Bullies don’t always know they are what they are – We need to speak up!

Part of the problem with bullies and people who feel victimized by bullies is that often the latter do not realize they are cruel. Often the people they insult do not know how to speak up. I believe I continued to be berated for personal choices in my life by certain people because it took me so long to clearly point out the fact that this was inappropriate and that I wouldn’t tolerate it anymore. We need to speak up! I needed to learn to speak up!

I am not blaming myself for other people’s cruelty and insensitivity. As a young girl I was not taught at home or in school that my private life choices are to be respected and that my feelings are important. Nor did anyone teach me I am not too sensitive, and that it is necessary and healthy to speak my mind so long as I do it in a respectful way. Had I been taught these principles, I would have spoken out more often. I would have set more boundaries for myself. This would have saved myself a lot of anxiety.

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One area in my life I often had to ward off disrespectful comments concerned dietary decisions. I stopped drinking cow’s milk in the late 1980s. To my incredulity, this seemed to offend people around me. I heard various comments in voices filled with shock and emotion. It was as if I had personally decided to insult them with my private decision about what kind of milk I would drink. People were so aghast and dumbfounded at my decision! This showed the success of the dairy lobby because giving up cow’s milk seemed to be an idea that had never entered their minds. It felt as though I had told them I had joined a new religion from outer space and that as a ritual I would be cutting off one of my arms. 

I was private about my decision and didn’t advertise it. People found out because I declined when offered milk or because they saw me pour myself a glass of soy milk. I didn’t announce my decision or try to convince other people to  give up cow’s milk. And yet some reactions were this strong.

Later, becoming a vegetarian caused an uproar in various situations, especially with my family of origin. Again, it was somehow as though I had insulted others, and the anger and distaste displayed toward me was impressive. At certain gatherings, how we ate seemed to cause such discomfort even though I never expected people to go out of their way for us, and even though we always tried to be flexible.

* * * * *

At gatherings we took part in the dinner rotation schedule when at a vacation spot for a number of nights. Each night a different family would be in charge of dinner. My husband and I spent much time making sure what we made to eat would be something satisfying to meat eaters. On one of these weekends I remember making a wonderful chili with fake hamburger. I had often served this to meat eaters who almost always proclaimed they couldn’t tell the difference and that it was delicious.

Not everyone on these mini vacations was cruel, but one family member not only never had anything good to say about what we offered, but they would berate it. And on a few occasions when it was their turn, they served meals where my husband, kids and I ate bread and butter. Everything else, even the salad, had meat in it. Of course, we didn’t expect a full-out vegetarian meal, but just bread and butter? Childish and rude.

After a few times of having to later feed my kids and us separately, we opted out of the dinner rotation and brought our own food. I was fed up with the blatant verbal insults as well as the passive aggressiveness our vegetarianism provoked. And yet, I only rarely said anything to my main bully. When I did say anything, it seemed to be too late and ineffective, and it was after we had opted out of trying to do any kind of collaberation with food.

We need to speak up

Even after having been a vegetarian for a decade or more, at one gathering a person berated my choice of soy milk over cow’s milk in front of my young, impressionable daughter. This was at least fifteen years after I had quit drinking soy milk and had endured friends and strangers odd and sometimes cruel comments. I felt sick that I allowed my daughter to be with such people who would openly insult such personal health decisions. This inspired me to slowly started speaking out and pulling myself away from such gatherings.

When my daughter was just a baby, a person close to me incessantly cracked jokes about my decision to feed her vegetarian and would say things like, “I bet she would just love a sausage right now!” Or, “I bet when she gets teeth, she will love the way I cook steak.”

After listening to these jokes for months, I finally brought an end to it by telling the person the jokes were hurtful and disrespectful. I said that how I chose to feed my child was a personal decision. This was over fifteen years ago. I was still nursing, was exhausted, and leaving for an airline flight. I also was not yet speaking out as much as I would learn to, so this felt like a milestone. Indeed, the jokes stopped for about a decade.

* * * * *

People who find offense at such jokes about food or religion choices are not too sensitive. I think most of us understand that we would never make some senseless joke to a Muslim woman about her wearing a headscarf. We wouldn’t tease someone on a paleo or low carb diet about their choices. We understand that making a joke about someone’s personal decisions is hurtful and disrespectful.

But as a young girl, I internalized that my opinions were unimportant. Growing into adulthood, I started to speak out about various issues. But I often heard from others that my feelings were too big, that I should just lighten up and that I was too sensitive. When the person who is somehow different speaks out, it sometimes is met with silence and acceptance. On the flip side it can sometimes be met with defensiveness and the comment, “lighten up!” This only adds insult to insult. When this happened, the childhood internalization of the idea that my opinions were unimportant would rear up. I would have to go back to ground zero and figure out how to speak out again.

