Speaking Up When You’re Bullied, in School and Beyond

“Sometimes the biggest act of courage is a small one.” ~Lauren Raffo

During the summer of 2001, I experienced three months of torment.

My days were filled with verbal lashings, public humiliation, and pushing my body to its physical limits. I was being broken down. I chose to accept this as my normal. I accepted my punishment like I thought I should. I was seventeen.

Nothing made my anxiety fly away and quieted the constant chatter in my brain like dance. I may not have been the best, or most technically proficient dancer (my fouettes would never land me a Joffery Ballet scholarship), but moving to music made my heart sing.

Naturally, I decided to try out for my high school's dance team. I ended up securing a spot on the kick line of this infamous and exclusive group.

Varsity dance has been an institution at my high school for nearly sixty years. Throughout that enormous chunk of time, many traditions were thought up, tweaked, and passed on. Now, these are not your average high school traditions of young girls simply making goofy matching t-shirts, wearing the same half-up-half-down hairstyle, and teepeeing new teammates.

Most of the traditions passed on are bullying.

My summer of new-girl hazing included performing thousands of kicks until I got bursitis in both of my worn out knees, sitting in the splits until my wrists buckled under pressure, constantly hearing how unworthy I was of being on the team, and performing hyper-sexualized dances in front of ogling male classmates. Those were just a few highlights of my experience.

Then came the day the “old girls” decided to finally initiate me as a full-fledged member of the team.

The veteran members drove me around with a blindfold hugging my sobbing eyes, while verbally ripping in to each and every one of my mental weaknesses. After making several stops to “practice” dances and kick to the brink of exhaustion, I arrived just after dusk at a house belonging to one of the captains.

My hand was held, as I was lead to sit cross-legged on the soft, dewy grass. Then I was told to lift my arms up and position my belly over my legs in a stretched-out, yoga gone wrong, fashion. I sat with my forehead touching the now spiky an itchy grass for the next five hours.

Daylight peeked in and it was over. None of the girls ever spoke about again.

I was stuck. I knew this was wrong. I witnessed parents and the administration turns a blind eye to the hazing. And I saw that no one else on the team thought this was wrong and did nothing to stop it.

So, I denied my internal power, I silently suffered, I suppressed my courage. If no one was going to help me, why would I help myself?

Maybe you’re thinking why couldn’t I have quit? Stood up for myself? Spoken up? I was a child in high school and I wanted to fit in. I did not know who I was. My teenage years were blanketed with insecurity and I couldn’t see beyond the immediate hallways, stadiums, and parties of high school.

I didn’t want to be the squeaky wheel, even though I knew I should have done something more.

Now, I have to release my feelings, which I’ve been ignoring and hiding in a pit of ignorance and self-hatred. It has taken me 10 years, but I am speaking out just in case this could still be happening to another young, open-hearted girl, or, for that matter, anyone with unhealed wounds or deep scars from bullying.

Stories like mine aren't just happening in high school. Bullying and harassment happen every day in offices, families, and even with strangers on the street. I want encourage everyone to stand up for what’s right. We are all enlightened beings, and we know what’s right.

Courage is often most powerful when small, so here are a few easy ways to uncover your brave heart:

Lead by example.

An oldie, but a goodie—your actions speak louder than words. Live a life that appreciates and encourages others, even if they are different than you. And don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and others.

Know that it's never too late to be the change.

Believe that you have the power to make a difference. You absolutely do. Even if this is something you've experienced in the past, write a note, pick up the phone, knock on someone's door, and be the squeaky wheel. Be the voice for those who cannot, or are afraid to speak.

Practice calm courage.

Treat others how you would like to be treated. If you are being bullied, try your best not to lash out. Instead, remove yourself from the situation and tell someone you trust about what you're going through. Talk with them about action steps to stop the cycle of negativity. Do not pass it on.

Make peace with your story.

Accept the fact that you have been bullied, or have bullied someone. Don't stuff your feelings down until you feel like Fourth of July fireworks, ready to explode. Talk to someone, express how you feel, and do your best to move on to a life full of light.

Photo by JOE-3PO

About Blair Shackle

Blair Shackle founded The Turquoise Heart on a journey to find her "happy place." It's a warm spot to reconnect through wisdom, recharge through adventure, and rediscover our unique hearts. Mix in travel, healthy living, and laughter, and it's nothing but happy trails. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • yue

    Thank you Blair for posting this article. I’ve experienced being verbally abused and it made me feel hopeless and horrible! I just don’t have the courage to stand up for myself because I was so afraid. Then came a point in my life where I realized that I need to do something. Instead of fighting back and or lashing abusive words, I decided to stay away from that person. I talked and expressed everything that I’ve been through to a close friend and vowed to let go every resentment, pain, hurt, disappointments and negative feelings I felt. It’s not easy, but day by day I tried to be more compassionate to myself and to everyone. I know, I may never erase all the bad things I felt before but the lessons are there, lingering forever. Lessons that remind me of how beautiful I am as a person and how beautiful it is to treat everyone with goodness/kindness. I really liked this line  “Live a life that appreciates and encourages others, even if they are different than you.” 🙂

  • Blair Shackle

    Hi Yue! Thank you for taking the time to read this 🙂 Any kind of abuse is such a difficult challenge, and I’m so glad to hear you found a way to express your feelings, and move forward. Blessings to you, always! 

