Lessons I Learned From Being Bullied (And You Can, Too – Without Actually Having To Be Bullied)

Rick talks about being bullied as a child
Rick Green

His name was Charles Philip. That’s not his real name.  His real name was Steve Markham. That’s not true, either.

The name doesn’t matter. 

It’s not that I don’t want to embarrass him—I’m not even sure he’s still alive.  It’s that he represents every person who ever bullied me, from Grade 3 to last summer.

We were in the same homeroom for several years of high school.  This was long before my ADHD had been diagnosed, and I was in the class of underachievers. 

It was a motley collection of tough troublemakers, bad eggs, and a few bright nerds who really were underachieving—a toxic mix of bullies and four-eyed, asthmatic, gawky, puny, victims-in-waiting.

I lived in fear of Charles, and the cocky gang of sneering smart guys. 

Back then we called them hoods, recognizable for their black leather, pointed toe shoes for fighting (called ‘Shooting the Boot’ in a rumble). 

I’m sure the fear was all over my acned face.  And certainly all over my brown corduroy pants, plaid shirt, and hush puppies.

The worst was the year he had the locker next to mine.  I was careful to get in early to ditch my sensible coat and proper winter boots. 

At the end of the day, I lingered with friends (imagine the cast of The Big Bang Theory) until it was ‘safe.’ 

Luckily, Charles often skipped classes altogether and hung out and smoked with the macho men and tough girls at The Wall across the field.

At the time, I didn’t much enjoy high school. 

Now I look back on it and see it as even worse than I realized. 

Years of stress, low self-esteem, hiding out, struggling, dying to be anywhere else, writing stories in my head, imagining places I would travel, girls I would seduce, inventions I would create…

Charles was gone a year before I graduated.  What became of him, I did not know. 

A decade later, a mutual acquaintance told me about his awful home situation.  Drugs.  Police.  A parent incarcerated.

And then, 28 years later, came the call from a friend, “Hey, are you going to the big High School Reunion?  It’s the school’s 50th anniversary.”

Flash Forward 

I went to the reunion, eager to meet old friends and see all those girls I never had the courage to ask out. 

I had no idea what anyone was doing, or what they were up to.  But a lot of people knew about me, and the shows I’d done.  That was kind of a shock.

It was an evening of delightful surprises and semi-sad updates. 

Like when a girl who I had totally forgotten asked me for my contact information.  As I was writing out my email address, she screamed, “You still hold your pencil funny!  And you still stick out your tongue when you write!” Wow. 

I hadn’t seen this woman since Grade 8 and she remembered that?

Then came a small guy, dressed like a pimp out of a Ralph Bakshi cartoon.  “Hey! Rick!!! Remember me?! Charles Phillip! I had the locker next to you! I tell everyone I meet that I know you…”

A billion thoughts and feelings exploded in my head—a standout moment in a night of, “Oh my gods!”

For a millionth of a second, the old fear hit me. 

And then I saw the look in his face: Desperately hoping I remembered him.  Wanting to be acknowledged.  And completely oblivious to the fact that I might view him as anyone other than an old buddy who used to tease me about my appearance.

I won’t tell you how the conversation went.  It doesn’t much matter. 

I was barely there for most of it!

Instead, my brain was undergoing a seismic shift, one that took weeks to fully process.  Fears and past beliefs about myself came to the surface and popped like bubbles.  Anger and dread evaporated.

Charles the Gangster, whom I had imagined might stick me with a jackknife just for the thrill of it, turned out to be… a human being looking for validation.  Wanting to fit in.  Needy.  Just like the rest of us.

If I hadn’t be on television, Charles would have doubtless forgotten about me, and I’m sure he had forgotten my fellow nerds who slipped past him in the hall, eyes downcast, or pretending to be lost in thought.

But all the crap in my head about being bullied, about being a coward, how I was the weak one in my family, and a dozen other things I had imagined suddenly occurred to me as complete inventions

Things happened, and I had given them the worst possible meaning, turning every scrap of “evidence” into yet more proof that I was weak, cowardly, a loser…

Enough is Enough

I share this with you because I have learned that we all carry similar beliefs. 

