positive and negative reinforcement helped shape who I am today. It will show how certain consequences for my actions affect the way I respond to certain things now. We are all products of our environment and experiences, and my life is no different. As a child, I was a victim of bullying, and I believe this experience, blended with many others, has colored who I am today.
Noted psychologist B.F. Skinner studied operant conditioning throughout his career, and noted that a person's experiences are either positive or negative reinforcers, and they create positive and negative reactions in the brain and in our own actions and reactions to events. These reinforcers can be anything from a good grade, to a spanking for bad behavior, to teasing and bullying. In my case, teasing and bullying helped create a low self-image and insecurity in myself and what I do in life.
When I was young, I got along with just about everyone. I barely remember my pre-school days, but I do not remember much stress or strife associated with them. Then, I moved on to elementary school, and everything changed. I was small for my age, and some of the bigger kids began to pick on me. At first, they would just call me names, like "runt" or "tiny tot." I did not like it, but I did not really do anything about it. My mom and dad told me just to ignore them, and I did, but they kept on picking on me, and soon, their taunts grew more mean and violent. When the bigger kids saw I didn't fight back, they started physical abuse, such as pushing me into a wall, or shoving me on the playground so I'd trip, or even fall. If we played dodge ball, some of them would throw the ball only at me, and they would throw it really hard. The teachers did not seem to see what was going on, or they simply turned their backs and ignored it. Back then, people didn't really seem to understand bullying or its effects, and so, to many people, what I was going through didn't seem like such a big deal. Later, after the kids saw that the teachers really were not going to do anything, the attacks got even worse. Often, several of the bigger boys would wait for me as I walked home from school, and they would beat me up, or chase me home. I was little, so I could run faster than they could, sometimes I could outrace them, and sometimes, I couldn't. By this time, my mother was quite upset, as I was coming home with bruises, black eyes, and usually by the time I got home I was crying my eyes out. She contacted the school several times, but nothing really seemed to be done.
My reaction to this bullying had several facets, and it is interesting to look back and think about it now. It got so that I really did not want to go to school. My mother would literally have to drag me out of bed, and I would do anything I could to waste time before I left the house. Being late to school was OK with me, because the bullies could not get me in front of the school, or in the hallway before class. As I kept going through the grades, I became withdrawn, and would choose a seat in the back of the classroom, where I could always keep an eye on my attackers. I grew somewhat as I got older, but the bullies did too, and I always seemed to be smaller and less aggressive than they were. I did not like violence, but I did not like being beaten all the time, either. My self-esteem plummeted, I did not join any school groups or clubs, and I had few friends. I spent a lot of time in the library, where the bullies rarely set foot, and I made friends with the librarian, who always had interesting books for me to read. I think she knew I used the library as a sort of refuge, and she felt sorry for me. I became a loner and an individual, but I was still afraid of confrontation. I did not feel good about myself. I slouched when I walked down the hall, trying to make myself smaller, so the bullies would not see me. I slouched at my desk in class, and rarely raised my hand to answer a question, even though I often knew the answers. I tried not to call attention to myself in any way, and so, I became someone who did not exist to many of the teachers and administration. I was a silent nobody.
Then, I discovered karate, and it changed my life. A new Tae Kwon Do shop opened up in a little storefront on my way home from school. At first, I just ignored it, but then one day, I saw some of the students through the window as I walked by, and I had to stop and press my face against the glass pane. There were kids in there much younger than I was, and they looked like they could take care of themselves quite well. I thought about that school for weeks, and the next time the bullies followed me home after school, I was determined to do something to defend myself. I began begging my mom for Tae Kwon Do lessons. At first, she said "no," but as the weeks wore on I wore her down, and she finally enrolled me in a beginning class. From the first class, I knew I had found something I could love, and that I could be passionate about. As I moved through the different levels of training, from white belt to yellow belt, and finally to black belt, I began to have more self-confidence in myself, and I began to project that to others. The bullies seemed to back off a little as my muscles and self-confidence grew. One day, one of them bumped against me in the hallway between classes, and I bumped him back, hard enough to let him know I meant business. To my surprise, he left me alone after that. Gradually, the other bullies began to pick on new victims, and they left me alone. I still remained a loner at school, and I still frequented the library, but I also spent a lot of time at the Tae Kwon Do center, and made many friends there among the students and instructors. I began to compete in tournaments in our area, and often, my mom and dad would spend the weekend taking me to out-of-town tournaments, which I gradually began to win. As my self-esteem grew, my body also began to mature, and I grew several inches seemingly overnight. Now, I was bigger than some of the bullies who used to pick on me, and they stayed away. It was funny to think about, but my experience was not funny at the time - it was frightening and demeaning.
Today, it is easy to see the bullying actually made me stronger in some ways. It made me look for new ways to defend myself, and in the process, I found something that made me feel better about myself and my ability to take care of myself. Tae Kwon Do taught me that I could excel at something, and that I could hold my head up high. It also taught me that we do not have to be victims, and there are many ways to defend yourself from physical harm. I feel better able to take care of myself now, but I also know that I can master new things, which has given me…