Allow me to tell you a story, my story.
Once upon a time, I was bullied. Yes. Me, the loudmouth, abrasive, sometimes arrogant, always boisterous man, the man with the thousand “fucks” in his speech, got bullied. It was so long ago that I feel like it happened to another person. Yet, here I am, standing and saying it for everyone to hear because there is no shame in it. I only remember it when I see other people getting bullied. The despair, fear, shame, insecurity, cringing, hopelessness, helplessness, and weakness all come rushing back.
I was a young child, barely 5 and it lasted until my early teens. I wasn’t bullied every day. However, the bullying came from different people so, I had to watch out constantly my speech and actions.
I was beat up and it hurt. I was sad, I cried, I was humiliated, I felt weak, I felt unimportant and alone. I felt abandoned because no one came to my aid. Well, no one ever helped me in a significant manner, and I came face to face with a realization that stayed with me to this very day; I am alone in this and I better find a way out.
Life had handed me a dilemma: allow the abuse to continue or stand up and fight back.
The first choice would have destroyed me mentally and physically. It would have shattered my self esteem, my personality, my hope of being free of abuse. Moreover, violence, whether physical or psychological, never deescalates. It only goes one way: UP. Letting the abuse continue was not a viable or sound choice. I had to push the fear away and stand up for myself. So, the second choice became the only and obvious choice. Yet, as I thought about it, I realized the second choice was still dangerous.
The logical choice was to stand up for myself. It was, is and will always be the only worthy choice. So, I fought back, and I got my ass kicked even more. I got even more scared and more alone. The humiliation took another turn and become more severe. Yet, I fought.
For those who have never experienced it, fighting back brings its own set of problems; the bullies intentionally intensify their attacks, they become more powerful, both in might and humiliation. Bullies despise resistance and revolt. Fighting back means they would fight back to tame this rebellion. They thrive on attacking their prey because it fuels their self esteem. However, bullies, except for very specific cases, are hurting inside. They are deeply insecure, weak and unsure. Beating up others allows them to not think about their own feelings. I only understood that part in my 20’s, as I grew up and read about bullying in different studies.
How did I fight back? Well, I did what people do in movies, I kid you not; I learned karate! As crazy as it sounds, it helped me tremendously! Martial arts have a way of teaching you how to fight back physically. They also encourage you to understand your opponent’s mental state, which is invaluable. You basically learn how to defend yourself while understanding others and mostly understanding yourself, and how far you can go. As soon as you know how and where to hit, trust me, fighting back becomes easier. Let’s not forget how your self esteem increases as you become stronger, sure of yourself, and calmer. Once you understand your own strength, you become comfortable with yourself. Fear turns into calm, insecurity into security, weakness into strength. You don’t become Superman, but you simply become stronger. The bullies see it and it usually terrifies them because they are afraid you might retaliate, which only brings fear and humiliation in their hearts.
Then, one day, the abuse stopped because I had gotten strong enough, both mentally and physically. I learned how to defend myself physically and how to defend myself using words. I understood the value of being self deprecating and self aware. Through all that hell, I learned about myself, weirdly enough.
I would like to point out that the abuse didn’t just stop! No abuse stops overnight. It takes time and as you resist, the bully will keep trying, hoping to break your spirit and/or your body! When you resist, that is when the abuse intensifies in an unprecedented way, so you are faced yet again with the same dilemma: take the increased abuse or fight back, knowing the abuse is about to get worse. You soldier on. The abuse will stop after a while, but it will be because you fought back, not because the bully gets tired. Sometimes, bullies love when you fight back because it allows them to be crueller. In the end, they all stopped. I became a bit strong for them to hurt but my sharp tongue was my best weapon. I developed quick responses, sarcastic comments, I made fun of the bullies and it stopped. When you become strong and you proceed to beat bullies with words, they rarely raise their hands above their hips.
I am not saying bullying is ok. I fucking hate bullies. Every time I see a bully, I want to send them to a metaphorical hell. Yet, mild bullying can help you navigate through life. It teaches you how to defend yourself and not be a pushover. Now, what is mild bullying? Every person will have their own answer because it’s subjective. Obviously, I am not talking about the current level of cyberbullying that pushes young kids to kill themselves. I am not talking about being a child soldier, or being beaten up for being gay, transgender, a woman, a different kid in a homogenous world. I am not talking about being bullied so much that you cannot get out of the house. I am not talking about the kind of adversity born of PTSD after coming home from a war zone. I am not talking about the adversity of growing up in a fucking refugee camp, in horrible conditions which take the humanity out of the toughest soul. The list is endless, and I believe you get my point.
A young man recently told me he was bullied a lot just for being gay in Burundi. He was severely depressed. He went through a different bullying than I did, that’s for sure. I didn’t have an answer for him and still don’t. I am not in his shoes so I could never feel what he felt all these years. Yet, I know he is stronger today even if he might not see it himself, at least I hope he is.
I am not saying what happened to him was fair, right or good. I am saying he unfortunately got a taste of the ugly side of life. Now, is that good? I would argue it is, to some degree. He knows for a fact, people have an ugly side and you cannot let them treat you any way they want. He told me he fought back but it was never enough. It rarely is anyway…
It is easy for me to say because all this happened more than 25 years ago. Nonetheless, if we think about it objectively; if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one will, and the abuse will continue. As the abuse goes on, so will the stress, anger, despair and your mental health. So, you are fighting for your survival, to stronger and lesser degrees.
Abuse, harassment and bullying are not good or decent things to do to another human being. I do not condone it, nor do I rejoice to hear about it. Yet, whether we like it or not, it does make you stronger in the long run. I was lucky because the abuse never went too far. Sometimes, it does and it fucking sucks. I am standing here because I have trained, yes trained, my mind to see adversity as a good thing within the bad thing happening. You may not agree with me and I know some of you won’t. But if you think you will go through this life without being pushed around, then you must be living in a cabin on a mountain by yourself. In any society, there are always bad apples. There are always people ready to bully, push, harass and insult others. They will never disappear, and they will always try to find new ways to hurt others.
If you are being bullied right now, I am sorry for what you are going through. I only ask you to consider fighting back. Know it will not be easy but the alternative will not help you at all. You will not succeed at first, you will fail and it will hurt but one day, you will chase those demons away and on that day, you will enjoy your victory. Moreover, you will acquire the tools to deal with a similar situation, if it ever presents itself.
Strength doesn’t come from never facing adversity. Strength comes from fighting, from standing up for yourself, from taking the power of the bullies away, from perseverance, from resilience, from valuing yourself enough to know you deserve peace and happiness.
A little adversity is not a bad thing. My story isn’t unique. Millions of stories, like mine exist, it is a fact. Adversity isn’t bullying necessarily. It could be anything you face that makes you uneasy and that makes your life difficult.
In the end, I consider myself strong because I fought and became strong, not because I was born strong. Strength is acquired, never given.
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day!