They are all, ultimately, variations on a theme: I’m weird.  I don’t fit in.  I’m not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, tall enough, manly enough, girlish enough…

Basically, “I’m not enough.”  Enough of whatever it is we have been told we should have more of, if we hope to succeed and be happy.

I look at myself.  I look at my wife.  I look at my kids. 

I look at all the experts we’ve interviewed, and the thousands of people who come to the site every week, or who come out to see us live, or join us here for webinars… and I think every single one of us is enough.  

All of us gloriously, uniquely different. And enough.

Since that reunion, I’ve learned to focus on what I do well.  I focus on the areas where I know deep down that I am enough—maybe even more than enough!

I’ve learned to choose way better explanations for things.  Because, if you’re going to make up a set of beliefs, why not make up good ones?  So, instead of Coward, how about ‘Kind and peace loving’?

Lazy?  How about, ‘Thrives on the really big challenges’?

Underachiever?  Try ‘In the wrong environment.’  (In this case, the wrong environment was school.  But more on that in a future blog.)

I invite you to try this super-empowering shift for yourself. 

Take a negative belief that you have about yourself, and see if you can reframe it, transform it, and see the strength rather than the weakness of it

. Explore the flipside or upside or “what if” of that limiting view. If you have someone caring you can work with, try this practice in conversation with them. 

Sometimes it’s hard to see the strength by yourself.  Not because you’re stupid, weak, or a loser but because you’re sensitive, modest and… human.

We all have blind spots! The trick is to try to see things from a different, more powerful perspective.

Take it from me… and Charles.

Best,

Rick

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8 Replies to “Lessons I Learned From Being Bullied (And You Can, Too – Without Actually Having To Be Bullied)”

  1. Excellent blog Rick! I can really relate to it. I’ve always felt like an outsider; like I don’t fit in anywhere. Being a young and shy girl and having a younger “typically ADHD” brother meant my own ADHD flew right under the radar. No one ever put 2 and 2 together. This lead to decades of being misunderstood, ostracized and bullied. I developed misconceptions about myself and my peers which only made matters worse. Friends didn’t stay friends. Relationships didn’t last. Quit school. Quit jobs. I still have problems with misconceptions but at least now I’m aware I’m doing it. Your blog just pushes me harder to change my own misconceptions about myself into more positive beliefs. Thank you for posting this!

  2. Wow Rick! We lived in parallel universes. My tormentor was Donna Kelly and her gang. I was the nerd who loved her family, her nerdy friends and wanted to do good in the world. Like yours, my tormentor was assigned the locker next to mine, and we were in the same homeroom. I couldn’t help but be confronted by her every day. Like yours, my tormentor disappeared in the last year of school. Years of humiliation with her screaming throughout the school that I smelled, or that I was ugly (I too had a face full of acne), or fat (I was pretty plump), or that I was a nerd, left me feeling like you, that “I wasn’t enough”.

    Unlike you though, I chose not to, or did not have the courage to, attend my 30th year reunion. High School was a nightmare that I chose not to relive. I didn’t want to plunge back into that ugly environment. I still stay in touch with most of the nerds I used to hang around with then so who was I looking forward to seeing at my reunion?

    Since then, I thought I had overcome the pain at being bullied but as I read your post, painful memories and a bunch of emotions came up for me, so I obviously still have some work to do to quiet “the crap in my head about being bullied” and see it for what it is, a story I believed based on the actions of a drop out and bully.

    At the same time, I recognize that my experience of being bullied has, at least partly, shaped who I am today. I have more empathy and compassion and tend to root for the underdog because I was the underdog. Helping adults with ADHD unleash their potential is how I empower myself. Unfortunately many adults with ADHD are still bullied by spouses, bosses, colleagues who fail to see the unique strengths behind the blunders of ADHD.

    I smiled when I read “I focus on the areas where I know deep down that I am enough—maybe even more than enough!” because as I was reading earlier paragraphs where you say “I’m enough” in my mind I was thinking, “no Rick, you’re not just enough, you’re more than enough.”

    Thanks for the post – choosing to see ourselves from a more powerful perspective is definitely something we all need to work on.

