This is the third and final installment of a series on my personal account of psychological bullying and the long term effects thereof. Here I try to imagine how life may have been different had I been spared that experience.
When I was really young, I believed that I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. Being brought up in the 1960's & 70's I had a father who simultaneously encouraged me to dream of big and lofty goals while believing that a college education would be unnecessary for his daughter who would simply marry well and have a nice life with a good provider. At eleven, I wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician to be exact. With the women's movement in full swing there was a certain amount of hope that this was possible. I imagined my life taking care of children and making a difference in the world. I also dreamed of being a wife to a fellow physician and having a large brood of happy children. I truly believed that I had what it would take to attain it all.
By the time I hit high school, after years of continual ridicule, I no longer believed in myself or that I could achieve anything. I felt hideous and repulsive all the time. I took refuge in music and writing. While my friends dated and experimented with relationships, I stayed home and read about psychology. I wound up marrying the first boyfriend I ever had and I did everything within my power to try to make it work, but there were indelible flaws which could not be fixed. It took me 15 years to accept things would never change and so my childbearing years were wasted in a marriage that reinforced the worst possible beliefs I held about myself. Even after I was out on my own, I worried I wouldn't make it and as independent as I was, the fear was near paralyzing! No matter what friends saw in me that was good, valuable, skillful or otherwise, and no matter how much they said it to me, inside, I never believed in myself. Inside I was a nothing taking up space in a world where the future seemed dim. I longed to have the confidence and self determination that I was inspired by in others. I just couldn't find it. If I'm honest, I can say that I put myself in situations, jobs and even some relationships that nurtured my self-hatred.
At 52, I still struggle to some degree with self-loathing. I can be cruelly abusive to myself with my thoughts and there are days that I have to work to not say horribly hurtful things to myself in the mirror. There are also bouts of sadness. Mostly however, I have worked through these feelings. They have far less power over me than they used to and I am able to acknowledge, accept and appreciate many qualities that I possess which are good. I have a great job, wonderful friends and a life full of joy, creativity and new experiences. Today, I like who I am on the inside... it's the packaging that bears witness to my past.
But what if I was never relentlessly ridiculed? What if I never lost the belief that I had the character to achieve my dreams? What if the bullies did not succeed in tearing me down? What if encouragement shaped my life rather than insults? What if that awkward precocious 11 year-old grew up unimpeded and ran the show that is my life? How would my life be different? Well, perhaps in a parallel universe that is how it played out. Let's ponder some of these answers...
That precocious little girl I started out to be would have held on to per potential and never have put up with taunts and jeers in false hope to gain someone's affection. She would have known that people like that aren't worth her time. She would have worked harder academically throughout junior high and high school and been close to the top of her class. She would have been involved in brainier pursuits along side her music and used her stubbornness on a debate team or speech club. Success in high school would have allowed her to apply to college and receive scholarships and aid to help her study whatever she chose. She may have held on to the dream of becoming a physician or she may have gone in a completely different direction. Perhaps, like the real Lori, she would have studied psychology, only she would have continued on to achieve a PhD. She would enjoy success rather than fear it. She would have attained mastery over her body and emotions. She would be proud of her physical strength rather than be embarrassed by it. She may have gotten involved in a team sport or gymnastics which always made her feel alive. That version of me would have had dates throughout high school. Her positive attitude, friendly nature and willingness to be helpful all wrapped up in a toned body would be a combination of qualities which would be attractive to people in general but perhaps also to boys. She would be more open and far less afraid of being hurt. She would know deep inside that she was strong in character and resilient in the face of challenge. That girl... she would be unstoppable.
The downside of being that girl is that I would have different people in my life. I cannot predict who those people would be or what qualities they would possess. To that I must say that I love the people in my life now as the woman I have become. They mean the world to me and I could not imagine my life without them in it. So, if I were somehow given the chance to magically go back in time and do it over again with different choices, I am not sure I would do it. I am more than the sum total of my experiences: I am all of those plus all of the relationships in my life. That would be an awful lot to risk, not knowing that the outcome would be as good as where I am right now, today. After all, nothing is certain, even when things are easy.
The point of all of this writing is to make it perfectly clear with detailed examples that bullying through ridicule does real damage. It changes you from who you were meant to be into something and someone else. It limits your potential because you think less of yourself as a result. But it does not sentence you to a terrible life. There are still plenty of choices to make along the way and there are many wonderful experiences to be had after the bullying days are done. I am glad I had the chutzpah to take a good hard look back at this demon from my past. What the result of sharing it all in a public forum might be remains to be seen. Regardless of any particular outcome, I can look out and say: I am here. I survived. I have learned. I have grown and I thrive. If I have to carry around excess weight as an external representation of my past, then so be it. Neither the bullies nor the fat defines me now. I get to define myself and write the rest of my life story!