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Bullies and Re-membering

I was bullied really badly as a teenager. I went from being an utterly confident 12-year old, full of promise and with a "sky's the limit" attitude to one of sheer terror and depression. For three long years I suffered physically and mentally at the hands of a few girls who were two grades above me. Those feelings never go away.

The problem with bullies is that they too never go away. You may never see those childhood bullies again in your life, but they'll always be there, living in your head, little demons that run out and snarl at you when you least expect it. You have forgiven the childhood bullies, and done cleansing ceremonies. You've accepted and moved on. You've lived the best life you can. But they're still there. They are a part of you, and they wait to pounce on you, grasping into your flesh with their sharp little fingers, whispering in your ear.  Through acts of kindness, through living a life of compassion for others, you can keep them at bay, but they never, ever go away. A tiny crack in the fortress of love can allow these slippery little demons through. There merest tear in the fabric of your being allows them to shred their way straight through to your soul. Yet you continue, you go on, putting one foot in front of the other. Demons of the past may have been dealt with, but they re-emerge with demons of the present, a lingering army in your mind, combining forces in an assault against your very being. So how to win through?

As with any abuse, we can only take things one day at a time. Things will happen in our lives that will allow these demons a chance to take hold once again. New bullies may appear in your life, and dog you for years, trying to bring you down.  You struggle and fight against the abuse with all the resources you have to hand: love, empathy, compassion, intelligence, determination.  You may win a battle, but the war is a long one, and you are tired. So we carry on, one day at a time, one battle at a time, keeping those demons and bullies at bay, from both the past and present. It's not easy. But you know that giving in to them is not an option, for then they would tear you apart, turn you into one of them.  You struggle on, seeing the good in people, despite everything aimed at you, despite the unkindness in the world today.  Is it sheer determination or just plain stubbornness?  You don't know, but you carry on regardless.

People can be wonderful. They can also be utterly awful. Though my life is filled with mostly beautiful folk, there are one or two that try to negate all that loveliness, with sour words and tongues, whispering into the ears of others, for whatever reason. These broken souls wend their way into your life every now and then, and there is no option but to deal with them as best you can. And when you have past abuse to contend with, the assault on the psyche is even worse, as issues from the past rise once again to the surface, and you realise that you have to deal with them all over again. I'm 42, going on 14.

But then again, aren't we all? We are all stories, stories of our past trying to live in the present moment, without worrying too much about the future. We work and walk with nature, seeing the beauty in the sunset, the mystery in the moonrise. We know the different gods, we talk to the ancestors, we dance with the spirits of place. We find inspiration everywhere, and so do we use our spiritual path as well to help us along on our journey, no matter what demons rear their ugly heads.

We need to remember. We need to re-member. We need to take our inspiration from nature, to bring ourselves back into being. We need to recreate ourselves each and every day. By remembering who we are, we can re-member our very being, bringing together those disparate elements that we have lost at the hands of abuse, allowing the past to have happened, but not allowing it to live in the present moment. If we remember, we acknowledge the past. If we re-member, we forge ourselves anew in the light of a brand new day. By bringing the two together, we can find wisdom.

I spoke with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen recently about the bullies in my life, past and present. They helped me to acknowledge the past suffering, as well as the present.  I am unable to do anything about the behaviour of other people, foul as it may be. But I can remain open and honest, compassionate and kind. These were their words to me, along with words of caution: they also reminded me that I have nothing to prove.

Often when we are bullied, either from the past or in the present moment, we feel that "living well is the best revenge".  However, if revenge is anywhere in your thoughts, you most certainly are not living well. We can pour inordinate amounts of time and energy into trying to prove ourselves against those who would badmouth us, who would threaten us, who would try to bring us down for their own troubled reasons. But as we realise that we have nothing to prove to these people, we release them from our lives, allowing them to be blown away on the evening breeze. We can face the darkness without fear of them lurking in the shadows.

There will always be people who are antagonistic towards you in your life, for whatever reason. My advice, for myself and for all who have suffered similarly, is to not overcompensate, for in doing so those bullies still have a hold over you. We need to take a stand sometimes in our life, and we need to speak out against injustice. But when we feel that we have something to prove, then little cracks being to appear in our being. It's the ego talking, and it's not coming from a place of compassion or empathy. It's almost a form of punishment, which is perfectly understandable given the amount of suffering one may have undergone. It's a purely human response, and we can acknowledge it as such. How we act upon that feeling is what defines us.

