Yesterday when we were at the Fun Center with our friends, in the midst of the “drama,” there was a girl we didn’t know who called our young friend a name. She then persisted in teasing him a few more times while they were all playing. It was frustrating for him. I looked at my oldest and said, “Sounds like that girl has a crush.”
She turned serious and said, “I read somewhere that you shouldn’t tell children that other children who pick on them are doing it because they like them. It could set them up to think that such behavior is okay, and they can wind up in abusive relationships.”
Well. Mind. Blown.
This takes me back to when I was in the third grade and LP, the red-headed boy in my class, kept bending my thumb back when the teacher wasn’t looking. Or asleep. Ahem. Mama told me it was probably because he liked me. Then she, my Daddy, and my other third grade teacher all told me I should kick him in the shin the next time he did it. (Different times, huh?) I couldn’t figure out why they were saying “chin” so fancy and just how did they think I was going to get my foot up high enough to kick him there? So I did what came natural the next time. I hollered out, “Stop it, LP!” It woke the teacher up, she rapped her ruler on her desk and then used it on his palm when she figured out what was going on. Yes, for sure, different times.
I don’t think it was bad parenting that had Mama and Daddy telling me his behavior probably meant he liked me. I’ve told my oldest the same thing, and there was no mal-intent in it. However, when she told me that yesterday, it all clicked.
When we tell our sons and daughters that someone is being UNKIND, even downright mean to them perhaps because they have a crush, it starts a trail of reasoning. He keeps pulling my thumb, he likes me, so it is okay. So when, as teens, they meet someone who pushes them or slaps them or belittles them or worse, they see it through the lens of UNKIND=ATTENTION=AFFECTION.
This terrifies me.
I’m reading Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite right now. In the story the main character is belittled and threatened by her husband. She wants to break away from it, but she still loves him so much. I know she’s a fictional character, but I wonder about the story behind her putting up with the abuse. I wonder about the stories of so many men and women who stay. Could it have been something as simple as thinking the negative attention meant someone really cared about them early on? Accepting any kind of attention as okay? Or scared of what it would take to get out?
And so I resolved to change my thinking–to change what I am teaching my children.
And what I tell myself.
Under no circumstances is it okay for someone to be mean or abusive to you. To my children. To me. It needs to be shared with someone you trust and then what to do about it needs to be decided from there. But it should NEVER be tolerated. And NEVER EVER kept to yourself.
Not the belittling by someone on your ball team.
Not being pushed around by a boyfriend.
Not being yelled at by a friend who wants to play a different game than you.
Not being made fun of about your clothes or your weight or how you look.
Not being manipulated and lied to by a friend, a girlfriend, or a spouse.
Not being given guilt by the wheelbarrow load when you follow your morals, your values, your instincts.
Not a single one of these things says, “I care about you.” In fact what I hear loud and clear (somewhat in hindsight) is, “I care more about myself. You and your feelings do not matter to me in the least. I need for you to be weak for me to feel strong. For me to feel all right I need for you to feel pain, misery, lost, frustrated, hurt.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this today. Sometimes people who feel bad about where they are or about decisions they have made lash out at those around them, oftentimes those closest to them, in an effort to lessen their own pain. I have a friend who is doing this. And after reading the article my oldest shared with me, I recognized what is going on, and that I have to walk away. As a wise therapist once said, “It’s okay to choose healthy.” I have this stuck on my mirror to remind me everyday, because I need reminding. I think it is time I start really taking this to heart and teaching this to my children. I see friends of my littles already starting the manipulation routine, and I don’t want to see my children succumb to the guilt, nor do I want them to become the manipulator.
If you are interested in reading the article, you can find it here. While I do not agree with everything on the list, I do think this point alone is worth reading the article for. We are all human beings, worthy of being treated with kindness and respect. I know there are times when someone is unkind and hurts the feelings of others without any intent to do so at all. It happens. But it’s still okay to let them know, without confrontation, that it hurt. Chances are, they will be sorry and things will get better. But it is NOT OKAY for someone, for anyone, to deliberately hurt you–physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. EVER. It has to stop. Talk to someone you trust. Call a Crisis Line. Do whatever it takes to end that cycle. No one deserves to be made to feel less than. Not you or me or anyone. Ever.
This is one national link if you or someone you know needs to seek help: www.thehotline.org