Naava Ellenberg

Naava Ellenberg is a senior at Barnard College of Columbia University studying American history and is from San Jose, California. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in politics, journalism, law, or maybe all three! She has been published in Bustle, Teen Vogue, The Mercury News, San Jose Inside, and San Jose Spotlight.

Some of Us Are Guilty of Being Our Own Bullies

Encountering bullies is a pretty unavoidable part of life. The least we can do is make sure that one does not exist within us.

I was cyberbullied when I was in fifth grade. Keep in mind, it was 2010, so the incident occured over email and involved references to Twilight characters, but nonetheless, it hurt. I printed out the damning emails and brought them to my teacher who reprimanded the culprit and demanded that he apologize. He did, and I got over it. 

Middle school then showed me that kids could be mean. It was a weird time for all of us, with puberty hitting at the same time as Bar Mitzvah season, so no clear examples of bullying really come to mind when I begrudgingly recall my preteen years.

The next time that I clearly remember being bullied was my freshman year of high school. I had made my school’s competitive dance team and was absolutely thrilled. I was excited to make friends and dance my heart out. For some reason—maybe it was my enthusiasm, maybe it was me coming from an unheard-of private school, I have no idea—a few girls on the team made it their goal to make me feel excluded and undeserving of being on the team. They watched me during practice and pointed and whispered when I made mistakes. They left me out of a team sleepover. I was hurt and confused and had no friends on the team to whom I could turn. I was miserable. 

Yet, somehow, I persevered and eventually managed to find other friends on the team and gained enough confidence that I laughed off the bullies until they grew bored.

If you were to ask me if I have been bullied since that terrible time my first semester of high school, my gut response is no, I have not. However, in the eyes of my therapist, that response would make me a liar. 

According to my therapist, I spent the last year of high school and the first two years of college being victimized by an unavoidable bully: me. 

The idea that I had been a bully to myself seemed a little dubious when my therapist first mentioned it. After some pushing and soul searching, though, I realized that she was right. If I spoke to others the way I spoke to myself, I would have no friends and would probably have been kicked out of any group or club I tried to join. I have spent the majority of the past three years looking in the mirror and picking apart my flaws. I called myself fat so frequently that I developed an eating disorder and convinced myself that it was my ugliness that was keeping boys from asking me out on dates. If anyone said to me what I said to me, I probably would have punched them in the face. But the fact that it was coming from me made it so much worse and impossible to avoid. 

I was always with myself, so I was always with my abuser. 

Things have improved since. Through therapy, medication, and time spent with people who love and appreciate me, I have slowly managed to start being nicer to myself. I can look in the mirror now and smile. Sometimes, I even think that I look good! 

My perpetual bully is fading away. She is becoming an occasional whisper rather than a constant scream.

When we talk about bullying, we often forget that some of us are guilty of bullying ourselves. Think about how you treat yourself and the things you say when you look in the mirror. I know it sounds cheesy, but if you wouldn’t say those things to someone else, stop saying them to yourself. Encountering bullies is a pretty unavoidable part of life. The least we can do is make sure that one does not exist within us.

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