Freedom from bullying and its effects

For a young man who was bullied in high school, gaining a spiritual view of his identity proved life-changing – and also brought lasting peace of mind decades later when feelings of victimization cropped up again.

Millions of US students stay home from school at some point in the year for fear of being bullied. Young people may also face a subtler form of bullying – mental bullying – through advertising, movies, and social media that present images of “perfect” bodies and beauty that are nearly impossible to attain in real life.

How can any of us – whatever our age – face down the bullies or bullying thoughts that have the potential to tyrannize us? Experience has shown me that it is by gaining an unshakable conviction of what we really are as children of God. And then by acting accordingly.

I vividly remember how I had to cope with bullying during my teenage years. At my first high school, other students called me names every day. One even gave me a black eye. But that was nothing compared to my damaged self-esteem. My tormentors only reinforced my own low opinion of myself – that I wasn’t making it academically, athletically, or socially. I stumbled through that school year friendless and withdrawn.

Then I had an experience that was invaluable to me. I attended a summer camp for Christian Scientists, and it was such a contrast to my school life. No one seemed predisposed to put me down. And during weeks of outdoor fun, the counselors and adult staff guided us campers toward a spiritual view of ourselves. I learned that it was simply not true that one’s body equals one’s identity, as much of popular culture attempts to persuade us. I learned instead that we’re each spiritual, made in God’s very likeness.

My parents were astonished when the morose kid they’d sent to camp returned home full of zest. They enrolled me in a new school, and from the first day there my life changed astoundingly. My grades soared. I earned a starting spot on a sports team. And I made lots of new friends.

One more thing. At my old school I had always concealed a prominent wart. After camp, though, I was determined never again to feel put down because of my body. I was inspired by what the Bible prophet Jeremiah wrote in the Old Testament about priorities. Don’t brag about your wisdom, your exploits, and your riches, he said. As the New King James Version puts it, “Let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me [God]” (Jeremiah 9:24).

This helped shift my focus away from hiding the wart. Instead, I prayed to know that when God created me, I was made spiritual and flawless, like God, as we all are. Within a few weeks, the wart had just plain vanished. I knew that this healing, as well as my changed life at school, had come as a result of getting to know God better.

I was never again bullied by other students, and my self-esteem was now solidly grounded. Yet many years later the mailman brought an invitation to a reunion at my first high school, and although I lived too far away to attend, the mere thought of that school made me squirm. I found myself reliving all my old anger and resentment. Most startling was the impulse I felt to apologize to those people for having deserved bullying, and to offer assurances that I had changed. It was mortifying to feel myself lapse into that long-abandoned thought pattern. Silly as it may sound, I was disturbed about it for days.

I realized that my reactions showed classic bully-victim behavior. Praying for comfort, I gained this insight: In God’s eyes, I never had been someone else’s victim. No one has the power to alter or damage any aspect of God’s creation, because God, who is good, is supreme. No one can take away another’s value. Yes, I had overcome an instance of bullying. But real victory required my casting out the very concept of bullying as an inescapable part of my own or anyone’s life.

That’s how, some 30 years later, I finally disowned victimhood and exonerated those whom I had formerly blamed. In doing this, I had fulfilled a long-overdue responsibility – that of taking charge of my own thinking. And I regained my peace of mind.

A quote that has meant a lot to me says, “Mankind must learn that evil is not power” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 102). We can always find occasions to grasp the spiritual reality that we are all forever governed only by God, and I was grateful for this opportunity to prove that.

Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 13, 2004, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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