August 24, 2015

What Donald Trump Taught Me About Forgiveness.

"Donald Trump,"Gage Skidmore, Flickr

I used to be afraid of bullies.

Terrified, actually.

I made the Cowardly Lion look brave.

And the louder, meaner, angrier and more red-faced they got, the more I buckled at the knees and looked for something nearby to hold me up.

When I was eleven and entering junior high, bullies came in the form of girls: prettier, tougher girls who would eat my 80-pound-when-wet frame as an appetizer. I was too skinny to be considered a real meal.

Outside of school, however, it was fairly easy to hide from those looking for a victim since all it took was a good pair of running legs (which I had) and an intimate knowledge of backyard alleys that ran from the bus stop to my house. Plus, since life in the 70s and 80s was internet-free, once that front door closed I was safe from any immediate danger lurking outside.

Though junior high was basically a three-year stomach-ache from the stress of being a straight-A student, having a mouth full of braces and noodles for limbs, the daily bullying from other girls came to an almost-complete halt once I entered high school.

The bullying onslaught didn’t stop though, it just changed form and location.

And gender.

Beginning in my early 20s, I entered the first stage of a destructive metamorphosis, brought on by a past shrouded in male anger and domination, that would end up lasting over two decades. This change began with my first serious and committed relationship where not even a trace of the confident and self-assured girl I was in high school remained.

When I gave birth to my first child at the age of twenty four, it was as if every male that had served as a model or example in my life then infused into each cell of my being, altering my psyche and ensuring me a road ahead of submission, surrender, and silence—a pattern that had manifested in other women in my life.

Though I had bursts of defiance and smaller attempts at standing up for myself in my relationships with men, inevitably and consistently, my boldness only got as far as the other male in the room allowed.

Any voices in my head from the past were of no service.

In fact they made it that much worse and told me that I deserved it when my attempt to stand up for myself was met with anger, intimidation, threats and a clear message that I needed to shut myself up before it got worse. So when faced with a red-faced man full of wrath at my speaking up, I became a little girl again.

I wanted to disappear to my room and make all the bad guys go away.

But for the next twenty years they didn’t go away, so I became adept at knowing my limits and slipped into a convenient emotional coma. I also developed a knack for not poking wasps’ nests if I knew what was good for me.

The most difficult issue I dealt with, however, was coping with the daily physical toll my fear of domineering and authoritarian men was having on my body. So for many years, instead of finding a solution to my problem, I just bought a lot of Pepto Bismol.

My real transformation came only recently, when through the help of support groups and counseling, I connected the dots between my relationships with bullying men and the overwhelming fear I felt any time I had to interact with them.

I’ve come a long way from that 20, 30, 40-year-old woman who possessed no armor in a battle she didn’t know how to fight anyway—a woman who spent years deflecting, dodging and avoiding any confrontation if it meant saving herself from physical suffering.

Or at least I thought I had come a long way.

Now Donald Trump has come onto the scene to remind me day after day that, yup, I’m still that same girl with sweaty palms and stomach acid at the sight of another red-faced, loud, mean, angry, offensive, disrespectful and plain ol’ not nice guy.

Though at least now I can see that I’m not the only one.

Through all the coverage on Mr. Trump lately, and his infiltration of my favorite news show, Today, I have watched as others fight their nerves when interviewing him.

Once when Savannah Guthrie spoke with him over the phone, while she managed to keep a straight face, the nervous tics of her female co-hosts were palpable. I have a whole new respect for journalist Megyn Kelly, who didn’t flinch when she reacted awesomely in the face of his un-awesomeness during the first Republican debate.

Whatever her secret is to dealing with bullies, and especially if it comes without stomach problems, I want to know it and will pay any amount of money for her to share!

When the figure of Donald Trump fills my television screen, I can feel my body physically reacting to him, or if not to him to the memory of various male figures in my own personal history. And I wonder, do other women feel this way but, like me, are afraid to speak up and call a bully for what he is?

Or have other women simply accepted that this is how many men are and just learned, like me, to cope? Mr. Trump has proven he is incapable of having a respectful dialogue if it means that someone has any kind of conflicting view or opposite opinion, and relies on intimidation and insults to harass his subject into submission—or at least silence.

If the subject refuses to back down, Mr. Trump gets louder and meaner until the conversation—which he sets the rules for—is over. In addition, if said subject is female….ugh, my stomach’s already starting to turn at the thought.

Part of the reason for my physical unrest whenever he is on TV is an empathetic reaction I feel on behalf of other women out there who are railroaded by these types of thunderous tyrants who believe themselves to be all-powerful.

Whether in the political arena, at a job, with friends, or in families, a true and loving human connection cannot exist when one person is always wanting to arm wrestle—and win. They will say and do anything to acquire that win. And a respectful and compassionate outcome can never come from behaviour that is disrespectful and acrimonious.

That said, I would actually like to extend a “thank you” to Donald Trump for teaching me one of the greatest lessons of my life.

As I reflect on the years I spent in shame at my inability to fight back against bullies, I have learned that this very inability to counter meanness with meanness actually assures my place in this world as a compassionate, thoughtful and kind human being.

If I weren’t having these physical reactions to the likes of such men as Mr. Trump, if I didn’t feel he was doing something incredibly destructive and hurtful, if it didn’t bother me in the least that he insults virtually anyone who dares to call him on his words or behavior, then I would be the one to have something to feel ashamed about.

So what has Donald Trump taught me about forgiveness?

I have learned that it’s time I forgive myself.

It’s time to let myself off the hook for years of feeling bad for feeling bad.

Yes, I get a stomach-ache when a man is loud and red-faced and angry, especially when his ire is directed toward me, but that doesn’t make me weak.

Yes, my first instinct is to retreat when being attacked or harassed or intimidated, but that doesn’t make me a coward.

And yes, I have a physical reaction that often sends me to the bathroom for simply stand up for myself and defend my boundaries against men who believe they have every right to cross them. But that doesn’t mean I can’t handle it.

I used to be afraid of bullies. Maybe I still am and maybe, in some way, I always will be. But it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because my fear in some ways defines the sensitive and caring human being I am proud to be.

I have learned that each time I admit my fears and accept who I am in my reaction to them, I am able to step into my courage with a healthy dose of wisdom, which is the real definition of strength.

So as we head into another political showdown where Donald Trump is assured to take up as much of my television screen as he is able to, I will ready myself for that same burning feeling that starts in my stomach and makes its way to my throat—the same feeling that accompanies me whenever I am compelled to deal with certain men in my life.

But this time I will also smile along with the burn. I smile because I know that I’m the real winner here, not the bullies.

I win because I remain kind and compassionate, despite their bullying.

I still have no ability or desire to harass anyone into submission by intimidation. I’m still completely unable to muster enough hostility toward another human being in an effort to harm. And it actually wouldn’t matter how much I paid Megyn Kelly for her secret because I already am capable of being awesome in the face of un-awesomeness.

I can do it just as well by simply being me.


Relephant read: 

These are my First Words.


Author: Suzanna Quintana

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Greg Skidmore/ Flickr

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