It feels I wasted much time and emotion being upset about other people’s dysfunction while in my twenties and thirties. I also spent time figuring out ways to express my anger and disappointment in a healthy and respectful way. I did not want to lower myself to a bully’s standards of communications. And yet, this time spent was the only way I knew to grow strong in the realization that my feelings counted, and that these bullyish comments explained a lot about the people making the comments.

* * * * *

If you are reading this and think I cannot laugh at my vegetarianism, it isn’t true. I have laughed many times with others about misunderstandings with food or diet. One example was in the dentist office when I asked why I should want to fix my teeth. I argued that my mother-in-law had dentures and she seemed to manage just fine. The technician said to me, “well, it can be quite difficult chewing with dentures, especially trying to chew a nice, juicy steak.” I laugh and said that I was a vegetarian, so that wouldn’t be a loss. We all laughed, and she said, “well, you won’t be able to chew that carrot very well either.”

No offense was taken. Nothing was said with passive-aggressive distaste or anger. There were no negative feelings. This and other conversations I have had are funny and enlightening.

I am not too sensitive. I can tell which jokes or comments about my diet, personal habits and choices, are disrespectful and hurtful. There are no hard and fast rules about what is disrespectful and what isn’t. But if someone says something that feels wrong and you wish the comments to stop, then you can request this and be assured that it is okay for you to do so. And we need to learn and be assured that it is courageous and okay to set these boundaries. We need to speak up! 

 

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Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front During World War II. PhD dissertation.

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We need to speak up! It's okay. We don't need to scream or bare our teeth...but we can if we need to. :)

The Escape of the Polish Public Transportation Controller: my humongous fear of this controller was rooted in the past and in my sixth sense

Where my fear of the controller originates

Recently my fear of a controller in a bus was a surprise, but it saved me from a lot of hassle and stress. My crimes of smuggling illegal books, other written material, and East German Marks into the German Democratic Republic (GDR, aka East Germany), purchased with West German Marks (DM) in the west, still haunt me. My many experiences in these police states had an effect on my psyche, even if at the time I didn’t feel the fear I do as an adult.

Not that I regret doing what I did, but in certain situations I acutely feel the fear I felt as a young person. I remember crossing from West Berlin to East Berlin with illegal printed material hidden under the bottom of my duffel. Since I was living in East Germany, this could have cost me my visa and probably a lot of time sitting somewhere alone. Smuggling eastern marks I purchased in the west into the GDR was likely a serious crime. I have not researched this, but I think I could have been in a lot of trouble.

Also probably what haunts me is all the travel as a young person alone. Police stopped and searched me multiple times on the trains. Once in the pedestrian checkpoint they put in a room in East Berlin with my friends and made us wait and sweat. In general, I traveled a lot in the east during a time when there were so many police with machine gun type weapons. I felt invincible as an American, but of course I wasn’t. When I did feel the fear back then, I always suppressed it emotionally.

Today

So, now I am fifty and many of those experiences were all between twenty and thirty or more years ago. But today I still overreact to certain situations that involve security, police, or other forms of authority. Here is a recent story of such an over-reaction in Krakow, Poland. Oh, my fear of the controller and his power was extreme, but not exaggerated.

The botched ticket purchase

My legs still feel like rubber as I begin to record this. Luckily, I could understand some Polish because of my knowledge of Russian. And, luckily, Cora had decided to sit halfway back in the street car. She did not follow me as I went forward to get tickets from the machine with the coins I had counted out. I had checked earlier to make sure I had enough (2.80 zloty per person). But as I tried to get my reading glasses off my shirt to read the coins, they tangled with the sunglasses also hanging there. And splat went the coins. I tried to pick them all up and thought I was successful. I bought one ticket and proceeded to try to buy the next. In alarm, I realized I was 10 groszy (one coin) short.

As an aside, so that you know I am an honest adult, I had always bought tickets and never rode “black.” Schwarz fahren it is called in German, and I believe similarly in other languages. That morning in Krakow, I had also rightfully purchased two tickets for us to ride the street car to Oscar Schindler’s museum. The tickets were very inexpensive, so there was no incentive for me at all to ride black. Especially knowing that we were in Poland and the fear of any controller would be huge, I would not have tried to cheat the system.

My options

Since the machine didn’t accept bills, I didn’t know what to do except go back to Cora and sit down. I guess we could have gotten out, since we had twenty minutes before the first ticket expired. Then I could have gotten more change. Unfortunately, I guess I thought we would chance it. At the end of our European blitz trip, we were exhausted. Getting off to try to find some coins from some establishment would involve quite a bit more walking. More walking when we needed to get back to eat seemed insurmountable me.

