When I was a child, I had always imagined bullying as a terrifyingly large boy, too big for his age, shoving a smaller boy against a locker, demanding lunch money.
As I grew up, when I never saw anyone get shoved into a locker for any reason whatsoever, my perception of bullying changed. Bullies turned into girls gossiping behind each other’s backs, sending around false rumors and purposely not inviting someone to the latest event.
But even then, I didn’t really believe that anyone was truly being bullied, because I was always taught that there was one bully and one victim, but the truth is, bullying is a lot more complicated than that.
Many times, the bully and the victim are the same person, and it goes deeper than just lunch money and catty girls, which was the biggest misconception that I had about bullies. I believed that people grew out of bullying. I thought that after I graduated high school and left the hometown gossip, that oppressors wouldn’t exist anymore because everyone was grown up.
College is not the blank slate I expected, and I would argue that it’s even harder to deal with college bullies, because you’re living on your own and dealing with other added stresses, such as a heavy course load and your own finances. The bullies could even be your very own roommates, thus making it feel like you never get a break.
So, how would you handle living in the same room with a person who aims to make your life a living hell?
1. Don’t Be Embarrassed
This past school year, I had my first encounter with a bully, and I completely panicked. I had never been spoken to or been spoken about by my peers in such a degrading way in my entire life, but I was facing the harsh words for the first time at almost twenty-one years old — an adult, a grown woman, an almost-graduate entering the professional workforce.
I thought that if these people believed I was an absolute pig, then I must be. Or if they thought I was fat, it had to be true. When they saw my tears, they became angrier because tears stem from “emotional immaturity.” I thought that I deserved to be screamed at. And these thoughts of believing in what the bullies were saying made me feel embarrassed. I thought it was my own fault that I was being picked on, and that I must be doing something wrong.
So I only told my parents and one or two other close people. I cried to them while I simultaneously put on a smile for everyone else telling them, “Yeah, college is great!” or “I love school!” Meanwhile, the words of the bullies were being played on repeat in my head, and I felt like everything I said or did was being judged.
After I came to terms with everything going on, I began to break down the walls of embarrassment. I began sharing with a few more people, and I learned that people are more caring and supportive than most give them credit for.
Most of the time, the individual being picked on isn’t doing anything wrong. Bullies try to bring their peers down a couple notches in order to feel better about themselves, which usually means kicking them where they know it hurts. They find the tiniest insecurities and hit them over and over until the bruise is more noticeable to you and everyone else.
When you stop feeling self-conscious about the bruises and open up, you will become more aware of your support system and that there are people out there who love you.
2. Don’t Fuel the Fire
As I mentioned earlier, many times the bully and the victim are the same person, meaning that for some people, getting revenge would be the ideal way to win the war. But the reality is that no one ever wins.
Adding fuel to the fire just makes the fire bigger, and it will spread, hurting more people; just keep your distance and keep your cool. Show the bully that you are unaffected by their actions, even if it’s just pretend. Cry and vent to the people who care about you, but when the bully is present, keep your head up and do your own thing.
Showing the bully your confidence will intimidate them.
3. Don’t Lose Sight of Who You Are
None of what is happening is your fault. Regardless of what others are saying about you, you still have these parts of you that no one can take away, such as your love of painting, writing, dancing, running or whatever it is that you do to make yourself happy.
One of the greatest struggles I had was trying to change myself into a person who would be accepted by these people who lashed out at my differences.
I tried to be this person who they would approve of in order to make them stop being hateful toward me, but learned that you will never be able to please everyone, and the more that you try, the more they are less satisfied with your efforts, because people can sense when you’re being fake and will ultimately leave you unhappier in the end.
I realized that I had felt most content and most confident in myself when I spent my time focusing on what makes me happy, and I know it sounds a bit cliché, but I learned more about myself in the process.
So when I stopped pretending to enjoy the taste of kale and pretending I didn’t have emotions, I found a couple of friends who I can cry over romance movies with while stuffing our faces with pizza and chips. And, for the first time, I didn’t care what the bullies thought of me.
This isn’t a success story with a happy ending about how I conquered bullying. Unfortunately, it will always hurt and it will always be challenging, but there are ways to make an awful situation a little less awful if you try hard enough. Hopefully, there will be at least one less unhappy college student, or even better, one less victim, and one less bully.