It was not the type of injury you could see, hardly anyone ever noticed it was even there. But I couldn’t avoid it.

It began with a few words – words kids throw around all the time at kids who are different than they are. You know the words. “Ugly!” “Wimp!” “Freak!” “Slut!” “Loser!” “Sissy!” It doesn’t matter which words they choose. When the words are continually thrown, our minds begin collecting them in little recordings.

For me, the name-calling went on for more than 10 years while I was attending public school. I knew if a kid mentioned being bullied to an adult, the adult would just try to comfort the kid by saying, “Don’t let it bother you. Be tough.” Maybe today they would say, “Man up!” Or “You’re being too sensitive.”

To the person enduring the name-calling, being tough meant stuffing the pain inside or ignoring it. Adults would often say memories of bullying and other painful childhood events will fade away. So, I tried to be tough. I tried not to think about them.

But the words didn’t go away. Not after I turned 18, nor even in my 20s, 30s, 40s, nor after I crossed the 50 marker. Instead, every time I was laid off of a job, I heard heard in my head, “Loser!” Whenever I felt anxiety, I heard “Sissy.”

After this happened several times, I concluded the bullies must have been right. I tried to hide the pain on the outside, but the words keep coming back into my mind even when small things went wrong. “Loser,” “Sissy” and other words became my identity. And I hated that. I hated myself.

The emotional pain grew, like a form of cancer. Eventually I broke under the strain. Then, I finally sought help.

I know why bullied kids try to harm themselves. It is not because they are too sensitive. It is because they cannot stand the internal pain anymore, the pain of rehearing those words over and over again inside their heads.

They need someone to step and contradict the lies they’ve been told. Instead of adults telling them, “Get over it,” they need to say, “Let’s talk. We’ll get through this together.”

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Kurt J. Kolka grew up in the small community of Grayling, Mich., near the forested AuSable River. After majoring in English at college, he began a career in writing and newspapers spanning more than two decades. In his spare time he creates a Christian comic strip, The Cardinal, which has a 28-year history of publication. He has also authored a book, “Bullying is No Laughing Matter” (Front Edge Publications, Ann Arbor, Mich., 2014) and is working on his first novel. Kurt and his wife Diane have been married for more than 25 years and have one daughter, Rebekah, and an overprotective dog, Alli. Of life, Kurt says, “Life is never dull with God at the steering wheel, but, man, does He have a lead foot!” More about Kurt and his musings may be found at www.betweenthepines.org.
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