Like most of you, throughout the course of my life, I have faced my share of emotional abuse from various people. This has, in many ways, strengthened who I am, but as an excruciatingly sensitive and anxious person, they have also dealt their fair share of trauma and affected me perhaps a little more than they would have more thick-skinned people.
What these people did or said to me, or how they acted towards me, still linger in the back of my mind, resurfacing in painful moments of recollection. Often at the time, being a rather silly, naïve young lady, starving for approval, when someone attacked me, I blamed myself for it. I had done something wrong, and incited their jealousy, their anger, their hostility. In retrospect, I realise it was nothing of the sort, and there are simply a lot of ordinary people in this world who can be very cruel and nasty, and that not everyone is of kind, good and pure intention like I believed them to be.
If you are a sensitive, kind and timid person by nature, it is very easy to be bullied and suffer tremendous agony at the hands of others. I hope, by sharing my experiences, and how I look at them now, I can lend you the helping hand I wish someone had given to me back in the days when I used to cry myself to sleep after a bad spat with someone, or feel a horrible sense of stunned shock every time anyone was mean to me.
If anyone excludes you, and I don’t care how old you are when it happens, the best thing to do is to cultivate your own independence. As a young girl, I was socially excluded many times because I was too strange and quiet, and it was very painful. At home, I received no love from my parents, so I thought I could get it from other people at school, but that didn’t work out. At the time, my reaction was one of overwhelming self-hate. Why didn’t they like who I was? Why couldn’t I talk and laugh along like everyone else? Why didn’t they want to sit with me, why did they hate me for reading so much? Why didn’t anyone love me, like they loved other people? What was wrong with me? Well, I’m here to tell you, very frankly, and this isn’t only applicable to the very introverted and sensitive, that there is nothing in the least the matter with you. Not a bit.
I know how painful social exclusion can be. When it happened to me, for the first time, when I was seven years old, I cried my eyes out and wanted to die, the rejection was so painful. Instead, I would advise you, when this happens, to immediately go to your “happy place”. This can be anywhere—in fact, it doesn’t even have to be a physical place, it could be a imaginary realm inside your mind; for me, at the time, it was the school library, or the school bathrooms where I would read a book while sitting on the toilet with the lid down—and stay there until you regain your equilibrium and sense of self. It helps to have some source of joy and delight, because when you are immersed in your passion, nothing can hurt you. Do you know what I mean? You must have some outlet, some space, where you can breathe, be yourself, and be happy. Find that place, and treasure it.
Also, there will be times when people in authority will take a disliking to you, employ an especially harsh word or tell you, in hard tones, “to speak up”, or treat you badly simply because you’re very quiet and sort of odd. Again, this will be painful. There was nothing I wanted to do more than please my teachers, so when one of them gave me detention once for reading a book when I should have been doing the work she assigned for us—long, long sums—calling me out in front of the whole class in the process, once again, being sensitive, I honestly did want to die. The same teacher went on to pick on me, at various times throughout the year, to answer questions and reprimand me for daydreaming. I was the typical scatterbrained child, and while some teachers appreciated my long stories and imagination, others found me inattentive. With cases like these, the best way to counteract them is to once again reach down into your own strength, sense of self-worth and passions. The authority figure’s power is external, and you can’t take it away from them; your locus of power, however, is internal, and you have full control of how you react to it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel upset and humiliated. However, use the bad experience to your advantage, in some way. For instance, due to the humiliation I received at the hands of this specific teacher, I am able to write a scene in which a character is severely embarrassed by a teacher-like figure herself, and describe it perfectly. And I could have spent the detention—though I didn’t at the time—staring out the window and daydreaming, which would have helped me to write stories (instead, I just sat there in stupefied misery). What I mean to say is, if you’re introverted and sensitive, you can’t fight back the same way extroverted and thick-skinned people fight back. You can’t shout at them, or argue, or be assertive. Well, I’m sure some introverted and sensitive people can be assertive if the situation calls for it, but I am not one of them, and in situations requiring assertiveness and speaking up, I am completely unable to. Therefore if you are treated badly, then you can only counteract these with these very small, very quiet victories, that no-one knows about except yourself.
I once had a friend who was very jealous of me. She was jealous of me for three reasons. One, because there was a boy in class who “apparently” liked me (though I don’t recall there being any evidence of the male creature in question harboring any secret affection) who she liked, two, because she thought he liked me because I was “prettier” than her, and three, because I got better grades. On a side note, amongst women, I have found, beauty is prized, and male attention competed over, even from a young age. This is something which is unfathomable to me. Even though I do fall in love very quickly, and often idealise objects of my affection to bits, I would never go so far as to resent or hate any other women if my “beloved” liked another. If he should end up with someone else, I would simply shrug my shoulders and decide it wasn’t meant to be, or perhaps whisper to myself, “Ah, silly, you built up another on in your imagination again, he really wasn’t any good”. I would never fight with a woman over a man; there are simply too many more important things in life, like books and cats. But, any way, back to the incident. I just wanted my friend to like me (this was in seventh grade, by the way). So even though she abused me for a long time, tearing down my self-esteem in the subtlest of ways, belittling my efforts, and once even exclaiming, “There’s nothing different between you and me!” in order to make it very clear, after an achievement of mine, that I was nothing special, and should get off my high horse. Whenever I was reading a book she would resent me for it, as if I were gleaning some secret knowledge she wasn’t, and after some time, I began to feel afraid of reading in front of her and only read by myself, at home. It was very confusing, because it was so subtle.
