I went *there* in triads this week. I didn’t want to but felt that there is little else on my mind. It started off being a conversation about a running slanging match I’m trying not to have with someone via work. His aggressive hectoring attitude makes me feel small and insignificant so I have responded totally unprofessionally by running away and ignoring him. This has naturally made me think about the bigger picture and I chose to go there. In some ways I think the last three years of counselling has been about getting me to go there.
I don’t deal well with hectoring bullies. The last time I had to was about ten years ago and that time I did go to pieces and struggled to get back. This time I felt more that I knew what I was running away from and why.
My father bullied my mother. Not in an overt domestic abuse type of way, but in a very passive-aggressive manner that said “if you don’t make things happen how I want them to happen then I will not be happy and if I’m not going to be happy then no one else in this household is going to be remotely happy”. No pressure.
I’m not sure I’ve ever called it bullying before.
My peers bullied me at school, both primary and secondary. Catherine started it, the American who had enjoyed (I think) the position of being the only foreigner and maybe I threatened her status. What did it involve? I struggle to recollect. There was lining up for the school bus home and being accused of queue jumping, no matter how long I’d been there. I’d have to let her and her little friends in or else. It was whispers, words spread, that I smelt, or was dirty, or was mean. I really struggle to put words to it.
The local priest (Roman Catholic) bullied me at school. I was the only one in the year who was not preparing for my First Communion. The priest took us for RE, which was probably more Religious Instruction than Education. He belittled me for only being a Protestant and I was thankful that my parents hadn’t been honest and put me down as an atheist. He tried to convert me, almost by force, and it failed. We also had to go to confession after our First Communion and once a fortnight we would spend the afternoon in church taking it in turns to confess. As a Protestant I didn’t have to confess but I did have to spend two or three hours contemplating my sins and my inadequacies of not being a good Catholic, sitting in a dull and dreary church with nothing to do.
My French teacher bullied me at secondary school. Mme Van De Steen didn’t like foreigners. I never knew whether it was just the English speaking foreigners or all of them (I did meet an American who had also suffered at her hands who had somehow managed to resolve it). It didn’t much matter. She told me she would make me repeat the year if I didn’t buck up and then she would sit there and not help me. We would go through exam papers and review the answer and she would pick me out to answer a question I hadn’t been able to answer and still couldn’t and she would mock me for not knowing. I expect my French was better than her English but that wasn’t the point.
My sister bullied me in a passive-aggressive way. One-upmanship. She needed to put me down in order to feel better about herself. This went on well into her thirties, if not forties. What hurt with her is that my mother used to be very aware of it and would thank me for not biting back. Then one day she stopped seeing it, as if something had just switched off and she couldn’t any more. I did call her out on it and she just didn’t know what I was talking about.
My first boyfriend made me cry a lot. I honestly have no idea why, just that we’d sit in the pub and I’d spend the evening crying while we were talking. When I did split up with him he then threatened suicide, which is another form of bullying and it took me a year to really split up with him. He didn’t commit suicide.
My second boyfriend had been to Oxford so my dad liked him. He was incredibly sarcastic which was fine up to a point. I was not very nice to him and he was generous. He moved from one side of London to the other so I didn’t have to commute in order to go to college and then I dumped him. But there was an underlying edge to him that wasn’t bullying, more just poking holes at me.
All my subsequent partners followed similar patterns: they would seek to dominate through bullying or passive-aggressive behaviour and just wear me down. They almost succeeded.