Or, I guess I could have gotten off the train temporarily and tried to talk to the driver in English. This actually didn’t even occur to me though, although I do not know why. You cannot speak with the driver while in the car. The driver is in a separate area from the passenger area. Had I thought of this, I would have dismissed the idea, though. I know I would have thought that the driver would just tell me I needed to get the money.

(All of this is me overanalyzing my steps, which is something people with PTSD commonly do. It sometimes makes for a good essay, though!)

So I sat down and briefly told Cora the problem. I very nervously started counting the stations as the street car made its way toward the city center. For some reason, though, I was hoping it was “just” my trauma from years back causing me to panic. (I will write more about my trauma in more detail soon). But I had a strong feeling that Murphy’s Law would prove right. That is, the one time I am riding illegally (having only one full ticket for me and my daughter), I would get caught.

The switch to slow motion

Sure enough, I suddenly heard something on the speaker about “Billet Kontrolni.” Since it was in Polish, those were really the only words I remember understanding. I screamed so loudly in my head! My fear of any controller shot forth through my eyeballs. I was suddenly hyper aware of my surroundings! My brain raced to understand what and where this controller was or if I had misunderstood.

Shortly thereafter, I saw a balding young man with a round face and dark brown eyes, dressed in a white dress shirt. He was moving his way amongst a crowd of young kids who had jumped on the streetcar after we had. They had surrounded the pay station where I had tried to buy both tickets.

It felt like the train was moving very slowly on purpose, so that the ticket controller would have enough time to make it through the train to us. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion except my heartbeat. I imagined that the city or state purposely had the trains move slower when a ticket controller boarded. This would ensure that no one could escape. I actually caught his eye once, and I immediately looked away, the contact not having been any kind of comfort. Of course, I felt I looked even guiltier because I had looked away. But fear of this controller would not allow me to act casually and keep eye contact.

My mind was racing

I immediately dug out the one ticket and asked Cora for her ticket from the morning. Although it was irrelevant, I thought we could appeal to his kinder side if we showed that we had paid for the morning ride. I also got out my money that was just ten groszy less than what was needed for the ticket.

All this was to prove that I had really tried my best to get both tickets. I wanted to show I was an honest person. We had paid four hours earlier for the ride to the museum, and I did have at least one ticket for us. I wanted to show that I had honestly attempted to purchase another ticket. I would explain that I had bills, but the (stupid) machine didn’t accept them, that I dropped the coins, and so I hadn’t been sure what to do. In my mind I was even ready to explain how tired my daughter was, how her back hurt, etc. I would play the mother role as to why we had continued on the streetcar despite only having one ticket.

As all this was going through my mind, I noticed that a man kitty corner from us on the train had immediately stood up. He was heading to the door next to where we were sitting. I caught his eye, but his face revealed nothing. An unverifiable truth occurred to me: he was also riding without a ticket. I hoped we were nearing a station. With that thought in mind and this huge urge to run, I literally ordered my daughter to get up. She complied, and we went and stood by the door.

Waiting impatiently for the next stop

It still felt as though the car were moving too slowly, and I impatiently waited to see if a stop was coming. I did not turn around to see where the controller man in the white shirt was. I wanted to run off the car. Finally, finally, the train slowly came to a stop. Suppressing my great desire to shove the man in front of me out of our way, we innocently stepped off the train. It felt like my pounding heart was visibly bulging my chest in and out!.

I didn’t have any idea what the fine would have been had the controller not believed my story and taken my 2.70 zloty, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. I felt like I COULDN’T deal with it. My fear of having a Polish official confront me was so huge, my legs felt like rubber. My torso felt heavy. I had experienced enough exchanges with the police in East Germany before the wall came down.

We ended up getting out of the train just on the opposite end of the main square. I briefly shared how I felt with my daughter. As she happily looked into shops, I got out my phone to type in some notes. This helped me process what had just happened. It was a nice walk through the square again (such a lively place!) back home to our hotel on the other side. It was clear to my that my fear was rooted in my past experiences traveling alone and in eastern block countries.

But my fear of the controller were spot on

Almost ready to post this story, I read online various posts about how harsh and bullish the Polish public transportation controllers have been. I read about a woman and child crying, about one family who was forced to pay 240 zloty on the spot. Since they did not have it, the controller, joined by another one, took their ID and escorted them to a cash machine. They were told they would be arrested if they weren’t able to produce the cash. It is uncertain whether the controller really would arrest a foreigner. Still, this man had made the mistake of not stamping the purchased tickets. For a ticket to be valid, the purchaser needs to stamp it when they get on the train or street car or bus. Foreigners probably often make these mistakes or try to pretend it was a mistake to avoid purchasing more tickets.

