I admit it, I’m a loner.
A Nigel No-friends, the girl who ate lunch in a dimly-lit toilet cubicle during her later high school years to avoid bullies and social contact. The girl who swears before each new semester at uni that she’ll waltz on in and get herself some girlfriends, only to sit alone with headphones in, silently cringing at the thought of getting involved in a conversation.
When I look back on my high-school years it’s clear to me I was socially homeless – lost in a sea of miniskirts and cliques, hormones racing. It seems that not much has changed. I now am a mini-skirt wearing, hormone-filled gal on the edge of adulthood, but it still feels that something about me doesn’t quite sit right with other people, or vice-versa.
Oftentimes while slumping in my own self-pity I’ll tell myself “I’m an outcast, and that’s the way it was destined to be” but when I truly sit and ponder, things become a little less clear.
Growing up I was let down and destroyed mentally, emotionally, and physically by girls that I had deemed my favourite people to walk Earth’s sacred ground. I was left sitting alone, devouring John Mayer’s discography, daydreaming about the day he’d whisk me away into a world of guitars. I’d turn around and scream a few last obscenities to the bullies who devastated my self-confidence with their reverse-racism, and isolating intimidations.
When times get tough, and the anxiety seeps through every pore of my body I find comfort in knowing
I’m not alone in my struggles, but the question lingers as to why it’s so difficult for me and many others to hold, nurture and maintain friendships? What is it that makes being alone so appealing? Those are questions I pose to myself each morning, afternoon, and night. Questions that hold a deep-rooted place in my life.
Sydney-based Headspace psychologist Emma Schubert says that my and many others’ default desire to run and be alone in social situations is a result of broken trust at a
crucial stage of development.
“…In our school years,” she told The Newsroom, “we are meant to be learning that we can be close to others, what works and doesn’t work for making friendships, and that the world is an OK place. When bullying happens the victims often ends up believing that people and relationships are dangerous, and – even more damaging – that there is something fundamentally ‘unlovable’ or ‘wrong’ about them.
“This means relationships feel stressful and dangerous, and or they may believe they don’t deserve friends. The logical conclusion is then that being alone is more predictable and therefore a smarter choice.”
It’s often said that bullying can have a traumatic and long-lasting effect on the victim, with many experiencing symptoms present in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, all of which I’ve endured with a fiery wrath. Schubert says this is not the case for all, but that ‘distressing memories, nightmares’ and more can occur as a result of the abuse.
“To formally meet the threshold to be diagnosed with PTSD someone must have experienced ‘exposure to actual or threatened death, injury or sexual violence’,” she says.
“Some bullying may meet the criteria, and some may not. However symptoms of PTSD may be present without a formal diagnosis, things such as intrusive distressing memories, nightmares, avoiding things that remind you of the trauma (for many of our clients this means no longer attending school), and negative alterations in mood and cognitions…”
This particular statement rings true to me. After years of intense phys ical, mental and emotional abuse on school grounds and off, my entire family was urged to move to a new suburb, one that would take us as far from our depressing reality as possible. A fresh start and three schools later, I had finally found a place to comfortably call home, yet my mind was still reeling with long-term effects, and no immediate fix.
Schubert says that for sufferers of bullying the most important thing to do is to understand and identify the areas in which they have been impacted, so that they can begin to move forward, and knock down the road blocks.
“The person needs to understand where the bullying has impacted them. Is it trusting others, is it physical safety in certain areas, is it feeling out of place or unwanted? Counselling then addresses these areas, makes sense of the bullying and slowly starts to build up skills in this area…”
It’s strange to think of the ways that bullying has affected me. While
it has seen me blossom into a strong, set-in-her-ways woman, I’ve also felt inhibited and weak, as though I could crumble into the pavement at any given moment. I have a tendency to perceive situations negatively, and social anxiety still lodges itself in my life on a daily basis, but I’m working on it, and that’s all I’m capable of doing.
Mindfulness, speaking up, and a little Tina Turner can do wonders for a person’s soul.
We bullying victims are not alone, and my lifelong battle with making friends will, with any hope, soon be a distant memory. – Chloe Kay Richardson