Written by self-protection expert John Skillen (www.johnskillenmaf.com), author of 'Extra Chilli Sauce - a tale of violence, retribution and success.'
When I was asked to write an article on bullying, I was filled with the same trepidation I felt as a kid when I was asked by my mother to go to the local shops. The reason being I had to pass by the street where my very own bully ruled his turf like the troll ruled the bridge. If I wanted to pass by his way I’d have to pay his toll. The currency was my fears and a river of tears. All was not lost though, I had a way out, a route where there was no toll to pay. It meant adding another ten minutes to my journey but it was far better I took the long route than face a humiliating and degrading meeting where I would be jostled, shoved and slapped. The more I begged to be left alone the more intense the bullying became much to the delight of the troll’s two henchmen who would goad on their hero.
Taking the safe route made me feel like a coward. Well I suppose that’s what I was - a coward. Afraid to face up to my own fears. I harboured the fears the troll implanted in my mind. I was to blame for my own feelings of dread. You see the fear was the same whether I took the long route or the short. I continually asked myself questions whilst walking the alternative route. What if they come around the corner right now? What if I walk into the shop and the troll is in there? It was a waking nightmare created by my own mind. The majority of the time I was safe as long as I had my wits about me.
The day my mother asked me to go to the shop I felt agitated and didn’t want to go, I refused. It was fear. I couldn’t tell her I was afraid. I was too embarrassed, I was thirteen years old almost a man. I felt ashamed. After an argument with my mother I got angry and ran from the house. Money in hand I headed for the shops.
Before I realised what I was doing I was walking toward my tormentors turf. I was fully aware of my surroundings and the danger within them. My head darted from side to side. I felt strong. The anger had consumed my feelings of fear. I pressed on to the spot where I was usually jostled. The waves rolling in my stomach made me feel sick. My heart pounded out a warning beat and the negative inner voice inside my head demanded I turn back. I countered the negative voice with a positive statement ‘I will walk this route’ and carried on my way. Getting closer I began to walk faster. I felt like breaking into a sprint. I didn’t. Where were they? They were always here or was that all in my mind? Had I become so afraid that I actually created my own imaginary antagonists? I passed the spot where they usually stood. I Turned the corner still scanning expecting any moment they would appear. I felt a warm feeling of calm flow through my body they were nowhere to be seen. I’d done it! I had walked over the troll’s turf without paying the toll. I asked myself one question ‘Could I do it if it was manned?
The following day I decided to walk the route once more. I was confident I could do it. I put my mind into the same frame it was in the previous day when I’d felt anger. I channelled the anger into my stride. I walked tall and surged on. As I neared their turf I could see them milling around play fighting waiting for a victim. As much as wanted to I knew I couldn’t turn back. I knew I had to carry on. To beat the fear. The fear that controlled my life. I was the fly about to descend into their web of hate.
‘Where you going?’, the Troll said. He was a fearsome character. A couple of years older than me. A heavy framed lad with eyes that pierced mine. I stared into those eyes for the first time. Usually I would look at the floor and ostracise myself to what was happening. He stood in front of me blocking my path. I changed direction and moved around him. He manoeuvred like a basketball player defending his net. I switched my direction again and slipped by him. We stared at each other. I noticed something in his eyes I hadn’t seen before. Doubt, hesitation, fear, he wasn’t as confident as he was making out. I stood my ground. I felt only anger now. ‘Go on Johnny, do him’, one of his henchmen blurted out. I turned to face the henchman. ‘You try it’, I said. I stared hard at him. He dropped his head and broke eye contact. I looked back at the troll and with tears of anger in my eyes I said. ‘ You touch me again and see what you get’ it felt good to say what I’d said. I meant it. I didn’t care if they were going to beat me. I would stand my ground and fight even if it meant getting a good hiding. It couldn’t be any worse than what they had already been doing to me. At least this way I would have my self-respect intact.
‘I’m going past here whether you like it or not. If you want to stop me go ahead. But I’m walking past here’, I said. I turned my back on the Troll. If he was going to stop me it would be now. I could feel his stare burning into the back of my head. Any second I would be jumped on and battered. I took a deep breath. I felt like running. Instead I lifted my head high and walked tall. I heard one of the henchmen goad the troll. ‘Are you going to let him get away with that?’
‘You stop him big man. Come on, show us how your going to stop him’, the troll said. They started arguing amongst themselves. I walked on. A smile growing on my face as I walked. An incredible weight had lifted from my shoulders. I had a spring in my step. I had finally conquered my fear. Not just of the troll and his henchmen but the fear of the bully.
I was sure I would meet many more bullies over the years. But now I knew a way of turning the tables. Don’t be victims of your own fear. Learn how to control the inner voice. Walk like you belong and remember you’re never alone.