The bullies in our life, past, present and future, may never go away. We may have to content with them again and again, privately, publicly, professionally. My advice to all who have similarly suffered would be to not fall into the trap of overcompensation. We all have little coping mechanisms to help us get through. Look deeply into the amount of time and energy that you give to a situation, and see where that time and energy might be better spent: with family and loved ones, for example. Look for the good in the world. Look for the beauty.

I remember those long bus rides home, over an hour, with name-calling, food/garbage throwing, physical abuse, etc. I remember the more recent times of bullying in my professional life. And I re-member myself. I see the beauty of the clear blue sky, and I re-member. I see my cat's sleepy face, and I re-member. I make love to my husband, and I re-member. I laugh with my friends, and I re-member. These are the important things that require focus and attention. This is where I can find the core of my being. This is what I re-member.

And when I do, I can let it all go, slipping into the gentle stream that burbles in the sunlight, that nourishes with its very being everything it touches.  

Blog post illustration: "Bully Bogey" by Brian Froud, from the book: Good Faeries, Bad Faeries

b2ap3_thumbnail_cover-high-res.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Front-cover.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Zen-for-Druids-Front-cover-FINAL.jpg Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, author, teacher, dancer and artist. Her works include the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry. To find out more about her work, visit her website at www.joannavanderhoeven.com


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Tagged in: abuse beauty Druid Pagan
 Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 30 years. She has written many books, including The Path of the Hedge Witch: Simple, Natural Magic and the Art of Hedge Riding, as well as The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. Find her channels on social media at YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.


  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Monday, 10 April 2017

    Hello and Blessed Be, I too was bullied but at grade school level. I was fortunate in being raised to be "tough" and over time learned that what went on while painful contributed to my strength and ability to feel strong regardless. I am glad that bullying has become unacceptable, as it wasn't once. Thanks for your honest blog and for your nicely written piece. Tasha

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Tuesday, 11 April 2017

    Hi Tasha, blessed be to you and yours. I too feel both stronger, and weaker, for what happened to me all those years ago, and for the more recent bullying that I have endured. Sadly, I know far too many people who still have to endure it, as there are people who still refuse to acknowledge it, as it makes them uncomfortable, or means that they have to do something about it. I'm truly glad that a lot more institutions are taking it seriously, however, at least in their written policy. I feel that there is still a long way to go, but as you said, we can feel stronger for it, and use our experience to help others. Thank you for your kind words, and your support. Blessings of the full moon. x

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Tuesday, 11 April 2017

    And to you also. I have always found that facing life head on is moe productive than trying to duck. However I was brought up that way so that probably helps. I am grateful for that. Warmest wishes an blessed be, Tasha

  • Kim Campbell
    Kim Campbell Sunday, 30 April 2017

    I was bullied in 7th grade. It was so difficult to be ostracized by my peers based on the rumor of a "friend". It breaks my heart to read about suicides caused by bullying and how the Internet exacerbates it in some situations.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Sunday, 30 April 2017

    Technology can certainly be abused, no doubt about it. I think we have to look at healing the human spirit, so that it breaks the cycle and gives people a new way forward. I only see a bullying culture growing right now, looking at the current governments of the USA and UK. It's a growing "trend" that certainly needs to stop. Blessings, and hugs, to you, Kim. x

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Sunday, 30 April 2017

    Bullying was very common in my grade school and I was the butt of much of it as I grew up. It did make me a very strong individual, however painfully, so I can take that from the experience. I am not happy it happened nor do I recommend it. Those who are sensitive and vulnerable are the most hurt. Would that there were some way to make this go away.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Sunday, 30 April 2017

    It can make some people stronger, and it can utterly break others, like you said. We just need a little more kindness in this world, a world where we work together instead of compete against each other, a world where we care for each other and where the wounded human spirit is healed, so that we don't lash out at each other anymore. I pray for that! x

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Monday, 01 May 2017

    I pray for it and work toward it by being as kind as I know how to be--with discernment always as I am sure you do as well. My next blog might be of interest to you. I will be posting it soon. Been on a wonderful retreat and need to catch up.

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