Growing up, I was not the cool kid – and my peers noticed. I couldn’t escape — they were relentless. They would tease me in the hallways, call me fat and poke my sides. They would pass me hateful notes in class and watch as I tried to hide my hot, angry tears.
But most of the name-calling happened behind my back. I knew from their glances and stares, whispered words and pointed fingers. And all of this was just as painful as the cruel words spoken to my face.
My only hope of ever fitting in was to join Girl Scouts. The outdoors were my escape and I adored everything about nature. So, when I hit the fifth grade, I signed up. By that time, however, most of the mean girls had already laid claim to the troop. Instead of finding a safe place and acceptance, I found myself in the same hostile environment as before.
Thankfully, by the time middle school came around, we moved to a new school district. Only then did I finally feel like I was accepted for who I was. I certainly wasn’t the most popular, but at least I had friends and no one to openly harass me.
It wasn’t until college that I realized most of the mean girls I faced in elementary school were dealing with their own problems — parents filing divorce, siblings with alcohol and drugs addictions and low-income households.
Mean girls, and others at the top of the popularity pyramid, are just as desperate to fit in as misfits are. And they fit in the only way they know how, by tearing others down. These bullies are witnessing and responding to social pressures and learning how to act by watching their family members’ interactions. Then, they deflect abuse by abusing others. They act out to gain attention that they otherwise wouldn’t receive at home.
A quick Facebook search quickly turned up pictures of my childhood bullies, now fully grown adults. Some were married, some were successful business professionals and others even had kids of their own. Their smiling profile pictures stared back at me and I realized they probably don’t even remember me. So why were their mocking voices still so clear in my mind?
Because I was still letting their words rule me. The bullies were still affecting my life. And the only way to silence their voices in my head was to forgive them. So I did, because, quite frankly, holding a grudge against someone who probably doesn’t even remember you is absolutely pointless.
While forgiving might have come easily for me, forgetting has been a different journey entirely.
Bullying can inflict serious damage on mental health, social well-being and self worth. So, undoing years of mental and verbal abuse requires me to completely change the way I see and speak to myself. After all, if someone tells you you’re fat or stupid long enough, eventually you come to accept these things as facts.
So, each day, I consciously choose to be kind to myself. I remind myself I am beautiful, smart and worthy of love and I make sure I tell my two daughters, they too, are the same. Actively speaking kind words to myself has given me more self worth than ever before. Being a mother has done wonders for my attitude. I no longer second-guess my decisions or wonder what others will think of me. As long as my choices come from a place of integrity and honesty, I can be confident in my decisions and myself as a human being.
Forgiveness has taught me how to love myself better and, in doing so, love others better. My bullies’ harsh words came from a place of pain deep inside them. Many adults still speak from this dark place of abuse and pain. So each day I make an effort to be kind and show grace to everyone, because every single person is fighting a battle I know nothing about.
While it may have been a long time coming, forgiving my mean girls was ultimately the best thing I could have ever done for myself, my confidence, and the way I approach difficult people.
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, passionate freelance writer, and the blogger behind Mindfulness Mama. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.