Group Therapy Thursday: Looking Back and Letting Go

 

 

 

 

Does it feel to you like we’re beginning this challenge with one of the hardest of topics?  There’s a reason for this.  No more ignoring the elephant in the room.  Let’s get right to the heart of where our self-esteem took a big nose dive.  Instead of working our way towards the inevitable, maybe we should get to the most difficult piece of the puzzle first.  It may bring us more clarity as the month progresses.  I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and dig in.  Are you? 

 

Think back to a time or place in your life when you formed negative thoughts about yourself. Why do you think you are undeserving of praise? 

 

When I was in therapy last year after my mother’s accident, I kept mentioning that I felt inadequate.  I didn’t think I was capable of being strong enough to get through whatever lay ahead. ‘Why do you feel that way?’ the therapist would ask in her usual Dr. Frasier Crane I’m Listening tone.  I sat there, not knowing what to say.  I really didn’t know the answer.  So, she wanted to go back.  Way back. 

 

Therapist: What kind of childhood did you have? 

Me:  Not a very good one. 

Therapist: Why wasn’t it a good childhood for you?

Me:  Because I was extremely bullied in school. 

Therapist: How long did the bullying last? 

Me: A few years while I was in grade school. 

Therapist:  Tell me about it…. 

 

…well, I didn’t want to tell her about it.  I didn’t want to think about it.  In fact, it took most of my adult life to completely ignore it.  Wasn’t I seeing this woman so that I could feel better?  Talking about these issues was just going to make me more upset.  But she just sat there, waiting.  And because I dislike uncomfortable silences almost as much as I dislike talking about my past, I took a deep breath, looked down at my wringing hands and started talking….

When adults were nearby, verbal bullying occurred.  Hurtful, hateful words. ‘You’re so ugly.  Everyone hates you.  You’re stupid.  I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing your clothes.  When the bell rings you won’t be able to run fast enough to get away.’ When adults weren’t nearby, physical bullying took place. Being pushed down a flight of stairs.  Being spit on.  Rocks thrown at me while walking home from school.   To those who tormented me, I wasn’t human.

Because I was bullied by my classmates I had very little social skills.  I was never invited to birthday parties. Never had sleepovers.  I was so painfully shy I wanted to disappear, so I kept quiet, kept to myself, and prayed every day that I wouldn’t be noticed by anyone, and I never told anyone what was happening to me.  Even though the bullying eventually stopped when my school closed, the seeds were planted and I entered middle school, high school and college carrying those less than feelings with me.  

My therapist wrote a few things down in her notebook and then began pointing things out to me that deep down, I was already aware of: when you’re young and impressionable, it’s very easy to believe the things you’re told. If you don’t have anyone telling you good things about yourself then you just continue to accept those untruths as fact. 

While I’ve always felt as though I’ve made peace with my past I’ve recently begun to realize that the years I was bullied has played a hand in creating the person I am today.  All this time I’ve felt that the correct thing to do was to simply ‘forget’ about the past: Yes, it was unfortunate.  It was sad.  But I’m not a child anymore.  I accept responsibility of my life and don’t label myself as a victim.  But here is where it gets tricky.  If I know these things to be true, then why is it still so hard to look at my reflection and say, I am beautiful.  I am worthy of friends. I am intelligent. 

During last year’s challenge when when I worked on the Positive Reinforcement Sheet, I would stare at myself in the mirror until my eyes welled up with tears.  I knew what I wanted to say but when I’d open my mouth I couldn’t get any words to come out.  I never really allowed myself to figure out why I couldn’t do it. Last year I chipped away at pieces of my adult past, but I never allowed myself to consider that I had to go back further than that.  I think I ended up compromising by repeating words like, ‘my husband thinks I’m beautiful,’ and thought that was good enough.  It wasn’t until I began this years challenge that I realized why I have such a hard time with that exercise.   I thought I was trying to convince myself that I was worthy, beautiful and intelligent but the truth is, I attempt to confront and try to convince them – my tormentors. As a result, I’ve changed my words a bit.  I’ve started looking into the mirror and saying, ‘I’m not ugly.  People don’t hate me.  I’m not stupid.’   I have to put to rest the idea that I am not those things before I can begin believing in the positive things that I am.