  •  Thank you for this article. I also suffered from bullying in my school years and now I’m slowly coming to the point of acceptance. It’s very difficult though. When I am back in the town that bullied my family and me for years, I still feel a little resentment time to time, but I’m making progress.

    I encourage any one who is being bullied to speak up. Don’t lash out on the bully or confront the bully, it never works. Tell somebody you trust and if nobody will listen, tell your local news on how you’re not being listened to. They can help bring attention to the nationwide problem of bullying.

    Keep strong and may you all be happy.

  • Thanks Blair for your kind and heartfelt words. I also experienced, and allowed, being bullied during EVERY school year, from Kindergarten to the last day of high school. 10 years have passed since then, and I still have dreams of some of my classmates. I have also experienced being mistreated by so-called ‘friends’, and allowing this to happen, thinking that’s what I deserve and living through fear and guilt. It’s really difficult to make peace with the past, not to spit the negativity back, and to let go of the resentment, but I’m heading that way… I’ve been filtering the toxic ‘friends’ out of my system, and keeping the real ones by my side.

    My best regards and blessings 🙂

  • Blair Shackle

    Hi Violeta – thank you for reaching out 🙂 I am so sorry to hear about your story, and I understand the feeling of having a hard time making peace with the past. Glad you are able to filter out the negativity now 🙂 Blessings to you! 

  • Blair Shackle

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nicole! I still deal with acceptance each day – it is a long process. 
    I agree with you suggesting not to lash out at the bully – that’s what they want, most of the time. 

    Blessings to you!

  • Michele

    Thank you Blaire for such an honest, heartfelt post.  I’m so sorry you had to go through that.  You are such an amazing woman, so strong and courageous.  

  • Blair Shackle

     Thank you, dear Michele – I am so gratetful for your kind words! Love and peace!

  • Maryanne

    Okay, Blair, you’re amazing!  Waves of the chills washed over me, again and again, as I read your story. What a gift you’ve given to the world by sharing your story. I hope you can feel all of the love pouring your way from the hearts you open…like mine. Be well!

  • Blair Shackle

    Wow…thank you Maryanne! Your words truly humble me….blessings to you always!! 🙂

  • Loppychick

    I’m so glad I read this! It has helped me put my bullied childhood and adulthood behind me. I’ve been working on this for a while. Now I am helping my neice to find her courage as well!

  • Blair Shackle

    Fabulous to hear – thank you for being the change! 🙂 

  • Blair. I truly feel for you and hope that you are doing better now at this stage of your life. I too was bullied in school – a shy, timid, emotional guy who might as well have worn a target on his back for ridicule and torment. Much as you said, people often turn away from bullying rather than trying to rescue the souls of those who simply do not deserve to be treated cruely and unfairly. Bullies are cowards. They cannot accept who they are, so they need to feel dominant over others in order to feel better about themselves. THat does little to ease the mind of anyone who knows what it’s like to be abused by one of these individuals. You sound like a strong person and I hope you continue to be on your path of life. Thank you for this post and I hope it teaches us all how we need to stop bullying whenever we can. All the best…

  • Blair Shackle

    Hi Craig! Thank you for taking the time to read this and reach out. I’m sorry to hear you experienced bullying too – so many do, in so many forms – I hope you are able to move forward too. Your kind words touch my heart, and I hope my story, and all others will help both the victims and the bullys. Blessings to you!

  • Ah man. I only had one instance of hazing in my childhood – this drinking feat I had to do to hang out at the cool dude’s house in high school.  Bad but not awful, and only lasted one night.  But even then, with no self esteem and pretty damn depressed, theres no freakin way I’d do all this.  When you think about it, it’s just amazing people’s ability to stay silent against the horrible actions of others – even when it’s to themselves.  Very awesome post, Blair!

  • Blair Shackle

    Hi Adam – sorry to hear about your hazing incident, it is far too common! That is interesting, no? Silence is a killer, so glad you’re speaking out too! Thank you for taking the time to read this! Blessings!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s depressing to realize that bullying is a vicious cycle. You’re definitely right, sometimes a situation can change depending on how we handle it. I wish courage and hope for those people who are still being bullied.

  • Blair Shackle

    Thank you for taking the time to read my story 🙂 I, too, wish courage and hope for all those out there – time to be the change! 

  • Alexey Sunly

    Squeaky Wheels get to have all the fun 😉