We'll call him "Mr. Jones" for simplicity. When I went into Mr. Jones' room to introduce myself, he immediately said, "Well, you've put on weight, haven't you?" Not hello, not "how are you," - just an immediate comment on my body. I ignored it and introduced myself and told him I was here to talk with him. He, however, could not get past my appearance. I went to sit down, and he said, "You can't sit on the furniture. You'll break it." I let him know, gently and politely, that I had been sitting on the furniture for over two years without a problem, and that I had a job to do. He said, "you're too fat." At that point, even my patience was shot. I said, "Mr. Jones, I am here as a professional and your comments are out of line. My body is not under discussion. I'll come back again on Friday, and maybe we can try this again."
So, professionally - yes, I handled it. Personally, though? I still want to curl up in a ball and cry. As I sit here and write, though, I was reminded of a post I wrote on loneliness quite a while ago. In that post, I wrote about how some people are just mean. I wrote:
"No matter what other people think of me, my sense of who I am is intact. It took YEARS to get here, and I'm not going to say that other people's perceptions don't matter - they certainly do. What matters the most, though, is what YOU do and what YOU think of yourself. I decided that I would try to like myself, no matter what anyone else thought. I don't know about everyone, but for me it was a choice and a conscious decision. And it took hard work."
First, recognize and honor your pain. You hurt for a reason - this person said or did something designed deliberately to cause pain. Bullying doesn't just happen in school - it happens every day, in every walk of life. So you recognize that something wrong happened, and you accept that you are hurting because of it. Ask yourself - what do I need to do to take care of this? And then, try to find a way to do that. It might mean talking to a friend, writing in a journal, getting a hot cup of coffee or tea, locking yourself in the bathroom to breathe for a few minutes, or crying. Turn the experience into something positive, if you can - obviously, I write about things, and it helps me! If I can help someone else going through something similar, even better. Whatever it is - as long as you're not hurting anyone else or yourself - do it.
Next, accept that the person really did do it. This might sound stupid, but sometimes we simply can't believe that it really happened, and we're in a bit of shock. Yes, it did happen, and it hurts. What are your options? This question, and the next part (following through with a plan) are actually very important, because they allow you to regain a sense of control. When someone deliberately does something to hurt you, part of the shock and hurt often comes from feeling that control and personal power has been taken away. Examine your options? Can you do something? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing it? What will help you feel less helpless and more like you have some power in the situation? Again - it is VERY important here to focus on your healing, and not on revenge, getting even, or hurting yourself or someone else. Be effective, meaning don't focus on having to be right or on things being fair; do what will work to help you without creating more problems or hurting someone else (including you!)
Once you've identified healthy and effective options - pick one and do it. Doing something, even if it's small, allows you to feel like you have some power and control in the situation. In my recent situation, I let Mr. Jones know his behavior was unacceptable, I reported it in my write up, and I reported it to the staff (who unfortunately, had been experiencing it also.) Did it change Mr. Jones? No, and it probably won't. Did I feel that I was professional, ethical and appropriately assertive? Yes. And because of that, I feel a little better.
If you can, try some opposite action (a DBT Emotion Regulation skill). If you can find compassion for the person who hurt you, recognize that. If you can forgive, forgive. Some people find peace in praying for the person. If you can't - don't beat yourself up, because it's okay. You've been hurt, and some things cut deep, either physically or emotionally. Years of abuse usually can't be forgiven all at once, and some things are easier to forgive than others. For me? I walked by Mr. Jones' room later, and saw him all alone, staring at the wall. No one wants to talk to him or be around him because he is mean to almost everyone. I had some compassion for him, because he must be a very lonely, confused, and hurting man. DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness skills might be appropriate here too, depending on the situation; think of DEAR MAN, GIVE, and FAST - especially FAST!
If you catch yourself starting to fall into shame, negative self-talk, self-harm, or believing that the other person was right, stop. Right now - stop. They are not right, and it's not okay for someone to deliberately hurt you. Use your DBT Distress Tolerance skills you need them, or identify and challenge the negative thoughts. Recognize the cognitive distortions, and argue with the negativity the same way you'd argue with your best friend, if they were saying the negative things about themselves.
Set boundaries, if needed. While I was able to find some compassion for Mr. Jones, I will not disrespect myself and try to interview him again. If it needs to be done, someone else will have to do it. Setting boundaries and protecting yourself is healthy! Plan for how you will handle the situation if it happens again - after Monday, I though about how I would handle it today, if the same thing re-occurred. It did, and I was glad to have a plan.
Last? Keep doing it. Do things that make you feel good about yourself, that are healthy, and that are nurturing. While there is truth in the "don't let it get to you" response, the truth is that it takes work to take care of yourself after someone is cruel. It's okay to acknowledge the hurt, it's okay to cry (if you need to), and it's okay take care of yourself. It's more than ok - it's the right thing to do. You're worth it, and nothing anyone says or does can take that away from you.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (970) 776-6043 if you want to set up an appointment.