My grandmother once told me this: “Never. And I mean never let anyone get comfortable with abusing and mistreating you.”
She was right. By the time she gave me that little gold nugget of wisdom, it was already too late. I was in high school and had been a target of bullying since moving to *Oakley School District in the sixth grade. But right then, I understood what my very wise grandmother meant and why she gave me that advice.
Here’s what Uma (what I called my maternal grandmother) had already known by being a people-watcher and very good at people-reading:
Once the mistreatment of a person has gone on for so long, the people around them get comfortable with mistreating that person. They grow so accustomed to being cruel to the person that they don’t even think about, nor do they care about how they hurt that person. Even worse, they come to expect the target the take the abuse without question, without talking back, speaking about it, and without defending themselves.
Put another way, if a target firmly stands up to bad treatment in the early stages of being targeted, it’s more likely that others will respect his right to be treated well and either leave him alone or began treating him better.
Whereas, if the target lets the bullying go on for a long time, then begins to stand up for himself after getting fed up with being everyone’s doormat, others will more than likely be only angry and resentful of the person for daring to open his mouth about it. They will then double down in their abuse or eliminate him somehow.
Once a person gets comfortable in mistreating you, it’s much more difficult to fight. Therefore, always speak out the moment the bullying begins. Never let it go on for any length of time. The sooner you do, the easier it will be to assert your rights and avoid retaliation.
I cannot tell you how important first impressions are. Down through the ages, many have said that first impressions last forever and that you never get a second chance at it. They were right!
When I moved to *Oakley, Tennessee, after having been an Army brat and lived in many different places, I began attending school there during the sixth grade. During that first year, I made a terrible first impression on my classmates, and I did it without even realizing it. Unfortunately, I paid for it for six long years.
In no way am I doing what so many young victims do, blaming myself for all the pain and humiliation they put me through. I’m well aware that regardless of the impression I made, I was just an innocent twelve-year-old child who never deserved to be bullied.
However, looking back, I now realize what I could’ve done differently to keep the target off my back. Oh, the things we realize when we’re older!
My first mistake was that I didn’t stand up for myself when my classmates began bullying me. Being new at the time, I was afraid of getting in trouble with school staff and was taught that “decent young ladies didn’t fight.” Instead, I tried talking my way out of confrontations or lying my way out. ‘Bet you can guess where that got me.
Another mistake was that I was also overly friendly, which was easily mistaken for being a fool, being weak, and approval-seeking.
My third mistake was that during the sixth grade, I cried easily, which my hardened and sadistic classmates took for weakness or manipulation. It didn’t take me long to change these behaviors.
By the seventh grade, I had toughened up considerably, but by then, the dynamic was already firmly in place.
First impressions are everything! They set a precedent- a pattern for the future. If bullies get away with bad behavior once, you can be sure they will repeat it again and again. When they get a particular reaction, they will come back for more of the same later. Without realizing it, we teach people how to treat us.
Understand that it doesn’t take long for impressions to take root and became expected. And when they do, it’s tough to change. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible, but it won’t be easy.
It takes a truckload of patience and consistency. It also requires pointing out your good qualities, hard work, and successes to others, which can backfire if you aren’t careful because people will only naturally take you for bragging and being pompous.
You have no control over people’s perceptions and opinions of you, nor their behavior and actions toward you, which is why it’s so essential to get it right the first time around. I had to learn this the hard way and by the time I realized it, it was too late.
However, during my last year of high school, I got the opportunity to change schools and make a new start at *Roseburg School. I put my best foot forward at my new school and the results were amazing!
I made many friends and was well accepted and liked by both students and staff. I saw a complete 180! But sadly, many kids don’t get that opportunity.
Even now, the classmates from *Oakley still, to this day, hold a lot of unnecessary anger, resentment, and bitterness and it’s been thirty years. I can tell you that had I known what I know now- had I made a better impression early on, things would have been much different.
Not that what they think matters because I’m older and with age comes wisdom, confidence, and self-acceptance. Also priorities change.
However, I would’ve saved myself six years of pain and a lot of wasted time. Also, I’d feel better about joining them at the thirty-year reunion.
I can only pity them because you’d think people would be over that stuff by now. I forgive them because forgiveness sets me free. However, I could never trust them because I will never feel safe around them. And the sad part is, a lot of this was avoidable in the early stages.
Today, I make giving a great first impression a goal each and every time I meet new people. The next time you meet someone new, be sure to make the best impact possible.