Everyone says that bullying stops after high school. I beg to differ. It doesn’t stop, it evolves into a sneaky paper-cut like wound. Small and easy to forget about until its triggered, causing burning pain that brings it back to your consciousness.
It can happen anywhere – university, college, work. You just don’t notice until it happens to you.
It’s definitely not traditional bullying. No one will steal your lunch money and push you in the mud. It’s just really strong exclusivity that’s intended to have the same effect. These are actions meant to bring someone down. It points out that you’re different and therefore, don’t belong.
I had never really experienced bullying throughout grade school. I was always lucky to have a group of friends to be with. Even when things got tough and we weren’t all happy with one another, we could still rely on each other. At the end of the day, I had people to kick back and relax with.
In my first year of university, I found a new group of friends. There were people I was closer to within the group, but we would all still hang out together and have a great time.
Something changed this year.
I figured out that I wasn’t really thought of as a friend, but an asset to have for projects and exams. I was welcome to come along on all of the group outings, but when I wasn’t there, my success was resented. Comments were made, judgements were passed, and I was phased out.
At this point, everything was very indirect. A few weeks ago, one of the girls I considered a very good friend, asked for my notes the night before the exam because she had started studying too late and wasn’t able to get to it.
I thought this was incredibly unfair. I worked hard to manage my time and start early to prepare, and didn’t want to give away the results of my hard work to someone who had spent the weekend partying, while I gave up seeing my friends to study. I didn’t respond.
She hasn’t spoken to me since. A friend that I had helped countless times before, decided that I wasn’t worth having around anymore because I wanted to keep the rewards of my effort to myself.
If this was where it stopped, I wouldn’t be that upset. While it became evident that I was being used, it was ultimately her decision to choose whether or not she wants me in her life. I can hardly force myself to be her friend if she doesn’t want me to.
But she’s joined with the bigger group, which includes a few other girls who didn’t want me around. Now they talk about how great of a time they had at a restaurant, making sure I can overhear and feel sorry that I wasn’t invited. Constantly.
I won’t lie, it stings a little. But I also think it’s incredibly petty of these girls to want to point out how much fun they can have without me. The group has become very exclusive and it’s clear that I’m on the outside.
I’m a pretty social person, so it’s not as though I’m completely alone and have no one to talk to. In fact, I’m the elected class representative for the second year in a row, a liaison chosen by the students to represent them to the faculty. I have an entire class of people who I’m on friendly terms with.
But there’s just a select few that would rather have me at least 10 feet away at all times.
I don’t regret my decision to stand up for myself at all. In fact it’s given me clarity as to who appreciates me and all that I have to offer. I’m strong enough to handle all the times they want to rub their exclusivity in my face.
But I worry for the ones who aren’t. How many people have been ostracized by a group of best friends? How many of those people felt loneliness and guilt? How many people have suffered from depression and anxiety because of feeling alone and mocked?
You’re not alone. As cliché as that sounds, it’s always true. If it can happen to me, the smart, well-dressed, social, class president, it can happen to the quiet girl who can’t afford the latest trends or has scars or an unsupportive family. It can happen to anyone. It’s just important to remember that other people have experienced what you have and gotten through it. You’re not alone.
Remember that your emotions matter. Your voice, your ideas, your opinions all matter. Don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t. Don’t let anyone act like their wants and needs can overshadow yours. It’s better to be alone and happy, than miserable in a group that’s forced you to compromise your desires.
Reach out. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to listen.