Growing up, I was bullied a lot.
But this post isn't about throwing a pity party with balloons all for me. This post is about how I finally learned how to deal with toxic people and give back to myself after almost forty years of people using me as their personal doormat.
My father was a journalist for Newsweek and The New York Times. Journalists for international publications like that move a lot. So, because I was one of his daughters, I moved with him. I would spend the first three out of every four years in a place getting teased, having things (either physical or metaphysical) thrown at me, and spending every night at home crying in my room. The fourth year, the year before we moved, I would finally find a group of friends to do things with.
And then we would go somewhere else, and I'd repeat the whole process.
In each place, I would always have one best friend I held on to the entire time. My special confidante who was always at my side through stones and insults, who would ride their bike to Lake Michigan with me, or walk to the Tube near the American School to buy a Seventeen at Selfridges.
I was bullied off my World of Warcraft server. But I returned recently because my friend still played there. My friend who's visited my husband and I twice a year for the past seven.
I know I've done good in the world. I've affected change in the lives of people as a social worker. I've been told by girls who have suffered trauma at the hands of a family member that I'm the best thing that's ever happened to them. I made Christmas happen for a family in poverty. I helped a family with no services get everything they need for a sick family member to go home from the hospital, safely.
I've been a wonderful person to hundreds of people. I'm a good sister. A good daughter. I'm a good wife. An excellent dog-mother. A good friend.
So when someone recently tried to bully me, I turned to my dog and said, "That was not my fault." Because it wasn't. I'd been nothing but a good friend to that person. I helped them at every opportunity. I provided them everything that I could. But it wasn't good enough. And that's not my fault. I don't know what's wrong, but all I can continue to do is be friendly, and remember that their opinions are nothing but their opinions, and have no bearing on me as a person.
It's a very freeing thing.
Someone attributes an adjective to me that I don't like? I can either own that adjective and mold it to me, or dismiss it. Because it's an adjective of their construction, of their opinions that they carry, and it has no bearing on me as a person. Someone may see me as aggressive because they see the dark hair, height, and tattoos. But they don't know my history of helping people, or my kind nature. So I can either own the word Aggressive and make it my own, or I can just think like The Dude: "That's just like ... your opinion, man."
Being bullied in places like World of Warcraft is different. The force of anonymity makes people a lot less polite with their quips. But there are tools in MMOs like this that make it easy to avoid the Trolls. My Ignore list is plentiful, and I avoid those who offend me, surrounding myself only with people who make me happy.
I'm not the type to tell people that they're being Ignored, that only feeds the Trolls, which is Rule Number One of How Not to Negotiate With Internet Trolls. And in World of Warcraft, where the Troll you're dealing with may be an actual Troll, you're dealing with a double-whammy.
If you're being bullied, don't listen to people telling you to kill them with kindness. Yes, you can do that, but you have to do some self-care as well. Tell yourself that the person is full of shit first, and that their opinion has nothing whatsoever to do with you, and is completely invalid. Then you can kill them with kindness and compassion. I believe if you don't do that self-care first, you're just going to wallow in that self-pity of "What am I doing wrong here?" like I have my entire life.
I was doing everything right. I was just fighting the wrong opinions. There are some people you just can't help, and there are some fights you just have to walk away from. It's just not worth it to your psyche. Sometimes the pain is too great and too damaging.
If moving hundreds of miles away isn't an option, because you're not a kid whose father works for Newsweek or The New York Times, and now you're a full-grown adult who has a mortgage and damn responsibilities, well fine. Sometimes just understanding that waving goodbye to a friendship is okay, too.
Because while frenemies are fuel for great storytelling, no one wants to have one over every Sunday for Game of Thrones night.