Since man began his journey to walk upright on the earth, the quest for survival fell to the responsibility of the brain. Its hard-wired grey matter moved solely on instinct to the task of self-preservation when encountering conflict by animal, by nature, or by man himself. This type of behavior is controlled by the hypothalamus in the limbic system located in the brain. It is what psychologists term as the Readiness Response specifically the Fight or Flight sensory perception.1 Modern man has made the journey through the millennia to current times to a seemingly more cultured sophistication, and our human evolvement and its adaptations have decreased the need to exist solely in the survival mode with the Readiness Response as a permanent state of arousal. As a human race, we have developed socialization techniques, theories, and generally expected social morays. Included in this is the rearing of the child. It is generally accepted in most cultures that this includes the responsibility to teach and to model the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.2 Current studies report though that many factions in our society do not adhere to this standard of thought. Increased stress due to the breakdown of the family structure and gang activity are among the many stressors and are at an all time high. Numerous studies tout statistics with numbers that support the fact that there is an increase in behavior that manifests itself as violence both within and outside of the home.3 Maslow’s well-researched and widely accepted Hierarchy of Needs explains in a multi-tiered pyramid model the deficiencies or desires that govern human behavior: the need for safety, food and shelter, belonging and acceptance, and self-actualization.4 With this in mind, one might agree with the statement that our schools and our neighborhoods play host to groups whose behavior more closely aligns with the phrase Do unto others before they do unto you. 5 During the first 12 years of my life, this was my perception, my mantra, and what was necessary for me to believe in order to survive in my world. Stress due to dysfunctional family dynamics kept my Readiness Response perpetually active in those early years.
My mother was a country girl of the 1930’s and a born again Christian socialite at the end of the 1950’s. By the end of the 1960’s she was a parent of five: three girls and two boys of which one was deceased. She was self-absorbed and children interrupted her lifestyle of entertaining and other social interactions on which she thrived. Motivated by her own hierarchy of needs, she was driven to gain control over her children any way she could: Alienation and denial were daily rituals. Remanded outside for hours at a time, tethered to the bed for afternoon naps and early evening bedtime curfews, relegations to walk well behind her on frequent shopping adventures, or demands to be seated at a table to watch a sibling being forced to eat while another sat with nothing were part of being her child. Her inability to parent effectively can be explained by the absence of what current psychology and family studies researchers state are necessary components for healthy family dynamics, namely parent-child bonding and the establishment of a secure attachment.6 The fact that we were all adopted added to the glaring problem that she was not the nurturing type. I was a strong-willed middle child who did not easily change my behavior due to her maltreatment, and I was subject to many physically abusive situations. Eventually she realized that physical assaults would not alter my behavior, and she became more reliant on emotional and verbal tormenting. I found myself a young girl burgeoning on adolescence and helpless to control my situation at home. I took control of the only thing I could. I became a bully on the schoolyard playgrounds.
If you pick up a recent psychology journal, view the latest headlines on your computer homepage, or tune in to your favorite daily afternoon talk show you will be exposed to the plight of bullying in our schools and the increased gang activity therein. Psychologists agree that the number one reason an individual becomes a bully is that they were taught or were witness to bully behaviors. Even worse, they become a bully because they were victims of bullying or abuse themselves.7 According to the statistics and descriptions of bullying, one could understand why I began to mete out abuse when I was a child of about 12 years old.
I had conducted most of my bullying passively up to this point. I was an ordinary student in many ways, although I was an award-winning speller. My gross motor skills were average for my age, but my fine motor skills were honed and my baby blue eyes very keen. I sported a well-developed backside, and I carried myself as the loud-mouthed, abrasive youngster who relied on intimidation mostly. I was often told that I behaved like a Banty rooster when agitated. I was happy enough to walk the perimeters of the playgrounds looking mean. I enjoyed playing on the schoolyard toys. I wasn’t the best at the rings, any of the bars, hopscotch or jacks, but the other kids would give me space to do my thing especially when playing marbles or pick up sticks. I was very competitive and would often take the other children’s marbles when they weren’t looking. I would cheat on occasion too.
Another female student tried to instigate a fight and had approached me on several occasions. Not wanting to fight, I thought I had squelched her desire by repeated refusals. After days of harassing me for a fight, she finally told me if we fought it would just be for fun. Her constant badgering finally wore me down, and the plan was set for recess. Trusting her, I went to the agreed upon location. The fight commenced, and she began to hurl punches at my stomach and deliver slaps to my face. During the entire escapade, I kept screaming at her that it was supposed to be for fun. I quickly realized it was not for fun, and she was intent on a real fight for which she would be the victor. I was unable to retaliate. I didn’t know how to fight. All I could do was take the beating; I was very good at that. The usual crowd of students gathered and watched. It seemed though the fight didn’t last too long before a teacher arrived to break it up, and off to the principal’s office we went. In those days, a lecture was followed by a swift swat or three and we were sent back to class. The fight was a life changing moment for me. After that I was known as the girl who would not only bully from afar, but she would fight too.
Human beings turn to violence for many reasons. The Fight or Flight response is often convoluted into acts against others that are for survival not for sustenance of food or the comfort of shelter so much as they are for what Maslow identifies as the need for belonging and respect.8 I am fairly certain that this girl was meeting her need to pull me into her gang while at the same time elevating herself in the ranks of her peers. It is just a hunch, but I had another incident not too long after that which makes me fairly certain that this was the case: Too tough to let another out bully me, I would initiate an assault and exert my power over someone else.
