by Maisie Smith on October 8, 2015
Claudine, a surly fourth-grader who loved wearing Nike hi-tops, literally kicked me off of her seat and onto the dirty school bus floor when I was 8 years old. Our dance of defiance went on for weeks. I’d sit, she’d kick… until a girl named Kiersten scrunched over and let me sit next to her.
In junior high, Brandon once slammed me up against a wall because I tripped over one of those brown rubber doorstops while running to class and fell against his locker, accidentally closing it. When he grabbed me by my Izod collar and actually lifted my 90 lb. body off the ground, I thought I was toast.
Not too long ago, I volunteered to teach a bunch of 6th graders how to draw like Picasso for “Art Appreciation Month.” Sounds pretty non-threatening, right? For the entire 45 minutes they called me names and threw paperclips at me.
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I’ve had my fair share of bullies in the 41 years I’ve been on this planet. When you walk on the weird side, it kind of comes with the territory. I’ve never really given much thought to bullies, though. I just assumed they were misguided jerks who needed to be hugged more and told that they matter (and periodically put in timeout to contemplate the benefits of living a less asshole-y life).
That was until I came face to face with the most ruthless, nasty, incredibly cruel bully of all bullies…
As a writer, my days are often filled with frustration and resistance as I hunker down with my BSS (Blank Screen Syndrome, for the layperson) and try to figure out how to magically sling words together. Coming up with that first sentence is often paralyzing. I’ll sharpen my pencils, hop on Twitter or run a “quick little errand” to Staples to pick up more 3 x 5 notecards. I’ll do almost anything to not have to come face to face with a blinking cursor.
My inner bully tends to come out of hiding during times like these. She lives in the grimy back alley of my brain, curating a massive library of negative thoughts and bringing them out at the exact right time.
“I can’t think of anything interesting to write about” turns into “You are a lousy writer.”
“What if this isn’t good enough?” turns into “It will never be good enough. Never. Never. NEVER. Give up now.”
“No one is going to read this” turns into “Of course they won’t. It’s like something you would pull out of the bottom of the garbage disposal. You suck.”
People frequently tell me that I have a way with words, that my voice is easy to pick out in a sea of other writers, that they enjoy the creativity I breathe into to their projects. And I nod and laugh nervously and then proceed to fling open the door so that my inner bully can waltz right in and give it to me straight.
Only losers eat an entire bag of Doritos for lunch. You have “mom hair” today, by the way. That last paragraph doesn’t even make sense. Everyone on social media has a way better life than yours. Those 6th graders were right… you are a “nerd turd.”
A good bully will give her victim the chance to get up and fight back. But not mine. When I’m down, she continues to pummel me like a punching bag in an old-timey boxing gym.
I don’t believe I am alone in this self-bullying struggle. Most of us are pros at turning the screws on our own self-loathing, especially when it comes to business. It’s easier to belittle possibilities than it is to embrace the vulnerability that comes from putting ourselves out into the world and risk being judged.
So, how do I stop my inner bully from stealing the show?
It hasn’t been easy. She’s a tough bird. Occasionally she wins the battle because she was able to dig a trench deep enough to wound my self-esteem. I have shelved project after project because she was able to come up with a corrosive comment at the perfect time.
I hate that. But what I have come to learn is this:
Bullies are merely our fears playing dress up as an iron-fisted overlord.
My inner bully is a frightened little child. Scared of change. Driven by ridiculous expectations. Knowing this makes it easier to show her compassion. When she tries to rattle my cage as loudly as possible, I simply acknowledge her. “I see you and my heart aches for your need to strangle ALL THE THINGS. That’s no way to live. But I’ve got things to do in this world. And I can’t give my strength away to someone who simply wants to crush it to pieces in her meaty little fist.”
And she’ll stomp her feet and march away. The next time she comes out, her smack talk doesn’t cut as deep.
Maybe one day, we’ll even become friends.