Aha.

So, the hard question from this exercise was: How can I find a way to forgive those who have hurt me?  Well, that is the million dollar question, isn’t it?  I think part of the answer depends on what our individual stories are as well as what our definition of forgiveness is.   Some of you have been hurt so badly, so deeply, that the act of forgiving seems like an impossible task.  Since every story is different, shouldn’t there be different definitions of forgiveness as well?  Some experts use the word ‘forgiveness’ in a literal sense:  they suggest that you write or call the individual and tell him/her that you forgive the hurt they’ve caused you.  Others use the term more loosely: Forgiveness is simply about no longer allowing other people to control you. I think that will be my definition of choice. 

It’s wrong for me to assume that my past was just something that happened; that it doesn’t define who I am.  When you hear phrases like, ‘I am who I am because of the experiences I’ve had in my life,’  well, I believe that’s true. Yes, I’m a bit of a loner.  I would rather have one good friend than 10 gal-pals. I’m deeply compassionate.  I fight for the underdog.  But I’ve also spent much of my adult life fretting over people who don’t like me. I gained over 100 pounds and ate to numb uncomfortable feelings I thought I’d buried.  I’ve sacrificed my own happiness in order to please those around me; and sometimes, people mistake my shyness as arrogance.  

This is the first time I’ve ever written about this part of my childhood; the people who know I was bullied can be counted on one hand.  Even my husband is only vaguely aware of what I experienced.   My choice to write about it here was not just so I could work through my own issues, but also to share that sometimes, even when we think we’re done with the past, it may not be completely done with us. If I were truly free, I would feel it in every aspect of my life.  And I don’t…..yet.   But with perseverance and finally, with this sense of understanding and clarity I’ve recently discovered, that’s going to change. My past and I need to be done with each other, once and for all. 

 

 

I’m  looking forward to spending the day visiting your blogs and reading your own stories of strength.  If you’re here for Group Therapy from another blog be sure to comment below with a link to your post so others can read and offer their support.    Have a good session, everyone.

 

XO,

~Ellen

27 thoughts on “Group Therapy Thursday: Looking Back and Letting Go

  1. Pingback: HLC - Group Therapy - Week 1 | Ordinary Abundance

  2. Hanlie

    This is so powerful, Ellen! I can’t imagine what would entice children to be so hurtful towards others. I’m sorry you had to go through that and I can absolutely understand how that would have made you feel inadequate. Thank goodness you have the courage to change your life and learn to feel good about yourself, and in the process inspire others to do the same.

    I particularly liked your definition of forgiveness. That is exactly where I am now.

    My post is up at http://www.hblewett.com/blog/2012/01/05/hlc-group-therapy-week-1/

    It was cathartic, I tell you!

    Reply
  3. Roxie

    Oh, Ellen. I hadn’t even thought about going back to my experience with bullying. Damn. It totally ruled my life from the time I was in the 4th grade until 9th – and even when the bullying stopped, the holdover feelings stayed with me. I have lived almost every word you wrote. And I really hadn’t looked at that part of it to see how much it still affected me – I’ve done a lot of family of origin work – whose solution to the bullying was “I don’t want to hear anymore about this. If you don’t go to school and beat the shit out of those people who are bothering you, then I’ll beat your ass myself when you get home”. Gee, thanks Mom.

    Obviously, you’ve hit a nerve with me, Ellen. And again, I always marvel at the good work you do and the help you provide to so many people.

    I’ve got a lot of work to do around this – sort of adds another layer to my generalized anxiety – walking into school every day for years was a battlefield and I did my best to be invisible.

    And as to forgiveness, well, I always say “the best revenge is living well” – and from what I know of the bullies, I wouldn’t trade places, not for a minute.

    I’ll shut up now!

    XOXOX,

    Roxie

    Reply
  4. Jane at Keeping the Pounds off

    Very powerful, Ellen. My own experience of being bullied never included physical bullying, with the exception of one unfair snowball bombardment. Other than that my bullies never touched me. Often adults heard them and intervened in my behalf. I learned to reach out to adults more and more. I am still amazed that I never fell into the hands of a child molester. How lucky I was to be befriended by adults who had no ulterior motive to hurt or control me during that time.
    I will be back later with the link to my post today. It is not going up till noon because I posted my current blog so late last night.

