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Archive for November, 2010

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Mean Girls

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

A friend and I have been working on a project to develop a group for teenage girls to work on issues involving self-esteem, confidence and a healthy body image. A kind of support group to discuss all things girly from dating and boys to nutrition and of course dealing with your peers. We are hoping that by starting early and providing strong role models and a safe environment for questions and discussion we can alleviate many of the problems that these girls could face throughout high school and beyond. While discussing this plan earlier this week I said something that has stuck in my mind ever since, “Teenage girls are the meanest people on earth.” I meant it when I said it and the more I think about it, the more I still do.

If you read my blogs, you have already read the one entitled ‘Lobsters!’ – if you haven’t, go back now and read it before continuing on with this one, it will help put what I am about to say in better perspective.

As we go through puberty, the changes in our bodies, not only physically but hormonally are playing havoc with our minds and emotions. With so many changes we can’t help but feel insecure and self-conscious about everything we do and say – without a positive outlet and better understanding of what we are going through, the inner lobsters start to take over and the easiest, fastest way to make us feel better about ourselves is to make someone else feel worse. It is the lobster pot theory on steroids.  We don’t have to be the prettiest in class, but as long as we are not the ugliest, we are OK. There will always be someone thinner than us, but as long as there is also someone fatter that we can draw attention to, we will be safe from ridicule.  Does that attitude sound familiar? It does to me because I lived it – I know first hand what it is like to be a victim of the mean girls in school – I also know what it is like to be one of them.

When I was in elementary and junior high school, I was always the one that was picked on. I was the easy target because whatever the other girls were insecure about, they could be assured that I was worse off and made a very easy target! I grew up as a victim of sexually abuse by multiple predators in an alcoholic home. I was the youngest of 3 by 7 years and my parents were struggling to deal with their own issues so while they were not my abusers, they were not exactly my heroes either, it was almost like I didn’t exist at all, at least that is how it felt back then. In order to compensate for this loneliness and the belief that I had that I was a born victim – that I deserved what I got and that no one did, would or could ever love me, I became a pleaser. Entering school, I would say or do pretty much whatever anyone asked of me, making up stories and living in a fantasy world to make myself seem much better than I was, hoping someone would like that persona enough to be my friend. It never worked, but what it did do was put me in a position of victim all over again – this time though the predators were my own age and were looking for something different from me. I was their vehicle to self and group acceptance because as long as they could laugh at, belittle or make fun of my flaws and short comings, no one would ever notice theirs, and their plan worked. i was the perfect victim for their bullying because I was so desperate for attention, any attention, I wouldn’t even fight back for fear of what I felt was worse than their constant abuse – being ignored.

As I grew older and physically bigger, I also became angrier. Add drugs and alcohol to years of suppressed rage and you get one very volatile and self-loathing girl and according to the lobster theory, how do you suppose that I made myself feel better? That’s right – I made others feel worse. Back then I was the hero of the underdog – I couldn’t stand to see anyone who I felt was defenseless or weak be victimized and those were the people I would protect, BUT I on the other hand would do exact;y what was being done to them to the ones that were doing it. I thought I was being a hero to those that couldn’t protect themselves but what I was really doing was using that as an excuse to become an abuser to those that represented everyone who had ever victimized me. Those that I felt were better than me. Bringing them down made me felt better than I ever had and it wasn’t until about 8 years ago that I realized that I was no better than them. I had been bullied and in turn, became a bullier.  I picked on every girl who I thought was better than me because when I saw what they had – confidence, beauty, clothes, friends, parents that loved them, a nice home, a family – they made me realize all of the things that I didn’t have and wished I did. Belittling them, insulting them, scaring them and yes even being physically violent towards them somehow made me feel better about not being them.

