Apart from a lucky few, most people I know are still trying to recover from high school or better yet erase it from their memory altogether. Bad hair, bad skin, bad fashion sense. Need I say more?! For me high school was a nightmare. I grew up as a farm child with a free spirit and love for everything wild, and my new city school didn’t quite appreciate my hairy legs and tie-dye T-shirts. (It also didn’t help that at no one on the farm had told me I needed to have at least 10 boyfriends by age 12 to be considered cool in the city).
Added to the mix, I had a couple of my own personal bullies at school, especially guys who took every opportunity to tell me I was ugly. Then there were those kids who moo-ed and baa-ed me to sleep from the upstairs windows of the hostel where I was a weekly boarder to make me feel like I was back in the barn – even I had to laugh at that, and I definitely also had some great times with some really cool people. But truth is, I got mocked so often that years after high school I still thought people were saying something nasty about me if I heard laughter nearby. I still thought of myself as someone unlikeable, ugly and needing to hide my real thoughts and feelings, else fend for them with my life. I hope most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, but my feeling is a lot of you will.
You see, bullying and trauma teach us personalised versions of fight or flight responses, which are very good for getting us out of dangerous or abusive situations with skin on our backs. If you are being manipulated, controlled or abused, it’s important to stand up for yourself and your beliefs, or get out of those situations altogether. But it’s a problem when we use strong fight or flight reactions even years later in situations where we aren’t being bullied but still feel we are. Maybe your colleagues disagree with one of your ideas and suddenly you feel like that cornered teenager; your man says he doesn’t like your lipstick colour and you feel an urge to hide in the bathroom; a friend challenges you and you lash out, only to regret it the next day.
Fighting and flighting are good when we really are in danger, but they wrap our lives in unnecessary emotional drama when the danger is a projection of our past locked in our subconscious. (Who’s feeling me here?). So, post bullying or abuse it’s really important to get the healing you need, and ask God to help you feel safe in your present. After all he’s your father – a strong, loving defender.
Secondly, get to know yourself and your triggers, and ask God to help you practice new, less extreme responses. For me, I know that conflict makes me feel like a trapped rabbit, so I’m learning to count to ten and tell myself that my world is still safe in God’s hands no matter what people say or think. That way I’m less likely to sit in a pool of sweat or get defensive. And as you can imagine, this one trick is doing my relationships and happiness levels the world of good.
We all have triggers – what are yours? And what are your secrets for getting past high school or the bullies from your past?