Bullying is a hot topic these days. Schools, teachers, and administrators are implementing ‘hands off’ policies, but we all know the lie contained in the old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ Anyone else know personally how much words can hurt?
As a kid, I was more outcast than social butterfly. I was followed home by kids who teased and made fun of me. I ate lunch alone, spent recess alone largely. I enjoyed seasons of friendship in elementary school mostly due to my athletic skill in various sports. I spent hours every week walking in the woods and on gravel roads with my dog imagining myself in a world with people who didn’t ridicule or tease me at every opportunity. Some of my best friends were characters in my books. I considered suicide. When I escaped to high school, I found a new group of accepting friends and never looked back.
But this past weekend, something happened to bring all the elementary terror back in a screaming flash leaving me unable to eat for almost two days, and spend hours alone in the dark. I received two emails criticizing me regarding a piece I’d recently written. *shrug* That’s not new, though it’s infrequent. I’ve offended people before, it happens. But this wasn’t simply a case of sour grapes or a ‘I think you’re wrong’ commentary I could chalk up to personal opinion or ignorance – this was a personal attack.
Now, I will give the woman credit – she didn’t use profanity. But often the deepest wounds are delivered with a smile. My character was attacked, my professional integrity questioned, and demands clearly stated. I am ashamed to admit I revised the post and begged the blog owner to post the revisions. I had taken a kick to the teeth and was down.
What if she was right? Maybe I really was a horrible person blatantly disregarding others’ feelings for the sake of salacious content. Maybe I really wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Maybe I should crawl into a hole and never come out again because what if she’s waiting for me, what if there are others like her. Against the advice of professional peers and my husband, I believed her.
Silly, right? Sometimes the past sneaks up behind you and gets the upper hand for a moment or two.
Then last night I received a follow-up email to the first. The whole thing still needed work *smile smile* so maybe I would consider the following revisions… Then it hit me. She’d delivered the first kick to the teeth and I’d acted like I deserved it, nothing more than a much-abused dog quivering with my tail between my legs, and she was back for round two. That’s when I delivered a stiff upper-cut to the past and sent it packing. I’d promised myself I’d never again be a victim, never let someone take shots at me without a fight. I wasn’t that little kid anymore.
“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” -Billy Graham
I didn’t have to take this from her, from anyone, and I was big enough to stand up for myself. And I did – rather eloquently if you ask me, and added the first non-spam email into my blocked senders list. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can take it if you don’t agree with me, and I’m usually willing to discuss it like an adult as long as voices don’t get raised. I’m happy to part agreeing to disagree, or even swayed from my original opinion, but let’s leave the personal slurs and mud-slinging for professional politicians.
The past still won a small victory by ruining my long weekend with my family, but I learned a very important lesson. Shame is a sharp weapon when used by a skilled practitioner, but only when you apply an edge of truth to it. Her attack only had bite because I allowed it to. I should have just deleted it and moved on. Lesson learned.
Have you suffered a personal verbal attack? How did you handle it? Has your past snuck up on you unexpectedly?
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