As a child, I was always an easy target for bullies. In school, I was constantly taunted with hurtful comments and mean-spirited teasing by my classmates. What made it worse, no one stood up for me.
Why was I bully’s dream? I was born with no limbs. Yet, I didn’t think it was a big deal until I was 6-years old, when I began to carry the frown of the world. I heard the cruel names, hundreds of times. I didn’t think it was funny, but many thought otherwise. While smiling on the outside, as best as I could, inside I was screaming for a way out. At the age of ten, I even attempted suicide, having lost all hope and with seemingly no purpose in life.
Today, I travel around the world talking to tens of thousands of young people. From their response, it is evident that no one is immune from being bullied. There is not one group in society that is not affected by gossip, teasing, hatred and slander.
One doesn’t need to be disabled to experience such cruelty. Healthy, 16 year-old girls stop eating because they are told they are ugly, too thin, too fat, weird, have bad skin, bushy eye-brows, wrong make-up, shoes, and handbag, have big lips, nose, ears, fingers, toes, a poor hairstyle, or no style whatsoever. I mean…seriously?
Yet, I know this so very well.
I once visited a school to talk about bullying. After my visit, the school stopped bullying for eight months. The headmaster sent me a letter, saying that I changed the school. I begged to differ; the school stopped it, not me. They took it upon themselves to overcome the challenge.
Yes, schools need to step in. But more importantly, parents of the kids who are bullied must take it upon themselves to help their children in believing and achieving. It’s about having faith in yourself, your talents, your purpose, and faith in God’s love and plan for your life.
As a boy and as a man, my experiences with bullies left me feeling intimidated, depressed, anxious, stressed and sick to my stomach. I didn’t tell my parents when I was picked on because I didn’t want to upset them. I thought I could handle it myself, I was wrong. I should have told them from the beginning. It is a lesson that I share with my audience, especially with the young people.
Victims of bullying do need help. It is also incumbent that parents teach their children to be compassionate and Good Samaritans, to step up if they see such someone being mis- treated.
For the teenagers who don’t know how to handle bullies, please listen to your mothers and fathers and loved ones when they tell you that you’re beautiful. You must learn to love, perfectly, the imperfect you.
Bullies want you to believe that you are less than you are. Putting you down makes them feel superior. Don’t play that game. Instead, focus on building upon the gifts you have been given. You define who you are; never let anyone else say or do otherwise.
For me growing up, worse than having no limbs was to be alone. I was fortunate to have a family who loved me and cried when I cried.
However, there are victims who may have limbs, but are still being verbally, physically or sexually abused at home. Compound that with the abuse from a bully, and who knows what might happen? Will a bully’s taunts push the person over the edge because they are surrounded by hate and rejection at both home and school?
If so, does the bully not share some blame and responsibility?
There is some good news, however, coming from the national and state governments.
I am so thankful that the federal government has given the states the encouragement to enact legislation that will educate and help teachers detect who in their class may be at risk of committing suicide because of bullying. Utah became the 8th state to integrate the program for every one of its teachers, thanks to Governor Gary Herbert.
I was invited by Gov. Herbert to participate in an Internet platform in March 2013 to speak about this very issue — the truth of self-image, and the power of dreaming big and never giving up. This Internet platform will be seen, live, by every middle and high school student in the state.
I cannot hide the fact that I have no arms and legs. It took time, but I am proud of who I am. I don’t need to be athletic, popular, or limbed to show love and to give a helping hand.
We all can be more compassionate. If no one stood up for you, then stand up for someone else. My mission and purpose is to help kids who are being bullied. My message is simple: If a man with no arms or legs can overcome challenges like bullying, anyone can.
NICK VUJICIC is a motivational speaker and the director of the nonprofit organization, Life Without Limbs. Nick has become a great inspiration to people around the world, regularly speaking to large crowds about overcoming obstacles and achieving dreams. A longtime resident of Australia, he now lives in southern California with his wife, Kanae. Visit his website at www.LifeWithoutLimbs.org.