This paper covers certain life events that were presented during different stages in my development and shaped me to become the person I am today. The six dimensions of the wellness wheel are presented in this paper, which are Spirituality, Vocational/Intellectual, Financial, Physical, Mental/Emotional, and Social domain. From the time I began school in the United States to the time I graduated college, I faced social struggles that created my overachieving personality today. This paper will review the good and the bad experiences that impacted my life, explore both literature and theories that relate to my experiences, and convey the implications of my experiences regarding my future practice.
Spiritual growth demands time and maturity to strengthen and become part of an identity. I was born in Jerusalem, Israel, and lived there for the first seven years of my life until my parents moved me and my siblings to Los Angeles, California. As a young child, I did not fully comprehend this big move. As I began school in the U.S., I started to realize the drastic differences in children’s behaviors which led me to great battles from language barriers to social isolation. Being locked in bathrooms with the lights turned off and being hit or pushed while playing in the jungle gyms led to a number of apology letters given to me by classmates grew, but I believed these to be friendly gestures, unfortunately, these letters were consequential punishments adhered by my after school teacher. I then moved to a different school for second grade. In hopes of fitting in, I began studying Christianity and all of its holidays. Fear of being socially isolated once again led me to give up on Judaism and welcome Christianity. Although my efforts, I was never allowed to be fully included. My friends would conduct secret meetings during recess or lunch which I was not allowed. I was not invited to birthday parties, slumber parties, or even summer celebrations. I changed schools for the fourth time since starting elementary school and began a public middle school where I was also bullied in all three years. I would often come home with food scraps in my hair or bruises from being tripped. I was pushed into lockers and had items stolen from my backpack, such as my iPod. I then attended a private high school where I was friends with one girl until the day she turned on me. From then on, I was constantly called unattractive, ugly, annoying, and dumb. Ironically, the girl who turned on me ended up being the leader of the anti-bullying club our senior year.
Developmentally, I grew the most after my first year of college which consisted of death threats and many anti-Semitic remarks made by other students. The hatred letters, slipped underneath my dorm room door, with threats to not walk alone, threats to not walk at night, and threats of being beaten if ever seen in addition to comments such as “you killed Jesus”, “you need to pay for your sins”, and stern suggestions to join Christianity club on Wednesdays. Additionally, questions of if I was circumcised, if my country still exists, and how I am still alive if my people are extinct were often asked during class meetings. School counselors gave me advice to not walk alone or leave my dorm room often. Realizing that only other Israeli Americans will truly accept me, made me want to study Judaism further to enable the best answers to these mockery questions. I then evolved into the proudest Israeli and Jew I have ever been before.
Vocational factors include learning and using intellectual information as rewards. I used this concept where every A I received made me feel like I won a prize. My vocational aspects grew into beliefs of “if I was not able to be socially accepted, I was going to put all of my energy into my studies” and become the most successful person I could be. Along with my vocational beliefs, my financial independence grew. This personal religious and cultural development has also altered the way I became financially independent. I went with my own roots since Israelis are known for coming to America to start up their own business therefore, I began developing my own business for website and graphic design at the age of 21. This involved being my own boss and further relying only on myself. Creating my own business gave me the opportunity to not only work with whomever I wanted but it also gave me the opportunity to set my own hours. Additionally, I have my workout regime and am able to take care of myself physically, as well as, follow the first-ever recorded diet in our Jewish bible which is veganism. The mental and emotional dimension of the wellness wheel includes control in life and perceiving problems as opportunities to grow, which I am more in control of today than I used to be. Of course, I have bad days where the emotions take control of me, but I am able to use my accomplishments to console myself when my mental status is a bit unstable. Lastly, the social dimension includes having at least three people with whom I have close and trusting relationships with. I have my Israeli husband, who is more than my best friend, he is a huge part of my support system, and he helps me in every aspect of my life. I also have my two best friends who are like sisters to me.
