Ten anti-skills I learned from being bullied

So, there’s a thing out there causing a shitstorm.

I need to write about it. Need to.

  1. How to smile as your insides scream and you bite the inside of your cheek bloody to keep from running out the door. Bullied kid meant scared kid. Always, always scared. Always. Still, as an adult, always scared. Often a few heartbeats away from running screaming out the room. Only thing keeping it in check? Bigger fear of what will happen if I do. But can’t show you’re scared – bullies are to fear what sharks are to blood. So smile, smile, smile. And if nice fails, act tough and apathetic. Maybe you’ll even fool yourself. And then it’s your fault when adults around you refuse to see what’s happening. “You should be an actor, you’re so good at pretending nothing’s wrong!” they’ll say, as if it’s a compliment. As if they didn’t make you learn to pretend nothing’s wrong. As if it’s your fault you had to learn that skill to survive. As if it’s your fault they refuse to see past the facade they forced on you in the first place.
  2. How to shut down and lose words to avoid screaming exactly what you think about someone at them… because if you do, then you’ll get the shit kicked out of you, and then the school will suspend you for instigating, and then you’ll go home and catch hell from your parents, too, and then they’ll all wonder why you throw up at the thought of going back, and make fun of how school isn’t anything to cry over.
  3. How to accept bad advice with a smile and an I’ll try that next time. How to try something you know won’t work just to satisfy someone who’s convinced it will.
  4. How to restrain yourself from blowing up at them when they tell you that you’re just not trying hard enough, and maybe you just want the attention. How to hurt yourself to prevent yourself from hurting someone else.
  5. How to find a place where you can fall apart safely.
  6. How to hate yourself, your life, the world and everyone and everything in it. But mostly yourself. How to use that hate to power you, how to make hate into a lifeline which keeps you from drowning.
  7. How to bury your emotion in a superhuman workload. Can’t feel if I’m too exhausted to think. Stab of adrenaline just lets me finish the next assignment or shift.
  8. How to act happy when all that is going on in your brain… because anything less is “letting them win” and “being a coward” and “being selfish” and not being resilient enough. Also how to know deep in your hear that the happy mask is walking a tight rope made of knives in a heavy crosswind, if you slip, you fall, and if you don’t, you bleed. And spectators will call it your fault whichever way it turns out.
  9. To not trust anyone. Ever. To assume malice before incompetence, because a pattern of willful incompetence often hides malice, and because people who have a vested interest in not having to do anything would have you believe that ten people who have a combined work experience of more than twice your grandmother’s age are all so staggeringly incompetent that they can’t see a kid getting beaten up right in front of them. Because nobody is that incompetent. Because often the ones bending themselves into pretzels to excuse malice as “innocent” incompetence are the most malevolent.
  10. To isolate before you can be isolated. Because if it’s self-imposed it doesn’t hurt as bad. Because you can’t be betrayed by stuffed animals and books and the walls of an empty room.

Tell me, O Great and All Knowing ABA Person: Where is the “perks” in this? Tell me.

Maybe one of your “perks” can make my brain stop screaming. No?

I didn’t think so.

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8 thoughts on “Ten anti-skills I learned from being bullied

  1. So, so, so true. One thing to keep in mind is that if we found out that an adult was treating a child this way, most of us would automatically want to put a stop to it. Child protective services might even be called. But other kids, and groups of kids, can do just as much harm. Kids who are bullied do not grow from the experience or get any benefits at all. In fact, they are likely to have symptoms of PTSD, and they are unlikely to really learn many academic skills when they are preoccupied with when the next bullying event will happen to them!

  2. psychtld says:

    Well, I’m aware of the blog article to which you refer. I’m also aware of the ABA- trainer who wrote it. I’m also aware that behaviour-analytic ways of working have rather good evidence to back them up. And none of the behaviour-analytic research would go into supporting what that idiot woman said.

    The reason why she wrote that article the way she did is not because she’s trained in ABA: she wrote it that w ay because she’s an idiot.

    And – yes, I am autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxic; and I am a psychologist by training; and I see a value in behavioural methods. What I don’t see is a value in trying to even suggest that bullying has any positive sides to it. The research studies I’ve read – and my own experiences – very strongly tell me otherwise.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Personally, while I never experienced ABA, I did experience very similar training to address my dysgraphia, and all I got for it was RSIs and trauma. I know many adult autistics who received severe trauma from their experience of ABA, up to and including PTSD. I will allow that it may be helpful in some cases, but it is also very dangerous, and the therapists who promote it do not seem to acknowledge the danger inherent in forcing a person who is completely powerless to do things they find painful repeatedly, with minimizing their pain or even calling their reaction to pain “non-compliance” and acting as if they’re just doing it for attention or to be bad.

      I will acknowledge that the ideal of ABA does not engage in that, but ideal and reality very rarely coincide.

      • psychtld says:

        “I will acknowledge that the ideal of ABA does not engage in that, but ideal and reality very rarely coincide.”

        Way to go missing the point. ABA-validated practice has moved on a long way from the Lovaas days. Regarding the writing problem, behaviour analysts would know that repeated practice is not going to address that at all. What you experienced cannot have been ABA.

      • ischemgeek says:

        This is my blog. I’ll thank you not to condesend to me.

        As for the second part: Frankly, if ABA professionals wish to be viewed as trustworthy and credible, they have to earn that trust by acknowledging and owning the misdeeds of the fields past – and the misdeeds that are currently happening. ABA’s own standards do not have anything against the vast majority of Lovaas’ methods – nothing against the use of aversives, nothing against the use of food as a reinforcer, etc. I will believe that ABA has come “a long way” when there is explicit acknowledgement that what he did was not okay in professional standards of practice, and when they adopt open acknowledgement and ownership of those misdeeds.

        ABA professionals should look to other medical professions and to engineering for a model of behavior: Open, explicit professional standards with actual consequences for overstepping and with a transparent investigative and discipline process that is actually used.

        You are not winning anyone’s hearts or minds by pulling a No True Scotsman about anyone who has a negative experience. You are not establishing credibility by denying the existence of bad actors. You are not engendering trust by refusing to take ownership of your field’s past.

        I have friends (plural) who have trauma up to and including PTSD from ABA. I know survivors of the JRC. I know a couple people who are currently being forced into ABA who describe the sessions as endless cycles of being triggered into meltdowns and then forcibly restrained – and they have the bruises to back up their stories. Quite frankly, even if modern ABA has come a “long way”, there are still a lot of people out there who practice Lovaas’ methods, and your professional organization is doing nothing about it.

        Maybe think about putting a stop to that sort of thing before you condescend to some random blogger on the internet.

      • psychtld says:

        Maybe you need to think about the limits of your competence. I’m done. I wasn’t being condescending. But you bloody were.

  3. K says:

    Number 9 though yes. always assume malice before incompetence. It’s safer.

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