When we are bullied and people treat us in a way that makes us feel bad whether that is by calling us names, hitting us, making fun of us, telling us we don’t look nice, ignoring us, or leaving us out of things, it can hurt very deeply.
When we are in a situation in which we feel scared, threatened, weak, helpless, frightened, or humiliated (like when people make fun of us or say something bad about us in front of others) then our bodies and brains try to protect us. This is called the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ response. What does that mean? When you are threatened, your brain responds to try to protect you, and different things happen in your body that might make you want to stand up for yourself (you might feel angry or want to do something to protect yourself) – that’s the fight response; you may want to run away, that’s the ‘flight’ response to protect yourself you try to get away from the bad situation, or you may not feel you can do anything at all to protect yourself, and so you ‘freeze’. I remember a time in a class where a group of boys were making fun of me and the way I looked, and the teacher was actually encouraging them which is very sad, and it made me feel very hurt, sad, ashamed, frightened and horrible about myself. It wasn’t my fault (it took me a long time to figure that out, even as a grown up, because it was so confusing) but I thought it was because something was wrong with me. Even though it hurt really bad, I just sat there, silently, I was ‘numb’, I froze (not in the way you do if you get cold, but I wasn’t able to react, do or say anything or tell anyone how I felt). There was also another time, when a group of girls who were stronger than me were gathered together. The girl who was the main bully saw that I had a bald patch on my head, it wasn’t very big and I had tried to cover it up. I felt so ashamed of it that I didn’t even tell my mum. (This is what doctors call ‘alopecia areata’ – when some of your hair falls out in a patch, maybe because of stress. Thankfully after some time the hair grew back for me, and I now have lovely long hair). The bigger girl grabbed my head when she noticed the bald patch, pulled my head down and showed everyone in the group and said, ‘Oh cool, a bald patch’. I felt frightened, and it hurt me and I felt very sad, but I didn’t cry at the time. People may have thought that they could be mean to me and it wouldn’t hurt me as badly as it did. I froze. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t stand up for myself or find the courage to tell them to leave me alone. I just froze. But that was just my brain’s way of protecting me in a situation that I didn’t have the strength or confidence to handle. I couldn’t even tell anyone what happened even though it felt so bad. But at other times, when I was alone, maybe in the sick bay / sick room I would cry silently to myself. It is important that you know that it is ok to cry. Even if a grown up or someone else tells you not to, your body, brain and emotions need to what is called ‘process’ that difficult experience. Sometimes we can’t process things at the time, and we may find ourselves crying later on, and not really know why. It might be a day later, a week, a month, or even like many grown ups who have been bullied and never had the chance to ‘process’ through these things at the time, they may burst into tears and cry a lot many many years later when they are adults. This happened to me, and I didn’t understand it at the time, but other grown ups whose jobs it is to help people explained some of these things to me, and it made a bit more sense. It is kind of our body’s way of healing us by letting the hurt and pain and bad stuff out, just like when you are sick with a cold, you might get a runny nose and that’s because your body is trying to get the infection out so that you can get stronger and feel better later on. Our bodies and brains are pretty amazing that way, but sometimes it can take a lot of time to feel better, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get better, stronger and even feel happy again. So it is ok to cry. You don’t need to feel ashamed of crying, it’s a bit like getting a runny nose and getting rid of the unhealthy stuff. Crying can sometimes be good for you even if you don’t know why you are crying, and even if a grown up tells you not to. The grown up may just not understand that it’s your body’s way of helping you process your emotions and hurt, and they may just not want you to feel sad. But it’s ok to feel sad, to cry and then to get stronger again in your own time.
There have been a lot of big ideas here, some may be difficult to understand, so well done for reading this far. If it is something you have been thinking about, maybe you can ask a grown up to help you understand what you have read, or if you have any questions, you can leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them and help you through. Remember you are never alone, and you are very special.