Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Lovefraud: Standing Up To The Bully
My part this week, I believe, is to share a message of hope that this particular lady sent me in her email. She would like to reach out to everyone who, like her, has been through or is still in an abusive relationship – people just like all of us here on Lovefraud. “I think about the people out there” she wrote “and what they’re going through. Their anguish…” and she gave me permission to use her words although, of course, her identity and circumstances remain protected. This is what she said:
“Tell everyone that’s going down this path to stand up to the “Bully”. It takes a lot of inner strength and even more prayer to have the courage to fight back. Each time you do something you didn’t think you could you feel better about yourself and in turn it starts to restore your dignity. Know, this is the healing process.”
Powerful words, don’t you think?
Fighting back and standing up to the bully, in my opinion, is such an important part of the process. Yes, as this lady says, it takes a lot of inner strength to fight back. Nobody said it would be easy – but boy is it worth it! We can be quiet in our fight or we can be noisy. Make huge gestures or tiny movements. Create a sudden explosion or a continuous trickle of barely perceptible flashes… it doesn’t matter. In my opinion, what we do hardly matters in the grand scheme of things. It’s how we feel about what we do that makes the difference – and in feeling that we’re standing up against the bully well, guess what? It will naturally make our actions stronger.
Just last week I was lucky enough to see Dolly Parton performing her show while I was here in London. I went along with a few friends, not really knowing what to expect. But wow – I was blown away! That little lady is a dynamo of energy and talent – and she’s got some pretty powerful stories to tell as well. During the show she spoke a lot about her childhood. The poverty, the number of children, the lack of modern ‘luxuries’ like running water or electricity. But she spoke even more about the love they shared as a family – and how that love, and her happy memories, have driven her forward and kept her company throughout the good and bad times.
One particular story that touched me, was when she explained the background to one of her favourite songs. “Coat Of Many Colors” tells of how one particularly cold winter, Dolly’s mother made her a coat from small bits of rags and old bits of materials. She freely admits it was an odd looking garment, but in Dolly’s mind it was going to bring her good luck and happiness, just like the biblical story of Joseph and his multicoloured coat.
But when she got to school, the other children teased her and taunted her. They called her names and laughed because she was so poor. Yes, they tried to bully her – but they didn’t succeed.
Why not? Because Dolly refused to take any notice of their mocking ways. She held on to her belief that the coat was something special, and that it had been given to her with love from her mother. In fact, she said, she couldn’t understand how the other children were so blind! Why couldn’t they see that she was rich beyond any of their wildest dreams, because she was rich beyond anything money could buy – she had love.
Free Your Mind
This, I believe, is what standing up to the bully – or the sociopath – is all about. It’s about holding tight to what you believe – or what you choose to believe is true, no matter how someone else is attempting to torment or frighten us. Because we can always choose freedom in our minds.
I remember hearing a story many years ago about survivors from the prison camps. Even those who had been locked away in solitary confinement would say that in their minds they were free. In their imagination they could take themselves travelling to the far off corners of the world. They could be with the people they loved and dream about living any life they cared to choose. This was how they stood up to the people who were trying to break them. This was how they kept their sanity and how they eventually became physically free as well.
On that note, there’s one more story I’d like to share with you. It involves some of my dearest friends, who have three sons – one slightly younger than my son, and the other two slightly older. The four boys, as you can imagine, get on famously together and we are all more like family than friends. One particular evening last year, when I was still facing numerous emotional and financial challenges, the conversation turned to the subject of bullying. It seemed each of the boys, my son included, had all experienced intimidation at some point in their lives. Contrasting experiences, different levels, and of varying durations, none the less each of them knew and understood the sense of shame and fear associated with bullying. They, along with the adults, were sharing their views on how best to combat these people and situations.
The conversations, as you can imagine, became somewhat boisterous and heated. Voices were getting louder, and opinions stronger, as we all put our energy in to debating the entire issue from varying viewpoints.
And then a calm, measured and relatively quiet voice silenced the table. It came from Tom, the eldest of the three brothers – at this time 19 years old.
“You can’t actually be bullied unless you feel it” he said, picking at the tomatoes from his third bruschetta. We all shut up and turned to look at him. Encouraged to explain further he continued
“Bullying’s not a THING. It’s a reaction you choose. It’s nothing to do with what’s happening, it’s to do with how you choose to feel about it”
And that was the light bulb moment. Firstly, Tom had explained so succinctly exactly where, in my opinion, any focus for combating bullying needs to be placed. Secondly, and on a personal level, he’d just reminded me that I was totally in charge of how I choose to react to whatever is, was and will be happening around me. Not a new lesson, but certainly one that needed re-stating. And I suddenly felt both humbled and inspired at the same time.
Wisdom And Inspiration
I listened intently as Tom continued to share his opinions, his wisdom and calm approach seeming to include everyone’s point of view whilst at the same time presenting some workable and well-reasoned alternative solutions to the problem. We may not have solved the whole topic that night, but we certainly left the table feeling more able to deal with the issue. For me, I also came away with a personal commitment to remain calmly focused on where I was heading – no matter what difficulties I may face along the way.
As an aside, I also discovered during the course of the conversation that this incredibly wise, centred and modest young man had been awarded a prize last year for being the person who had given the most contribution to his school. That’s quite some achievement by anyone’s standards, and yet Tom had kept it very quiet. I hope, like me, that you’ll agree he’s a very special person. And for me, he’s one of the biggest inspirations in my life, and he never ceases to amaze me. Because there’s one small thing that I’ve omitted to explain about Tom.
And that is that he was born with a medical condition known as SMA – Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He has never been able to walk, and he needs 24-hour care because he is totally reliant on others. Without them he is unable to do even the simplest of things that you and I take for granted – wash, get dressed, cut up his food. Even turning over in bed is impossible for him to do on his own. He has had countless operations over the years, including one to fuse his spine and insert metal rods either side to prevent the crushing of his internal organs, because he cannot hold himself straight. But he never lets things faze him.
I didn’t explain Tom’s condition earlier, because to Tom, his family and his friends, it doesn’t count. He is just like everyone else, and is treated in exactly the same way. This young man is living with a crippling disability, but he’s discovered a way to take everything in his stride. He grasps life with more energy and determination than I see in most people, and he’s making an absolute success of his life – as well as inspiring others along the way – myself included! And because of that, people see past the large, clunky motorised wheelchair that carries him everywhere – it becomes invisible.
This point was made particularly clear just a couple of years earlier. We had arranged a massive Easter treasure hunt around our French village, with a whole gang of people rushing around chasing clues and finding prizes. One of the younger members, a 6-year-old boy, had taken a particular shine to Tom, and remained stuck by his side for most of the day. He was still filled with excitement when explaining the day to other members of his family. When asked to point him out in the photographs from the day, he replied “Oh, he’s the one with the big smile. He’s got darker hair than the others – can you see him?”
Tom, along with other motivational people and inspirational stories are all part of my internal ‘army’ of soldiers. They may not be with me in person, but the memories of people who have inspired me – whether or not I know them or have even met them – together with the uplifting situations I have witnessed first hand, all band together and stand strong with me whenever someone tries to threaten me. I hope that my account can in some way help you to find, acknowledge and recruit more ‘soldiers’ of your own.
With love and blessings to all – and particular thanks to the lady who inspired this post. Thank you for your email – you know who you are, you’re now in my ‘army’ and I salute you!