Erikson’s identity vs. identity role confusion can be used to expand on my identity perplexity throughout childhood up to my late adolescent years. A sense of identity is associated with better mental health in adolescents. This can also be examined with the relationship between adolescent identities and relationships with their peers (Rageliene, 2016). This theory of identity vs identity confusion relates to my experience of being uncomfortable with my religion where I would often adopt other peers’ personalities making it difficult to develop real connections and better friendships. The lack of self-identification ruled my life for many years which only caused me pain and suffering. The inability to feel a sense of relation to a group of people led me to social isolation and to a lack of social support.
Further, the Social cognitive theory (SCT) is a theory that explains how bullying develops between an individual and the social environment (Swearer, Wang, Berry, & Meyers, 2014). In hopes of lowering bullying, contributing factors such as psychological, cognitive, and social aspects need to be addressed (Swearer, Wang, Berry, & Meyers, 2014). The social cognitive theory relates to my experiences as a young girl into my adolescent years. The changes in the social environment I experienced not only affected the ways in which I acted but also affected the ways in which my classmates acted toward me. I was always slightly different and never shared all common factors, unlike my other classmates. Moreover, my social environment was changing with my different habits, different stances, and different language.
Research on Bullying
Spirituality is something that is developed from within and can aid with personal conflicts. A lack of spirituality is shown to be correlated with a higher risk of being bullied or bullying others. A 2014 study of mediating effects for perceived bullying behaviors among peers in Slovakia took 9,250 adolescents, with a mean age of 13.48 years old, and found that adolescents who reported higher levels of spirituality also reported lower levels of bullying, being bullied, as well as, lower numbers of bullying occurring in the schools (Dutkova, 2017). Although the final sample only consisted of 762 15-year-old boys, the study used logistic regression models and the Sobel test to report less bullying in students with higher senses of spirituality (Dutkova, 2017). Non-spiritual students are likely to acquire more bullying; similarly, I struggled with religion, my ethnicity, and with my identity for many years which made me vulnerable to bullying. It was not until I became comfortable with who I was, a Jewish person, that I began to experience less outcasting from classmates and colleagues. My lack of spiritual faith allowed me to be bullied more than other classmates and my lack of spiritual identity made me a weaker target for those bullies.
Frequent bullying predicts higher adolescent mental health problems, particularly depression. A study was conducted using 1,221 elementary school students, aged eight to nine years old, from 43 different schools in Australia. The children were asked to complete online questionnaires at school to measure peer interactions and emotional well‐being while the children’s parents were asked to report their child's mental health status as well (Stokes, 2018). One in three children reported bullying at least once a week which included physical, verbal, or a combination of both. Results showed that the children who reported frequent bullying also showed poorer mental health and overall well-being (Stokes, 2018). In this research, children who experience higher levels of bullying also experience more mental health issues and lower levels of well-being which can lead to depression and suicide ideation. Similarly, I was not mentally well during my adolescent years from the bullying I received while attending all seven schools. In every school, I had a group of classmates laughing at me for something else. Feeling like an outcast for multiple years has led me to depression up until the age of 20 years old. This depression was something I was dealing with for four to five years. My depressive moods also brought me to suicide ideations, self-harm, and one suicide attempt. I began to control my weight to compensate for the lack of control I had over other people which also developed into an eating disorder. The support I had from family and close friends did not overpower my feelings of low self-worth and self-hate.
Bullying and social issues also go hand in hand. In a meta-analysis of 18 longitudinal studies with 13,978 children and adolescents, researchers found that peer victimization was positively associated with depression and anxiety (Hatchel, Subrahmanyam, & Negriff, 2019). Bullying continues to haunt victims into adulthood and has long-term issues. Victims often isolate or exclude themselves which can disrupt their social network while also diminishing the victim’s ability to rebuild and develop relationships (Hatchel, Subrahmanyam, & Negriff, 2019). These findings show that peer victimization and bullying are associated with both short-term as well as long-term consequences (Hatchel, Subrahmanyam, & Negriff, 2019). Similarly, I would often hide in my room or dorm room without speaking or seeing another human being for weeks at a time. Great anxiety builds up internally if I know I am going to a public place alone. It began to affect me in grocery stores where thoughts of people talking behind my back ultimately caused breakdowns and withdrawing home. This used to cause great arguments between my husband and me, where fear glued me to our apartment.