    Thank you for this challenge and for sharing with us so honestly.

    Reply
  5. debby

    Wow, Ellen. Bullying is not something I experienced or even witnessed very much. But you’re right, those childhood experiences truly do form a part of who we are. My dad was the junior high school principal, so that was an odd situation. I think it made me defensive and a little ‘on guard.’ But I had such great support and love from my mom and my dad growing up that it gave me a great sense of self.

    Reply
  6. Laura @ LauraLivesLife

    Thank you for sharing your story – as I mention in my post, I was almost ashamed for how trivial my “moment” was, compared to what I know other people have gone through. While I unconditionally love the person who is the subject of my post today, I don’t know where to start to forgive. Instead, I think I am going to focus on not believing that it is true any more, and then maybe I can work towards forgiveness!

    Here is the link to my post: http://www.lauraliveslife.com/2012/01/05/hate-loss-challenge-week-1-letting-go/

    Reply
    1. Jane at Keeping the Pounds off

      Laura,
      Feelings are not facts but your pain is real. I had a similar experience and I can still, to this day, remember everything about that moment when the comment was made. Ouch. The pain is there.

      I would love to post back on your site but my Mac has a problem with any blogs on that particular format. Is it Word Press? I do not know. All I know is everytime I try to post on those blogs, my Mac knocks me off. I hope you do not mind me reading you there and responding here.

      Reply
  7. Roxie

    Ellen,

    Let me add the very most important thing – thank you for sharing your story and I am very sorry that you had to endure such treatment.

    Reply
  8. KCLAnderson (Karen)

    {{{Little Ellen}}} Because really, that’s what we all need. To acknowledge our hurts, no matter when they occurred. I think that’s the crux of it right there. The tricky part, as you put it. We grow up and our thinking becomes more black and white: we’re either helpless victims full of blame, or we’re strong, adults who are responsible for ourselves. But there is SO MUCH grey…and it’s sort of like a paradox: not being allowed to acknowledge our hurts, or being told we’re silly because we have them, keeps us in that mode.

    Reply
  9. Jenn @ Cooking Aweigh the Pounds

    This first task was definitely a doozy, Ellen! But I do agree that dealing with this one first will bulldoze the emotional baggage to make room for healing.

    I’m so sorry you were a victim of such horrible treatment in elementary school. I’ve dealt with small amount of bullying here and there in school, but nothing of this caliber.

    You are brave for sharing this.
    You are beautiful. Seriously, you are very pleasing to the eyes! :)
    You are smart. Period.
    You are a good friend. I don’t call very many bloggers friends, but I definitely consider you one.

    Like Emmie, once you trust these truths, you can allow yourself to believe.

    Hugs to little Ellen and now Ellen!

    Reply
  10. didi

    Thanks for posting this. When I started school the other children were just vicious to me, and this continued until I was placed in an enrichment program for gifted students at another school in the fifth grade. Up until I changed school I never had any friends. I stayed in girlscouts with a group of girls who hated me, because I was afraid that if I quit my parents would think that I was even less “normal” than I already felt. I wish to god that adult me could go back and hug little me. I’d stop all those horrible children from picking on me, and tell myself that I was smart, and kind, and good. I would tell myself that I was pretty, and creative, and that I made other people nervous because they just didn’t know how to relate to me.
    Here is my first group post. Thanks you for hosting this challenge.
    http://driftwoodandsealingwax.blogspot.com/2012/01/hate-loss-challenge-week-one.html

