand that schools teach about the dangers of bullying. Forty-one other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength.
For those of you who work in schools, why would administrators and teachers let this persecution go unchecked?
Research shows that bullying occurs in all schools, private and public, and that it is often unseen by adults. In an earlier blog on bullying, I cited a 2005 U.S. Department of Education report that found 14 percent of students ages 12 through 18 said they had been bullied in the past six months.
In the early grades, bullies direct their attacks at almost anyone. As they get older, they target certain kids. Bullies go after younger and smaller kids, but victims also are chosen because they are more anxious, sensitive, cautious and quiet.
Bullying is often a spectator sport, with 85 percent of incidents involving other kids who watch the torment without stopping it. On the day of her suicide, Phoebe was abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways, according to the charges. Classmates threw a canned drink at her as she walked home, where her sister found her hanging from a stairwell at 4:30 p.m.
While Phoebe’s bullies used texting and social networking sites to harass her, the prosecutor said most of the bullying occurred on school grounds during school hours.
Like Phoebe, I arrived at my school into a group of 15-year-olds; I was 14, a year ahead. Like her, I came into a tightly-knit crowd of kids who had known one another for decades and from a foreign country. I’d been living in Mexico, (she in her native Ireland).
I was awkward, had acne, had just suffered a serious crisis within my family so wasn’t bouncy and cute and outgoing and conventional.
I was mercilessly, relentlessly, daily and publicly bullied in Grades 10, 11 and 12 at my middle-class Toronto high school. I was nicknamed Doglin, had a gang of three or four boys barking at me down the hallways, had a dog biscuit laid on my desk in class, had my “nickname” shouted whenever it suited them. Teachers saw and heard. And did nothing.
I finally lost it in Grade 12 math class, as one of them, a stream of insults babbling out of his mouth sotto voce like some toxic soundtrack it was impossible to escape or shut off, hit my last frayed nerve. I’d already been going to see a therapist for years, who wanted to medicate me to relieve my (very real) anxiety. I had friends. I had a few teachers who treated me with great kindness and affection. But, short of changing schools (I’d already attended five by Grade 10), there was no relief to be had.
Our textbook that year was thick, weighing maybe two or three pounds, and I used it to whack the back of his head as hard as I could. God, that felt good!
The teacher, fully aware of the drama, quietly suggested I move to another seat.
Being bullied is one of the worst forms of torture. Unless you (as my partner also knows from his own childhood) or your kids have been through it, it looks harmless. The victim is always blown off, mildly advised to just ignore it, suck it up, walk away.
And if it were physical assault? Rape?
My parents were helpless and frustrated. This waking nightmare left me with a deep and abiding mistrust of “authority” — since no one who had any did a thing to help or protect me. To this day, to my embarrassment, I can be extremely thin-skinned even in the face of the most loving teasing.
It must stop. School authorities, whether teachers or administrators, should be criminally liable.
The factors involve a child’s inability to pick up on and respond to nonverbal cues from their pals.
In the United States, 10 to 13 percent of school-age kids experience some form of rejection by their peers. In addition to causing mental health problems, bullying and social isolation can increase the likelihood a child will get poor grades, drop out of school, or develop substance abuse problems, the researchers say.
“It really is an under-addressed public health issue,” said lead researcher Clark McKown of the Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Chicago….
In two studies, McKown and colleagues had a total of 284 children, ages 4 to 16 years old, watch movie clips and look at photos before judging the emotions of the actors based on their facial expressions, tones of voice and body postures. Various social situations were also described and the children were questioned about appropriate responses.
The results were then compared to parent/teacher accounts of the participants’ friendships and social behavior.
Kids who had social problems also had problems in at least one of three different areas of nonverbal communication: reading nonverbal cues; understanding their social meaning; and coming up with options for resolving a social conflict.
A child, for example, simply may not notice a person’s scowl of impatience or understand what a tapped foot means. Or she may have trouble reconciling the desires of a friend with her own. “It is important to try to pinpoint the area or areas in a child’s deficits and then build those up,” McKown explained.
This is smart and helpful but it doesn’t address a large issue — kids who bully. What options are there for a kid who’s being bullied? Shout back? Get into a fist-fight — or worse? Girls, especially, socialized to use their tongues, not their fists, as weapons of choice, can be extreme cruel to one another verbally, but how many of them would dare throw a punch at one of the mean girls to settle it?
As someone who was viciously bullied, daily, for almost three years in high school, responsibility for fixing the nightmare can’t solely be laid at the feet of the victim. Far too often, teachers and others in authority simply turn a blind eye instead of confronting the bullies and addressing their behavior.
I didn’t turn to drugs or drop out of school, although I spent many afternoons heading home in tears. Without a group of really good friends, and the knowledge that the hell of high school would not last forever, I could never have survived it.