â€œWhy are you so unattractive?â€ â€œA woman your age should not wear that!â€ â€œWhoa! Iâ€™ve seen fewer wrinkles on a shar pei!â€ â€œWith thighs like yours who needs enemies?â€ All of those unkind bullying statements are ones Iâ€™ve heard over the years. The sad thing is they didnâ€™t come from other people, they came from me. Sadder yet, they were self-directed as I gazed in the mirror.
October is national bullying prevention month. There are so many forms of bullying now that it boggles the mind. When I was a kid it was usually a face-to-face school enhanced situation. The bully tended to be a large and unhappy child who tormented other children, or a malcontent adult…like the teacher I recently blogged about (Lessons that stick). But cyber-bullying was not even imagined and still decades away.
In first and second grade I vividly remember trying to fend off kids wanting to taunt and tease my best friendâ€™s cousin, Dennis, who had a form of muscular dystrophy. Tragically, all but one of his brothers were also affected. Life became so difficult for Dennis that he was pulled out of school after a brutal year in second grade. It was heartbreaking to watch the inevitable physical demise as the years wore on, but I tried to remain in contact. Because Dennis and his brothers were â€œdifferentâ€ few got to know how sweet, funny, and friendly they were. It was a lesson Iâ€™ve carried with me throughout life. I thought.
It occurred to me that self-bullying is just as caustic and destructive as words that come from others.Â In many ways it is worse because the thoughts swirl and attack at any given provocation, at any moment of self-doubt.Â I can usually escape another person, I canâ€™t easily escape my own thoughts.
A lot of attention has been given–and rightly so– to kids and teens whoâ€™ve committed suicide or have taken other avenues of self-abuse because of bullies. Children often lack the maturity to handle the onslaught of negativity, and depending on the circumstances may feel like nobody cares. But how do we bully our adult-selves? How do we bully the aging?
Because of bullying awareness month, Iâ€™d like to add to the list of consciousness when it comes to cruel thoughts and statements:
When you see an elderly person, how do you react inside? How do you feel when they take a looooong time to move or converse or eat?
When was the last time you made friendly eye contact with an older person and took the time to smile, or to maybe say, â€œHelloâ€?
Do you prefer to ignore the elderly instead?Â Is it any wonder aging is often equated to becoming invisible?
When was the last time you berated yourself? Was it honest, or a socially prompted view of how you think you should be, but arenâ€™t? Who is your worst judge? Why? Why do you listen to that person? Can you change this? Can you accept that you are as unique as those proverbial snowflakes, and just as beautiful? Can you accept that you are enough just as you are?
Life comes without guarantees or a fair playing field. Someone my age knows that. How much time we have on this earth is uncertain and therefore precious. We know that too. So why waste a moment of it yearning to be something that someone else thinks we should be? Age and experience should bring wisdom, reflection, and chapters yet to be written. Aging should not mean invisibility, powerlessness, and abuse.Â Letâ€™s not accept bullying in any form…and that includes what we say to ourselves as we grow older.