    Reply
  11. Cindy

    Ellen, as I read this my heart was breaking for you and the little girl that had to endure it. I completely agree that it is these sorts of experiences that make us who we are, and they are so incredibly difficult to shake. When I was about 12-13, I lost several people from life including my father (he didn’t die, he left.) I withdrew and because of my weight issues, inevitably, kids also made fun of me. My mom was wonderful, but my siblings, who were significantly older than me, always made it clear to me that it was lucky I did well in school, because I wasn’t pretty. (This had actually been going on since I was much younger). I started thinking there was a reason why people left and that it was my fault. I’ve always believed this and it dictates who I am. I find it so difficult to believe otherwise. The good news is that I do believe I have made progress, but only because of the changes I’ve made to myself on the outside over the last year. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t bring myself to feel good about myself without it. However, I have a long, long way to go. I know I will have succeeded when I reach a point when someone tells me I am worthy of love (and maybe even beautiful) and I will believe it. I still don’t. I’ll keep reading my affirmations – it has to stick at some point. Thank you so very much for this and hugs to you and that tough, incredible little girl who survived those creepy kids.

    Reply
  12. teresa

    You’re amazing. You’re also a great writer and very good and articulating these things.
    I’ve been feeling stressed that I haven’t managed to get my post done (even though I know you would say not to let it be a worry)… I just *want* to be in this from the start….
    I’m hoping to get to it today sometime. I don’t wnat to shortchange these questions or this project.
    I’m making it my first priority to read everyone’s thursday post and support before I dig into the 350+ backlog in my reader.
    This is the real stuff and you are a goddess for setting it up and hosting the whole thing!!

    Reply
  13. Melisa

    Wow, Ellen. This is a very powerful post. Thank you for sharing your experience and I hope it helps you in your healing. I was also bullied in school from Grade 3-6 and then a bit in high school. I guess it makes sense that many of us who have eating issues have these types of similar experiences in their past. I hope you have a great day!

    Reply
  14. Paula

    Thank you so much for sharing. I can so relate. We moved when I was 6 to a small town that disliked outsiders. School from 1-4 was a nightmare. I was shy and none of the children would be my friend. I remember coming home and mother asking me if it all just wasn’t in my head? Of course home life wasn’t much better. My father would tell me I was ugly and stupid and it was no surprise no one liked me. He didn’t. And my mother? Useless. She could have cared less since she liked where we were living and figured I should just figure out how to get along. 10 years in that town did so much damage…..put a shitty home life in the mix and it is a surprise I didn’t commit suicide. It has taken me forever to get past this and realize it wasn’t me. It wasn’t until this year that I finally realized what you wrote here about forgiveness. It fits me to a T. I have a wonderful husband and a good life now, but I am one of the many walking wounded. Life has gotten better and I have to tell you that I’ve been using the positive reenforcement sheet and I feel 100% better. I have had a really great week and hope by the end of the month I will feel even more positive. Again I want to thank you for sharing. I can not express how grateful I am to know I am not alone. That someone out there can truly understand what I myself have gone through.

    Reply
  15. Sable@SquatLikeALady

    mmmm this is very difficult. Very raw. I’m not done yet and really I don’t know if I’ll ever hit ‘publish’ – this therapy sesh might just be for me.

    I keep going back to some of the things that were done and said that are very difficult to understand or forgive….my 8th grade peer who, the day before we ‘graduated’ middle school, made up a story about how I threatened to kill him — and the guidance counsellor who BELIEVED him with NO evidence, NO corroboration. That guidance counsellor called the police (on an eighth grade girl! with no history of violence or misbehavior or access to any weapons at all!) who, to their credit, rather quickly pointed out that said accuser had a criminal record. But that guidance counsellor is now a vice principal. Yeah, I’m having a hard time with this. I keep getting sucked back into memories that I’ve been suppressing for so long :/

    Reply
  16. Munchberry

    Lots of stuff to process there. As a reader. I can only imagine in life. It got me thinking. Wondering about why I seek the comfort of loneriness too. I always have said to myself that I am terrible at walling off my feelings, but apparently or maybe? I am so good at it I do not even notice I am doing it anymore.

    I think it was very smart of you to start with I’m nots. How can you say with any sort of conviction or respect even the “I am’s” if that voice is still in the background? You would hesitite and smirk or whatnot maybe because you (or I) would “know” the words were fraudulent.

    Can you or I ask and answer to our own satisfaction: Why am I not those things? If not, why do we not believe ourselves and WHY do we hand over that power to anyone – even those that do not even exist anymore?

    Yep. bears exploring. Thank you for this very thoughtful post.

    Reply

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