In the little town in the Mojave Desert where the winds would blow and bring with them twirling sheers of wind and dust devils were laden with trash from the streets, the winds often blew so hard even small children could be moved backwards if they let themselves go limp. On a day such as described above, one of my peers, a simple, shy, and awkward boy was my target. I had plotted with my previous combatant, and another plan was set for the end of the school day. When the final bell sounded, I bolted out of the classroom door. Most of my peers were on a mission for home. My mission was quite the opposite. During those days, the campuses were open. Anybody was free to walk onto the school grounds. However, there was a chain link fence that created a perimeter with openings on each side to allow entrance or exit. I scoped the boy out and caught up with him walking through the opening on the south-east side. I approached him and began my assault. Long strings of expletives escaped from my mouth and coupled with comments of how ugly, how stupid, and what a chicken he was. I could see the terror in his eyes, for I remember him shrinking away from my yelling face as he tried to edge away an escape. Yet as horrible as this must have been for him, I didn’t strike a physical blow. My bullying failed to ignite his fight receptor; he wanted to take flight from the cruel verbal abuse. I ceased the verbal torments when I realized that he wasn’t going to retaliate. He just trembled and took the verbal insults. Slinking further and further into himself he inched himself into the middle of the street clutching his white three-ringed notebook like a security blanket in the hands of a small child. I determined the best thing to do was to take his notebook from him and strip any bit of security he might be feeling. I was going to be the victor of this incident one way or another. I snatched the notebook from his clutches and threw it into the wind. As the notebook crashed to the pavement, the rings popped open. Tumbling down the incline of the street, the notebook spit its contents into the wind. I can still see the papers; they are imprinted in my mind. The desert wind snatched them away too. The incessant verbal threats ceased as great bursts of laughter rose from my chest. The young boy howled, seized the moment of my gloating, and bolted away. My mission complete, I went home. The boy didn’t return to school for several days after that. I never faced repercussions for my actions, and a few months later my family would move from the small desert town.
My family didn’t move because of this incident or any of the other deviant actions I committed that broke school and playground rules. My father had been laid off from his job, and a family of six fell to the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We relocated to a Gulf Coast town a little larger than the town we had lived before. I never had a fight on the southern school grounds. In reflection, I am grateful for the move and having avoided what may have unfolded for me had we stayed. I am certain that I would have fallen victim to the statistics of children who choose an alternate lifestyle in the folds of gangs and their influences. I had been given a chance to create a new persona for myself, and I did. Although the deviant behaviors morphed themselves into more self-destructive means, I feel fortunate that the move allowed me the opportunity to change the way I treated others in the public arena. Although I continue to walk through life like the turtle that carries its tough outer shell and the soft delicate flesh carefully tucked inside, I am slowly coming to terms with who I am.
Man’s current social structure affords the willing the opportunity to seek out support for the myriad problems they may incur during their existence. Self-help programs abound for the seemingly simple and mundane to the more complex social issues that include child abuse and neglect and the effect it has on their victims. What was once taboo for discussion is now found in open forums. The expectation is that one self-advocates and addresses their issues to become a healthy and productive member of society. In his essay, Such, Such Were the Joys, Orwell unveils the punishment he received in his boarding school for his recurrent bedwetting, and he challenges us to be aware of unhealthy and abusive behavior associated with it even today. His personal story is a model for other writer’s to follow. Evolutionary Psychologists, including a team from Arizona State University led by Doug Kendrick, have offered for discussion the need to amend Maslow’s hierarchy.9 Their thesis states that parenting should replace self-actualization as the top-tier of the model. Kendrick’s team of scholars have studied human behavior and given society the opportunity to adapt their thinking to the needs of its evolvement.
I have great remorse for the day I assaulted another human being. The relocation of my family removed any opportunity to correct my actions: the manifestations of a young girl who struggled to gain some sense of control in a tormented and painful life. The explanations offered in the contents of this essay are not excuses for my childhood behaviors; they are simply the opportunity for me to apply the principles I have learned in my recovery as a victim of child abuse. I am learning to be an adult who takes responsibilities for her actions while understanding the reasons for such behavior. The various 12 Step Programs state that in order to recover, one must take a moral inventory of themselves and make amends to those they have harmed.10 While I wish to make an apology to the young man, I must also assure that he is not harmed further in a public statement that reveals his identity. With this said, should the reader of this essay think my story sounds familiar, please accept my sincere apology. I am well on my way in my personal quest to follow the Golden Rule.
1Cannon, Walter Bradford. “Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage: An
Account of Recent Researches into the Function of Emotional Excitement”. Appleton, New York, 1915.
2“The Golden Rule” 25 July 2010. Wikipedia,The Free Encyclopedia. 2010. Wikipedia.
25 July 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule>
3“Bullying Statistics and Web Resources”. Retrieved from
<http://www.highlands.k12.fl.us/~msdp/BullyingStatsResources.htm> 26 July 2010.
4Maslow, A.H. A “Theory of Human Motivation”. Psychological Review 50(4)
(1943):370-96. Retrieved from
5Author’s note: Slang phrase commonly used as sarcasm.
6Magna, Lynette C. “Different Types of Parent-Child Relationships”. Provider Parent
Partnerships. Retrieved from http://www.ces.purdue.edu/providerparent/family-child%20relationships/differenttypesp-c.htm >
7Olweus, D. “The World’s Foremost Bullying Prevention Program”. Retrieved from
8Maslow, A.H. “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Psychological Review 50(4)
(1943):370-96. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm 25 July 2010.
9Kenrick, D. “Rebuilding Maslow’s pyramid on an evolutionary foundation. Psychology
Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist”. 19 May 2010. Retrieved from <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-murder-and-the-meaning-life/201005/rebuilding-maslow-s-pyramid-evolutionary-foundation>
10“Twelve-Step Program: Step 9”. Wikipedia,The Free Encyclopedia. 2010. Wikipedia.
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