Implications for Professional Work
Lastly, regarding my social experiences with bullying, the literature states that victimized adolescents carry the symptoms with them into adulthood. The ways in which I developed, alongside bullying, may truly help the way I will conduct my compassion with certain clients. If clients come to me with social issues, such as social anxiety or depression commenced by years of bullying, I will be able to better understand these clients on a deeper level. I will also be able to use my struggle with an eating disorder as a way of understanding the reasons this develops in my future clients. In my experience, my eating disorder developed in hopes of coping with bigger issues. This will also help me in the recommendations I provide to these specific clients. The feeling of despair and wanting to end the pain by using a permanent solution seems like the only option at times. I remember this same mindset that I used to have. The simple idea of not having memories run through your mind and diminishing a sense of self-shame can sometimes feel more attractive than trying to push through them. I want to help my future clients, especially the young adolescents who truly believe this will continue for the rest of their lives. I want to help them in understanding that life does get better, and, before they know it, they are adults where not only do they choose their own path in life they are responsible for their own social circles. This is something that I would want to convey to every teenager or young adult dealing with bullies. When adulthood arrives, their world changes because they begin to make it their own.
Bullying is something I still fear and struggle with on my bad days when I don’t even come say hello to my husband, in his restaurant, which is a short walk away from our apartment. On those days, I refuse to feel judged by all of his regular clients and all of his friends that show up to the café every day. On the bad days, I think about every conversation, every word, and every statement I said to people. I stay up late hours in the night hating myself and calling myself all the words others used against me. I still struggle; I still have days where my internalized negative beliefs control the better of me. I still have days where the number on the scale controls my thoughts, as if “that extra pound makes you deserve that guy flipping you off on the road”. In the last couple of years, I tried so hard to forget my past and it made me forget the reasons for my quirkiness today. I forgot about my weekly arguments with my husband about coming to his café to say hello due to the fear of being made fun of by his clients. I forgot the reasons for being mute while a stranger tries to talk to me because of my past bullying experiences. Most importantly, I forgot that my fights with sleep and my overthinking of every word are due to my social anxiety that developed over the 14 years of being bullied.
For the most part, I try to focus on accomplishments that allowed me to experience good days. I use these accomplishments to remind myself of my worth. On the good days, I remember that no one judges me and that these are internalized feelings only. On my good days, I do not fear going to say hello to my husband and his clients. I use many of those good day experiences to override my memories from my younger years. This is what I will try to implement for my future clients by showing them that personal accomplishments can create confidence. To use all of the hatred and anger and let that motivate them to achieve greater things. To use that lack of compassion from others to grow themselves and show others what they have never seen in them before. Although they may want to blend in, bullies will never allow them to be not-seen. They should use that energy of being inadvertently seen as motivation to become successful.
This paper began by examining the experiences that created an ugly side of me and later made me blossom into the best version I could be. In summary, the theory of Erikson’s identity vs. identity confusion has led me to my own poison. My inability to find out who I was for a great number of years has also led me to my real-life nightmares. The second theory called the social cognitive theory disabled me from being accepted. I tried so hard to be the same as others that I ended up becoming ever more different in the eyes of my classmates. These experiences of bullying were further examined with different research that was done on the effects of bullying. These experiments concluded a few lasting aspects that I already had knowledge about, were stored in an untouched area in my brain, and that I feared to read about again. The implications for practice include my better understanding of those who not only experience social isolation and suicide ideation but also those who have attempted suicide. I will however need more information on how to deal with those bad days where every negative emotion leads to every horrible thought I used to once endure daily.