About 8 years ago I bumped into a women I hadn’t seen since the 8th grade in the lobby of a hotel. I walked straight up to her to say hi because in my new found life I was actually excited to see someone from my past, I wanted her to see how well I actually turned out! Funny thing is, she wouldn’t talk to me, look at me and when she saw me coming – actually turned around and practically ran away! I tracked her down later that night via phone and we spoke – I learned more about myself that night than the years of counselling I went through ever taught me – after all of those years, marriages, children… she was STILL scared of me. Scared of how I made her feel about herself. I learned that I hadn’t seen her since grade 8 because she left our school and went elsewhere in a new city BECAUSE of me. I did that to her – tormented her to the point of illness and even after 15 years, just the sight of me returned all of those feelings back to her. I hated myself for doing that to another person. I had to face the truth then and there, in that hotel room, on the phone with this beautiful woman who could not see herself the way others did because of what I did and the things I said to her. With tears streaming down my face, I confessed to her my reasons for what I did – not excuses because I had no excuse but with nothing more to lose, I had to tell her the truth – she deserved to know why I had tried to ruin her life. I was jealous. She was everything I wanted to be, had everything I wish I had and I hated her for that because every time I looked at her, I hated me.  Talk about a catharsis.

that was a turning point in my life. I could no longer pretend that I had vanquished my demons – could no longer go through life without confronting my mistakes, could not pretend that the past never happened. I was a Mean Girl – a very mean Girl and only by admitting that, accepting it and learning from it, could I ever make a difference in my life and the life of others again. I set upon (with the help of professionals) a new path – the discovery of the new me. I even changed my name from Renee (my middle name I had always used) to Michelle (my feminine first name that I always hated) – it was a symbolic move on my part that I was consciously changing who and what I was, and moving on to a new chapter in my life. I learned to amalgamate the two sides of my youth – the lonely victimized child and the angry victimizing teen to who I am today – an empathetic, independent and brutally honest woman. I have compassion for victims and bullies alike but value change and growth above all else. I am straight forward and honest because I have to be – no fantasy worlds or make-believe persona’s for me ever again – either I am loved for the real me, or I am not and for once in my life that is ok because I have learned to love me for me and with that, no matter what anyone else chooses, I will never be alone.

So all of that being said – back to my topic about the meanest people on earth – teenage girls.  I believe that through the building of individual self esteem, we can change this, we can prevent what happened to me and because of me from happening to our children and our grandchildren – that teh Mean Girl syndrome, that the bullying epidemic can be stopped but it will take honesty, open frank discussions and willingness to see both sides. I am hoping that our program works, even if it is just for one girl, because that alone will change the lives of her and everyone she touches throughout her life and on a personal note, if I can do that, if I can play a part in preventing even one child from enduring any of the pain that I did through both my own and the actions of others, than I know that everything I have endured will have been worth it, that even 25 years later, my pain had a silver lining.

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Wants or Needs?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

During an online discussion, a topic came up of current societal values and how we as a society have lost focus and definition between wants and needs in life. It has been on my mind a great deal the last few days so I thought I would re-post my comments in that discussion and perhaps elaborate on them a little:

As far as I am concerned (and my children have been raised with this), our tangible NEEDS are:

food – food that is nutritious and balanced, this doe not include pre-packaged treats, restaurants or even steaks. It includes fruit, vegetables, grains and meat. Anything else is extra.

shelter – this is a safe place to live that protects us from the elements. This could be an apartment, house, shared accommodations or living with a grandparent or relative (I had to move back with my mom for awhile when my son was 5 or 6). This does not necessarily include, separate bedrooms for every child, rec rooms, hot tubs, more than one bathroom or 500 square feet per person. This obviously would include electricity for heat in our climate but not TV, Video Games, PVR’s, Satellite, Computers, Internet…

clothing – suitable clothing that protects us from the elements. This does not include name brands, trendy styles or the latest fads – it may not even include brand new clothing for that matter.

Safety – I grew up without a phone of any sort in my home until I was about 13. While technically a telephone is not a physical need, I think every house should have a land line for emergencies, I feel that this is a need. A cell phone, Internet etc, that is a convenience which make them wants not needs.

That means that budgeting for needs only you would require money for rent/mortgage, electricity, groceries, phone and clothing. Everything else is a variable and would depend on available funds.

As far as intangible needs, here is what I think:

education – we all need a minimum of a grade 12 education and access to and support for this is a need for every child. Post-secondary education, as much as I value it, is a privilege that must be earned and worked for.

health care – I am so grateful that as of right now Canada has free health care, hopefully that never changes. But along with the government giving us that, children need parents to value it, provide access to care and medication, vaccinations and preventative medicines.

