As far as I know, there was only one time in my adult life that someone decided not to talk to me. The situation lasted for two weeks, during which I was devastated. Why? Probably because in my childhood it was a regular occurrence for me to be sent to Coventry. Because even when this was not the case, I was mostly ignored. When I wasn’t ignored I was mostly made fun of, and yet this was preferable. For me, loneliness was harder than being bullied, and not being spoken to has remained the worst thing anyone can do to me.

When, a few days ago, someone unfriended me on Facebook, it felt just the same. Even though I’ve never met this person. Even though, as I’ve been told, this is a common occurrence on Facebook. This was someone I had “talked” to quite a lot, someone who had always been friendly up to then.

At first, I could only guess at the reason. Later, through a mutual friend, my suspicions were confirmed, although I still don’t understand it completely. I’m hoping that this rift won’t last long either.

Friends, on- or offline, don’t always agree with each other. They can discuss their differences or agree to differ. Breaking off the friendship seems very drastic, even on Facebook. To me, anyway.

I have just finished reading this heartbreaking memoir of Frank McCourt’s childhood. It’s an incredibly sad tale of growing up in dire poverty. I felt sorrow for the child who, through no fault of his own, was born into that family, anger at the people who could have helped but didn’t, and… envy, but only twice. The memoir recalls two instances when Frank was bullied – one for having an American accent and one for coming to school in shoes held together with bits of rubber tyres. In both instances, the teacher intervened and stopped the bullying.

I don’t remember a teacher ever intervening on my behalf.

This post was inspired by Lauren Becker.That's me

You know how you read a description of someone and you think, “This could be me!” It hasn’t happened to me often. Generally, characters in novels aren’t like me and people like me don’t get much attention. Three sources stand out for me.

The first is the first description I found of social anxiety, back in 2002. It’s still there on the site, where they still use the term social phobia:

WHAT IS SOCIAL PHOBIA?
Social phobia is a persistent fear of doing something embarrassing or humiliating which interferes with both personal and professional lives. People with social phobia think that other people judge them negatively. This fear may reflect a sense of being inferior, different, or unacceptable, and it goes with assumptions such as thinking that “if people knew what you were really like, then they would reject you”.

There’s more on the site. When I first read it, I was amazed that even one more person could have similar thoughts and behave in a similar way, let alone “between 3 and 13% of the population”.

I’m not a fan of Jodi Picoult. In fact I’ve only read one of her books, but that one book, Nineteen Minutes, kept me riveted because of the central character, here described by an expert trying to claim he was suffering from PTSD:

A child who suffers from PTSD has made unsuccessful attempts to get help, and as the victimization continues, he stops asking for it. He withdraws socially, because he’s never quite sure when interaction is going to lead to another incident of bullying….

Different people have different responses to stress. In Peter’s case, I saw an extreme emotional vulnerability, which, in fact, was the reason he was teased. Peter didn’t play by the codes of boys. He wasn’t a big athlete. He wasn’t tough. He was sensitive. And difference is not always respected – particularly when you’re a teenager. Adolescence is about fitting in, not standing out.

The last quote is by Etgar Keret in his story: The Son of the Head of the Mossad. I admire Keret for his simple language and complicated ideas:

Ehud was tall and strong and was always quiet. Lots of people thought that Ehud was quiet because he was stupid. That wasn’t true. He may not have been the smartest kid on the block, but he was no moron either.

Have you been described by chance?

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