Through elementary school, I was often picked on for my speech impediment, which I later realized was my dyslexia and Asperger’s. I was consistent in my failure – academically, socially, and athletically.. I was an easy target for bullies.
My strategy became, hide and appease to avoid shaming and getting beat up. It seemed to work until it didn’t. In the spring of sixth grade, it came back. For a few consecutive days, every day as I got off the bus, the bully would pick on me, often hitting me. On the fourth day, I lost it. Without thinking, I did what I never thought I would do – I swung a punch. It landed on his nose, which I broke.
The next day a bigger bully did his thing. I fought back again. It was only then that I realized this wasn’t going to stop. The bullies would keep coming, and I would have to keep fighting back. But I also knew that I didn’t want to spend my life constantly looking over my shoulder and worrying about who was going to come after me next. So I made a decision – I would back down and try to find another way to deal with the situation.
And that’s exactly what I did. I stopped fighting back, and something unexpected happened — a truce was called. The bullies started to respect me, and I found that I was no longer the target of their attacks. That summer, my family moved to upstate New York, and I decided to use my newfound assertiveness to start making real friends and enjoy school.
But even today, I still have moments of shame and inadequacy. My childhood memories can resurface with the moments when I feel frozen, unsure of how to move forward. Doing this work we do at EVRYMAN taught me to feel those uncomfortable feelings and beliefs as I take action.
I have found that many men have experienced bullying as the perpetrator or victim. This disconnection can lead to pain, stress, or trauma, causing men to act out toward those whom they perceive as having less power. When faced with a threat or stress, the response can be to fight, flight, or freeze.
Consider this scenario: your father had a bad day at work and came home stressed. Without the tools to manage that stress in a healthy way, he may react by lashing out at you for something as small as having your bike on the lawn. You may react to this by suppressing your emotions, which can then manifest in other ways, such as acting out toward others or engaging in destructive behavior.
It is important to recognize that this hurt and anger cannot simply be ignored or pushed aside. It will find a way to manifest itself unless there is a safe space to feel and express those emotions. In our society, expressing anger and asserting dominance is often viewed as acceptable behavior for men. However, this type of behavior does not address the underlying trauma and can lead to further suppression and destructive behavior.
One example of this is the “grandiose man” the therapist and author Terry Real speaks about. This man may feel entitled to certain privileges or status and believe that he is superior to others. This man may use aggression or manipulation to maintain their sense of power and mask their feelings of shame and unworthiness.
Our approach at EVRYMAN is to explore and address underlying feelings of shame, anger, sadness, and fear while addressing the maladaptive coping strategies that may have developed due to the inability to feel the core feelings. By working through these issues, individuals can learn to develop a more authentic and accepting relationship with themselves and build healthier and more fulfilling relationships with others.
Were you bullied, or were you the bully?
What were and are the consequences of your survival strategies?
What under your survival strategies was unsafe to feel or express?
What wanted to come out but never had a chance to be expressed?
What shame has helped keep this held in?bulliedEVRYMANmenswork
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