  3. Rick thank you for you post. I was bullied a good part of my public school life, elementary thru Junior High. I also struggled in school from my ADD issues, a trap door memory which when information went in made it hard to retrieve it even minutes later, dyslexia type issues, and from religious standards I kept. I was in the slower group and was bullied to the point that in 5 grade all my classmate had to put their heads on their desk and get a lecture from the teacher. 6 grade I was tested but just told I did have real learning challenges but given no names for my challenges and later kept from knowing them. (After searching most of my adult life to understand what I was experiencing I was re-diagnosed at 50 with ADD and dysgraphia – my hand doesn’t always cooperate with my brain when I write or type.)

    After my original diagnoses in 7th grade I was put in a Special Education room for one of my class periods and when my parents saw no change after 3 weeks I reentered the class were two girl bullies twice my size and physical maturity who made life for me more miserable then the years previous combined. I spent much time in the Guidance Counselors office, which back then was of little help except that I was able to share my troubles. Nothing changed otherwise.

    School boundaries changed and I would meet a really caring girl who introduced me to a small group of her friends who were also really nice girls all sharing many of my own values. A year later the boundaries changed back again, but this time my friend had other friends in my new school and I made sure I got into some of the same classes. There was a healing that began, and harassment on the bus by pot smoking guys didn’t bother me quite so much.

    To the shock of my “peers”, I met and would marry someone they considered someone of status, who grew up with a very sweet loving mother, who I would come to know was a lot like me. He had confidence in me that I still didn’t have in myself, and continued much of the healing process for me. Not long after marriage I would loss him in a tragic accident.

    After I married I learned that one of the 7th grade bullies had a terrible home life and continued into her adult life. I never learned the specifics, but I felt compassion on her because by then I had found more happiness and particle healing and hoped that one day both girls would be different.

    I still have a ways to go with the healing as I struggle with my ADD & LD challenges. Feelings of “not good enough” raise their ugly heads most as it relates to the expectations that others have for me in work situations or with loved ones who don’t care to understand. These are the times I still feel the fringes of the bullying, pressures for mistakes that got me fired from employment, or exasperation from parenting messages with me both verbal or non verbal that spill into my current world. I try to keep them from compounding current messages, but it doesn’t always work. Fortunately I do have kind and loving friends and family members, and ADHD support group in my life which helps cushion some of the impact.

    Rick thanks again for your message!

  4. Thanks for the blog. You write so well and included a lot of emotions, so I see a lot of value in this blog. I had similar experiences throughout my life, but they were definitely concentrated around that high school age.

    I really appreciate that you say that high school was a horrible stressful time when you reflect back on it, because so many people without ADHD (or even with, because they don’t know what else to say) say that it will be looked back on fondly for what it truly is etc. Specifically, I think a key to a lot of this is knowing that you can’t feel natural doing what non-ADHD people do naturally, or reacting the way they do etc. We experience things so differently… and no one can even tell!

    The most important thing, which you said, is that it can even be great that we are different, and we shouldn’t let other people (or ourselves) bludgeon ourselves for not fitting in because we’re different, especially when we can find a way to fit in specifically because of our differences… if we just learn to let go (take meds…?). In other words, there’s value to being different, but only if we embrace it and not try to self-sabotage and hide it in order to socially fit into an inappropriate environment. There’s a lot of “Twice exceptional” stuff related to this, too.

    I didn’t feel normal until I got diagnosed with ADHD (and took medication). Now, even though I have a label that says I am different, I’m not beating myself up for it. 🙂

  5. Awesome thoughts! I remember those guys, too. Some were mean, but most were just thoughtless. I had an awful name to confirm my self-identified “loser” status. When I was 15, my dad moved us out of our small lumber town and into the ‘big city’ never to return – and changed our name from “Hollopeter” to “Holland” forever!

    What? No. Not a typo. Yes, R-Rated nicknames abound! It’s okay to laugh and tell your friends. I still do. My wife says she would never have given me a first date. I know, pretty shallow of her, right?

    I would like to say that telling a young pubert to “laugh it off” doesn’t help. It doesn’t work, it isn’t possible – and there is no comfort in it. The only poor guy worse off than me was Milford Fagerly, the pig farmer’s son. Having the biggest lips in school didn’t help him. I felt kind of bad for him, but I did appreciate the attention he drew away from me. I think Homer Schmuck was a rung above me. All real names… true! I hope they are rich in friends and finance. They deserve it.

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