Security – children need to know that they are valued and loved. They need 24/7 adult supervision until they become able to care for themselves. that means that parents provide adequate child care arrangements in or out of the home when they are unable to be with their children. This does not meant that parents need to be with their children all the time or even that children need that, but they need to know someone is caring for them. This would also include quality time with parents and open displays of affection and/or encouragement and positive reinforcement.

Discipline – we all need discipline – we need to know that their are boundaries, rules and consequences.

Acceptance – We all need (especially children) to feel accepted by our peers hence the term ‘keeping up with the Jones’ – this could mean similar homes, landscaping, vehicles, clothing and extra-curricular activities to our neighborhood or social groups. While this is a need, the decision of which neighborhood or social group that is would be a want determined by resources – you wouldn’t move to Beverly Hills if you only made $30k a year.

I wonder how many of us live our lives with a clear-cut definition of what our true needs are. How many of us (myself included) feel like we need a computer, need the Internet, need a cell phone, need new clothes, need entertainment money… If our resources were cut, could we live without them or would we sacrifice money for food and shelter for them? Have our values as a society really gone so far down that we have become slaves to things and forgotten what truly matters? I think we have – I think we ALL have and it saddens me. I think for myself it might be time for some ‘back to basics’ discipline of my own. How about you?

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Half Full, half empty or just a glass?

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

We often hear the question, “Do you see the glass as half empty or half full?” It is a question to determine whether you are an optimist or a pessimist but I find that it is limiting as it leaves no room for my favorite kind of person, a realist! A Pessimist sees the negative in every situation – always looking for the worst case scenario. The Optimist refuses to see the bad and constantly searches for the silver lining. A realist on the other hand acknowledges both the good and the bad and tries to figure out how to make the total package work together.

A couldn’t imagine being either an Optomist or a Pessimist – either choice seems exhausting and counter=productive to me. If you refuse to see the good and focus only on the bad, you go through life exhausted and emotionally drained. There is only so much negativity and loss of hope that the human spirit can endure and only so much Lobsterism that your friends and family will put up with as well. Pessimists are drainers – they are no fun to be around, they do nothing for your self esteem and are impossible to work with. Not only do I not want to be a pessimist, I don’t even want to be around them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the happy smiling bubbly people that see the world through rose colored glasses. No matter the situation, no matter the problem, they always look for the positive spin, ignore or disregard the less attractive elements and refuse to see or even acknowledge the bad. I don’t want to be an optimist either – not because they are draining, but because their skewed take on reality often leaves problems unsolved or even worsened. Optimists are annoying people, they make terrible friends because sometimes bad things happen and no amount of smiling or positive spinning can make you feel better about them and you just want to grieve the situation instead of searching for the positive spin.

Think about your own personal relationships – how many people do you know are pessimists, how many are optomists and which do you think you are?

As for myself, I don’t think I am either – I am a realist. In everything there are positives and negatives, light and dark, yin and yang – it is the way the universe works and without that balance of good and bad, the Universe would be a very scary place. Being a realist is about balance. Being able to hope for, plan for and work for the best possible result while looking at, analyzing, preparing for and solving the problems, the negatives that are sure to arise from every decision or act. When a child falls off their bike and skins their knee, an Optimist will say, “You gotta get right back on that bike and keep on riding! You’ll be fine!”, the Pessimist will say, “I don’t think you should ride anymore – it is too dangerous – what if you fall again?”. The Realist will wipe away the tears, bandage the knee and say, “I know that was scary and your knee hurts, but the more you practice, the better you will become at riding so until then, let’s wear knee pads and keep on trying!”

Realists base their attitude on the philosophy of, “You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.” If you don’t discuss the problems and the risks, how can you prepare for or fix them? If you don’t see the benefits, if you have no hope for a positive outcome, if you have no goal – how could it ever be reached? Sometimes it can be hard to be a realist because others around you may not want to know about the risks, they may not want to hear about the problems and others may get frustrated with any kind of positive encouragement or wishful thinking. It is hard to be a realist when you are surrounded by optimists and pessimists, their forces tend to be polarizing and the realist might constantly feel the need to fight to stay balanced between two very strong forces. It is hard but sometimes you just have to be willing to stand up and scream, “Full or Empty – it doesn’t matter! Just drink the damn thing!”

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