When you hear something enough times as an adolescent, you can lose the ability to deny its falsehood. (Image via CERN)
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When you hear something enough times as an adolescent, you can lose the ability to deny its falsehood. (Image via CERN)

The effects of bullying continue long after the bullying ends.

I was bullied pretty viciously in high school. I can’t count how many times I cried in the bathroom after gym class or ate lunch alone. While most of my bullies were girls, it was the words of boys that stuck with me the most and impacted me throughout my adolescence. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m in my mid-20s and the bullying I faced as a teenager still affects me.

It’s not just in my head. There is concrete, scientific proof that being severely bullied as a child affects your mental health as you grow up. Being bullied as a child gives you a higher risk of developing psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety or agoraphobia, later in life. On a more scientific level, bullying has physical effects on your physical brain structure. Research has found that the amygdala, or the section of the brain that copes with fear, anxiety and stress, is significantly larger in individuals who were bullied during their youth.

While I’ve “gotten over” what happened in high school, I’ve never taken the time to openly admit or process the bullying that I endured. Like most victims, I continue to sweep it under the rug. Yet, until I acknowledge the aspects of the bullying that truly dug at my core, I’ll never be able to come to terms with it.

In efforts to do so, here are four lies that guys told me in high school, which, unfortunately, still eat at my self-confidence.

1. You talk too much.

Wow. I can’t count how many times I heard this one. This started back in middle school and has followed me throughout my entire life. There is some truth to this; I talk a lot. It seems I never run out of things to say.

I’m quick to the draw when it comes to conversations and debates. I’m fast-thinking and my mouth keeps up. I excelled more in classes that focused on participation, because I was proud to have the answers or determined to find a solution. But my classmates started paying attention to my motor-mouth and poured on criticism thicker than maple syrup.

“Does she ever stop talking?” “I bet Tatianna is going to know the answer.” Maybe the boys thought they were poking harmless fun at me, but to this day I am deeply self-conscious about how much I talk. Is it too much? Too little? Too loud?

2. You’re just trying to get attention.

Ah, yes, everything I do is most definitely a shameful ploy for attention from my peers. Auditioning for musicals, sharing my poetry in English class or simply wearing my awesome, cherry-red Converse were all desperate attempts to gain recognition and popularity. Except … they weren’t. The truth is, I didn’t give a s—t about being popular; I just wanted to be myself and be accepted for me.

People try to tear you down for being different. Boys told me that I wore colorful outfits so I would be noticed by them more. The music I listened to and sports I played and TV I watched were interests that weren’t really my own. They told me I was creating an identity to impress them rather than genuinely being myself. Now, I realize that their statements revealed their own inferiority complexes.

3. You’re a whore.

This is the big one — one that many will recall from their own high school experience. It was a name that I despised, cried over and started to believe. Here’s the breakdown of how this horrible name-calling developed.

First off, I wasn’t a whore. I lost my virginity at 16-years-old to a boy I had dated for one year, slept with a handful of boyfriends thereafter, but didn’t get intimate with many others. There were lots of boys who asked me for sexual favors, and when I said no, they got upset and insecure. As a result, they decided to spread rumors to curb their own anxiety.

They were chicken s—t little pansies that destroyed my self-esteem and made it impossible for me to maintain lasting female friendships, but hey, “Boys will be boys,” right? F—k that noise. Do you know how many times a guidance counselor told me that?

It’s crazy that no one told me sexual intimacy with your boyfriend is healthy and normal. It’s even more bizarre that no adult reaffirmed to me that I wasn’t promiscuous or loose. I was just growing up and having normal experiences.

4. Writing is for dramatic girls.

To help cope with this torment, I started journaling. In high school, I carried a matte black journal with me and wrote whenever I could sneak a moment. At first, I wrote standard diary entries, but I eventually progressed to short stories, poems and anecdotes with themes parallel to what I was experiencing in my life.

I vividly remember boys glancing at my desk, making fun of my diary and even stealing it to read it aloud to their friends. I was mocked constantly for trying to find a coping mechanism for the torment. Even worse, my right to privacy was fully exploited, in order for those boys to feel like tyrannical studs too cool for kindness and empathy.

When I started to actually develop as a writer, I started putting more work into my English essays and my teacher noticed. (I had an incredibly supportive teacher, Mr. Rauh, who I believe is responsible for salvaging the last shred of my self-confidence.)

But like thirsty bloodhounds, those immature boys sniffed out my achievement and teased me relentlessly for being dramatic and sensitive. I’ve never been ashamed of being a writer, but my confidence and development as a creative writer was clearly stunted as a result of this torment.

Why am I telling you all of this? So, you’ll feel sorry for me? As a big FU to all the boys who contributed to the chaos that is my rollercoaster ride to self-acceptance?

Not at all. I’m writing all these painful, traumatic memories because they are the truth. While it’s horrible to relive and embarrassing to admit, it’s part of my story and who I am. Acknowledging how you were bullied, instead of dismissing it or pretending it didn’t happen, is the first step to recovery.

For so long, I blamed myself for how I was treated. I thought if I was prettier, smarter or more likable, boys would’ve never picked on me. Through sharing my story with you, I realize I am not responsible nor was I ever to blame for the bullying.

Writing what you know is easy. Writing what you know to be the truth is terrifying. Admitting that the words of teenage boys still ring through my head is difficult, but I hope my honesty sets an example for anyone who is being bullied or went through similar experiences.

Acceptance is the first step to overcome bullying. Coming face to face with your deepest insecurities and saying, “You don’t own me.” That’s confidence. That’s strength. When I was bullied, I felt that my control was taken from me. Now, as I begin to reclaim control, I feel strong and empowered.

I have a lot to say, and I’m just getting started.

Writer Profile

Tatianna Salisbury

Northern Illinois University

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