With the adrenaline already rushing through my body and my fear and panic grossly exaggerated, that would have been hard to endure! I know I would have survived. But my bank card only worked in one of five cash machines we found near the Krakow main square. So it might have been very trying…

My sixth sense

As I end this post, another thought occurs to me. So many other situations which are similar to this one have occurred. I have often felt such fear and anxiety because of security or other authority figures. Going through airport security used to cause me great anxiety. Once, an usher caught me recording a concert back in 2007 or so when they still tried to control that. The sensations were so strong they almost enough to bring me off my feet. That tells me these exaggerated reactions are my hidden trauma, perhaps also related to my officially-diagnosed PTSD.

Still, it might not just be the trauma from the past that spurred my body into panic mode. I have also often been told I have a sixth sense. Perhaps it was this sixth sense I have which rightfully informed me of the upcoming great harrassment and trauma that we would experience if I did not get Cora and me off the train as soon as I could. I am hyper vigilant and intone to situations and to people, so this could have played a role as well…Who knows!

Addendum

My fear of the controller in 2020 is a normal expression of deep emotions that hide inside of me. The fear is rooted in crazy experiences I had as a young person traveling in eastern Europe, which the Soviets ruled at the time. The Stasi (East German secret police) was not a kind organization. Plus, it was one of the largest secret police organizations in the world at the time with a member for almost every ten citizens.

When I lived in the east, the Stasi watched and searched me. The police opened all of my mail before I received it. There were armed police literally everywhere. But I also traveled in other countries throughout the east in my teens and twenties. There, also, police with machine guns controlled long lines to for various controls where extremely rude officials were also seemingly omnipresent. I remember my friend and I laughing and talking to the guards outside of Buckingham Palace until one couldn’t help but smile just a little bit. They didn’t scare me. Instead, I was simply in awe of them and this spectacle I had never witnessed in all my seventeen years. But my fear of police in the east was different. That is why this close encounter with a controller brought up my fear.

Tram in Krakow. Street Car. Train...I never know what to call them. Sorry. But with the various languages, it gets confusing. This is where my fear of the controller rose! HAHAHA. :)
Polish trolley in Krakow.

Topographie des Terrors, Shame on You!

To raise awareness of sexual violence

It is 2017 and Germany still has not owned up to its widespread sexual violence during World War II, committed by German soldiers, members of both the Wehrmacht and the SS. The myth that only the Soviet soldiers in Berlin who committed mass rape continues to be in so many people’s thinking.

I was apprehensive after I read the sentence about how Red Army soldiers harrassed German women in Berlin as they entered Berlin. We entered the open air museum at the end of the exhibition and read chronologically backward. I could only suspect that they wouldn’t mention that German soldiers had also committed massive sexual crimes during the war.

Because we began reading at the end of the exhibition, it made sense the Red Army rapes would be mentioned first. But I had little hope the exhibition would mention the vast German system of sexual slavery. I had even less hope that the many German rapes of Jews, Slavs, and others during the war would be mentioned.

The Germans were as sexually bestial as were the Soviets

And sure enough, unless I missed it, I did not see any mention of German sexual crimes during the war. As usual, those behind the making of this museum only thought to include the crimes of the Slavs. They helped to further the stereotype that for some reason the Slavic men are more beastly than the Germans.

Of course, it mentioned other crimes the Germans committed, but not sexual crimes. If the authors thought to mention sexual crimes of one army, then they should also mention the sexual crimes of the other. The SS, Wehrmacht, and other Germans in the east were not innocent of sexual criminality.

The evidence is out there even from before my dissertation in 2004! And I clearly documented widespread rape and system sexual slavery committed and established by the Germans. In the years since my published research, other scholars have documented additional German sexual violence during the war.

Topographie des Terrors, Shame on You!

Come on, Germany! Own up to your sexual crimes as well! Stop pretending only the Soviet Army committed these on the eastern front.

If I am wrong and missed something and the historians and those responsible for the text of this exhibition did include something of the sexual crimes the Germans committed, let me know. We were unable to spend as much time as I would have liked at this outdoor museum, so it is possible I missed something. I actually hope that I have.

I do commend Berlin for having the open air museums it does have. Many of the stories and photographs are available to the general public. This is especially important to students and young persons who do not always have the financial means to enter the more expensive museums housed inside buildings.

Still, the general public deserves to know that the Germans forced thousands and thousands of women of all races to work in brothels. The SS, Wehrmacht, other soldiers, and concentration camp inmates visited the brothels to engage in sexual intercourse, in effect raping a woman each time.  No woman chose to work in one of these brothels. If the choice is between starvation and the slight chance of living, that is not a choice. Each man who visited the brothel is in effect a rapist.

German soldiers also raped before they murdered, outside of brothels. Scholars have documented this time and again. So why not, in Berlin, do the scholars in charge of this open air museum mention this and pretend the Germans committed no such crimes? The Germans even raped Jews, which was categorically and falsely denied for decades.

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Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front During World War II. PhD dissertation.

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