The abuse went on for years—I let it go on for years. I kept her as a friend, even when, deep down, I didn’t really like her. I was either too stupid, or too innocent, to realise that she wasn’t really my friend, just someone who tried to make me feel bad about myself to relieve her own insecurities. And it worked. It worked. It worked because I was sensitive and introverted, terribly anxious, and desperately wanted a friend, someone to love me. When I think back on it, I do feel a blinding surge of anger at the way I suffered such mistreatment without defending or protecting myself. It was almost as if I were begging to be slapped in the face. I wanted to be loved so much I misinterpreted hatred and jealousy as friendship. Being empathetic on top of being introverted and sensitive can also sometimes be curse, as you end up making up all sorts of creative excuses for other people’s bad behaviour. She’s only looking out for me. Having a bad day. She’s just being reasonable, she’s a very sensible person. Everyone likes her, so shouldn’t I? I empathised with her struggles. As an only child, I am sure her parents have very high expectations for her, and that is why she was so resentful when I did well on that exam that she ignored me in front of the other girls.
But sometimes you need to take a break from being kind towards other people, and dole out a little kindness to yourself for once. In fact, people like you and me need to learn to only be kind towards those who deserve it, and the person who most deserves your love and kindness, above any other creature in the world, is yourself. So my advice in regards to dealing with jealous friends or peers is to cut ties entirely. It is the best thing to do for your mental health and well-being. If you loved someone, would you willingly let them stay in an abusive situation? No. You wouldn’t. Treat yourself as you would someone you loved more than a thousand universes put together, and only spend time around or gravitate towards people who are kind, loving, sensitive and empathic, just like you, who can appreciate your imagination, sensitivity and quirkiness. In my case, this has meant isolating myself entirely, but no company is much, much better than bad company, and it took me a long time to figure that one out.
Then there is the emotional abuse one can experience from family members. I was lucky enough not to experience any emotional abuse from my siblings, but I have been on the receiving end of extensive verbal and emotional assaults from my parents. Yes, for someone who was so sensitive, I certainly grew up in the wrong environment, and I often use to daydream, as children like me do, of the perfect friends and family, the wonderful kind mother and father, the kind friends, while in reality the only person who actually seemed to understand me, at least throughout my childhood, was the librarian. Back to parental abuse. This is much more difficult to manage. You can’t exactly cut ties with your parents, as you are dependent on them, and even now, I am still financially dependent on my mother, though I would give the world, if I could, for the situation to be otherwise.
My father used to hit me, and my mother used to, and still does, criticise for everything and anything, from my anxiety to my untidiness. She makes me feel horrible about myself, in all honesty. In essence, I am a tiny bumblebee, trying to grow up in a colony of wasps without getting eaten, stung so many times the pain has almost become a normality, and the best method of survival, I have found, is to grit your teeth and put up with the abuse, or call the authorities if it gets physical (something I wish I had done), and retreat to your “happy place” whenever possible. Sometimes, to avoid my mother, I will spend long periods in the bathroom, with the door locked, where she cannot scream at me, or stay up late and work when she is asleep. The entire atmosphere of the home changes when she enters it, grows charged and anxious, and it is often only during the night, when the rest of my family is asleep, when I feel the most at peace. My point is, sometimes you have to come up with creative solutions, such as becoming partly nocturnal, to cope with bad situations, so if you’re sensitive, do everything in your power to protect yourself if parental figures are involved.
Extended relatives can also be a source of strife. I know I have mentioned in various posts before my aunt, who infamously (well, at least infamously in my head) used to tell me I could not become a writer, did not have a way with words, and criticised a poem I once wrote for her, even though she can barely write herself. My aunt was also young, and quite beautiful, and because I was young, for some unfathomable reason, she saw me as a sexual competitor, and would become very cruel should her husband, my uncle, pay any attention to me. I was only fifteen, mind you.
I don’t know if everyone comes into contact with so many unkind people, or if I just suffered from a case of bad luck, but as I write this, I am beginning to see just how little I have stood up for myself over the course of life. I swallowed her abuse, just like I have swallowed every heartache and pain I encountered during my childhood and teenage years. I let her hurt me. After she criticised my poem, I never wrote another one for years. And the worst thing was, the jealousy and hatred emanating from her would be so strong sometimes I would feel it in my own veins, like a dark poison. It was incredibly uncomfortable. Once again, the best thing to do when you encounter people like this is to stop seeing them. You don’t deserve to take on their anger and hate, which really is more directed at themselves than at you.
There are more I haven’t mentioned. My peers at school, who loathed me for my unique and original academic contributions (you’d be surprised how resentful some can be of the creatively-gifted, people don’t like it when you are privy to worlds they are not, they feel as though you “see” certain things, make certain connections, and they can’t, and they hate you for it), the ordinary people I encountered before my anxiety took over my life at the grocery store or the chemist who treated me like dirt because I stuttered or gave them the wrong amount twice because I was so anxious, the various backhanded comments, the exclusion, the avoidance. I have experienced a great deal of pain. Perhaps everyone encounters such incidents of abuse, or perhaps someone a little more thick-skinned would have suffered less. Either way, pain has taught me things. It has traumatised me beyond measure, but it has also strengthened me, and allowed me to discover what truly matters in life, for me, which is my writing, which is books, and art.
It has also taught me the fact that pain belongs in the past, and to hold onto pain is the most pointless and meaningless thing you can possibly do. No-one cares about how much you suffered, the world is full of suffering and abuse. What they will care about, and what will, in the end, matter, are the contributions you make during your lifetime. That is it. You are, to the world, what you do, not who you are, not your past, not your tears or broken bones. The result is all that counts. And I plan on leaving behind my own tiny legacy of literary works in the sea of books already existing in the world, when all is said and done, and in doing so, die terrified and unhappy, as we all do, but without regrets. If you are very introverted and sensitive, I implore you to do the same, to concentrate on yourself, and find a deeper meaning for living beyond the approval of others and human relationships. It is, at least for me, the only way to true freedom.