I grew up in a small town. I had forgotten just how small until I was recently reminded by a comment from a person claiming to be one of my former classmates.
My dad and stepmother chose to move to a small town in an undistinguished state in the American West. As a little kid, I enjoyed playing outside until the lights came on, going downtown to buy candy by myself, riding my horse to the store, riding my bike to the pool by myself every day and swimming all day, and going to school with the same kids from preschool to graduation.
Early on I observed how people would talk about other people behind their backs. I knew that rumors could sometimes take on a life of their own. I empathized with the people who were the subject of such gossip. I knew at an early age that I never wanted to be the subject of such harmful talk. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could have avoided it.
When someone with intelligence and personality is surrounded by such small minds, it is inevitable that those small minds would try to bring you down to their level. Envy is a vicious monster.
The way people try to bring you down in a small town is pretty primitive. People generally aren’t very creative when it comes to the art of disparagement. When I was 13, before I had even seriously entertained the thought of having sex with a boy, my stepmother was leading the way by calling me a whore. When you’re that young and the people responsible for taking care of you say things about you, it can be very disempowering and very painful.
As much as I wanted to avoid being the topic of conversation in that town, it seemed like it was inevitable. I got myself into trouble and it was all downhill from there. I was very vulnerable and I needed support. What I got was attacks.
Hollywood likes to write storylines about small towns rallying together when their community members are in trouble. My experience was quite the opposite. My community and my family drove me away when I needed them most.
Yesterday when a person claiming to be a former friend and classmate made a comment on my blog post about my son, I was reminded of all of the lies people in that small town said about me. (I know who this person is in spite of her using someone else’s email. I would recognize that negative energy anywhere) I was also reminded that many of those lies were actually started and perpetuated by my own stepmother and her children. As painful as it was to be reminded, I am no longer 13 and I know who I am. It is incredibly obvious now what kind of people they really are who talk about other people in this way. Only insecurity and jealousy could fuel the kind of hateful words that have been spoken about me. I remember how envious that woman and her kids were of me. They were so happy when I gave them something to use against me. Like a dog with a meaty bone, they pounced on the opportunity to make me feel worthless.
It has been 30 years since I was a little girl in that town. 30 years since I’ve been the victim of those vicious rumors. I have lived a whole lifetime since I’ve left that toxic place. I was in the process of forgiveness and forgetting when this experience reminded me of what it was I needed to forgive. I don’t have to wonder anymore if the people I needed to forgive had changed their ways. It is obvious that they haven’t.
There are people with small minds everywhere in the world. When you have a whole town or even a whole state full of people like this, who have limited perspectives, it is not likely that anything new or creative will come out of that place. They are too comfortable where they are. Anything that challenges their mind is considered a threat.
If you are a person who is suffering from the small town mentality, it’s important to remember you are like a big fish in a small pond. The only way they can hurt you is by ganging up on you. The challenge for you is to be yourself no matter what anyone says about you. Your mission is to discover yourself and leave.
People will think and say things about you. There’s nothing you can do about that. If what people believe about you doesn’t resonate, you don’t have to let it bother you. You know who you are. And when you behave according to who you know yourself to be, and you don’t give in or conform with who other people might try to make you be, it won’t matter what anyone says or thinks about you.