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Bullying hurts!

It is a sunny spring morning in 1981. I am 9 years old. I am walking to school, wearing my new glasses for the first time. I just got them yesterday, and I am proud as a peacock and happy as a dog with two tails.

There is so much green around me that I am a little overwhelmed. I had no clue that the world has so much detail. I can see miles ahead and still distinguish people walking before me. I enjoy being able to see everything, and I am noticing this renewed childhood curiosity arising within me. Why didn't I mention earlier that I have difficulty seeing in the distance? Then I could have had this so much earlier. I must not have noticed.

Anyway, I have it now, and I love it! With an enormous smile on my freckled face, I look around, eager to see as much of the world as possible.

When I enter the classroom, the teacher and other kids look at me, and I feel special. I look back and smile. I wonder if all the other 30 kids in the school see the same things I do. I was convinced they couldn't. No one wears glasses, which makes me see all these beautiful details. I wished from the bottom of my heart that they would all get them from their parents. Everyone should be able to see what I see.

I am sitting in the back of the class, and finally, I can read what the teacher writes on the blackboard without moving to the front of the table.

I am so happy!

The abrupt ending of my joy

When I was sitting in the back of the class, enjoying my excellent vision, two guys were sitting in front of me. One was leaning over to the other and whispering something in his friend's ear. The friend looked at me, looked back at the other, and started to chuckle. I felt a bit wary but didn't pay much attention. I was enjoying my newly experienced freedom too much.

Later that day, after school had ended, I was walking home. When I exited the schoolyard, four boys were waiting for me. They were standing in a line barricading the footpath. "Hey, schele!" (the Dutch equivalent of 'four-eyes'), one of the guys yelled. The others just chuckled and laughed. They started to push me, and one of them took my glasses. I wanted to take them back, but he threw them to his friend.

They told me how stupid I looked with these glasses and made me feel dumb for wearing them. I was the only one with glasses and should attend a special school. Not understanding what they meant, I felt this sudden wave of loneliness, helplessness, and fear. Why did they pick on me? Why were they so mean? Last week, we were playing together out in the fields. And now they were kicking me, throwing me on the ground, and taking my glasses away. What happened?

I tried to fight back, but they were taller than me. So, I just went quiet and started to cry. The fun must have been gone for them because they stopped, threw my glasses at me, and left.

The first deep scratch on one of my lenses was a fact.

Getting home

When I got home, nobody was there. My mother was at work, and my father was away on the gas rig where he worked. I went to my room and retreated. On my own, feeling safe, I tried to understand what had just happened. I couldn't comprehend, no matter how much I reflected. It made me feel deeply sad.

When my mother got home, I told her about the incident. She did try to make me feel good by giving me a treat, but the feeling in my gut didn't change. It even got a bit worse. I don't think she really understood the impact it had on me. I could see my mother was tired after a hard day's work, so I left it there. She lay on the sofa and took a nap. Dinner would be a bit late tonight.

Later that night, my father called from the rig. When I told him I was beaten up by four boys in my class, his response was: "Why didn't you get a piece of wood and hit them back?" I started to doubt myself; "Yes, why didn't I?" Instead of supporting me and hearing me in my sadness and hurt, I felt that he rejected me as a son, judged me as worthless, and did not hear and value me. He probably meant well, but I needed something different.

We never spoke about the incident again.


The next day, the days after, and in retrospect, never again in my childhood, I enjoyed going to school as much as that first morning I wore my new glasses for the first time.

I felt unsafe at school. I felt different from the others. I was called names. I was targeted with a little tool; a sticky hand was catapulted on my face because it would stick on the lenses or even sometimes pull the glasses off my nose, followed by laughter from my classmates.

At times, I would feel very lonely, helpless, and devastated. Feelings that were, at times, too much for my system to feel, so I started to disassociate from them. My body made a decision: "I will not feel."

I even started making jokes about myself, attempting to be accepted back by the group as one of them. I would rather give up my self-worth than be excluded from the group—anything to not feel lonely.

This would be the deep-rooted developmental trauma that would have an impact on the rest of my life: Sacrifice myself to be accepted by others.

Healing that trauma

Healing this trauma took over a decade. Getting aware of losing myself in relationships, work, and friendships made me explore why. Why would I get out of the way to belong, sacrifice myself for the sake of acceptance, and feel lonely and unsafe in groups?

I started doing different self-leadership programs and touched on the deep-rooted feeling of worthlessness and an all-directing fear of loneliness.

I started to learn why I always spent more money than others on a night out and threw these well-appreciated parties where I felt lonely, but everybody seemed connected.

I started to understand why I needed the best car, the most exciting job, and the most expensive watch—but also why I never felt appreciated for having all this.

I discovered why it was so hard to stay centered in a relationship, to be aware of my own needs, and to express these, no matter if they were different from my girlfriend's.

I also understood why I was so angry at my mother for not letting me have contact lenses, even though, at the time, my eyes would not accept them and turned red and bloodshot wearing them.


The path of self-development, including all my professional training in coaching and therapy, helped me to find my self-worth.

When I became more self-aware, I could say I was worthy. I mean, I could see my worth and justify it by naming all my qualities and values, seeing how rich my life was, and hearing others express how important I was to them.

I changed my work and started helping others on their path, and I received gratitude and appreciation for what I gave my clients. I was happy with so few material things and money. I could connect from a place where I did not need anything from the other. I could see the good in people and provide my own safety, no matter my situation.

I was, and am, genuinely appreciative of my life and where it was redirecting toward.

However, believing that I am worthy is still challenging at times, especially when I notice that things don't go my way, if I have a setback in life, or when I can't see what I have but only what I haven't.

If such a moment arises, I have my own unique way of dealing with that.

At such a moment, I will put on my glasses, go outside with a big smile, look above the horizon, and enjoy the world in all its details.

(Searching on Shutterstock with keywords '9-year-old boy' and after scrolling through the first hundreds of pictures, it returned four pictures of boys with glasses. What does that say about the world?)

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