Attitude, Personal Branding, Videos

Bullying: It Really Does Get Better

The recent media reports about bullying are shining a spotlight on a social problem that is hardly new.  Earlier this year, I wrote a poignant blog post, “Baring It All on Bullying.”  I’m committed to speaking out and writing about overcoming abusive adversities.

Over the weekend I shot a video for the It Gets Better Project, started by columnist Dan Savage.  I wanted to add my face and voice to the movement as an out gay man who experienced bullying multiple times a day at school, on a daily basis, and for years.  I am living proof that it really does get better.

Watch my two-minute video here:

There was so much more that I wanted to say in the video, but knew it needed to be brief and hopeful.  Let me share with you some additional thoughts and, in turn, please share this post with others who would benefit.  I really want to get the word out that it really does get better.

When I was a young boy, the bullying all began when my babysitter sexually abused me and threw me out of my own house in nothing more than my underwear.  Neighborhood kids ostracized me because they saw how the babysitter berated me in front of them, continuing her abusive behavior.  My younger sister, born with a big mouth, came to my defense.  That she loved me enough to defend me was wonderful, but underscored my weaknesses in the eyes of my young peers.  I was called every bad name you could ever imagine, and in my innocence, I was convinced they invented names to call me; they hated me so much.

As I said in the video, I felt like the walking dead.

The shame of sexual abuse is huge.  When a female sexually abuses a young boy, that sense of shame is heightened.  I never could bring myself to tell my parents, and know this is common among young people who are abused and bullied.  So I dug into myself and lived a rich fantasy life as a way of escaping the real life I walked through while feeling dead.  I had virtually no friends, couldn’t trust anyone outside my family, and didn’t feel free to speak openly to anyone about why my young life had all ready gone to hell.  My voice was prematurely – and temporarily – muted.

When kids have parallel experiences, they are desperate and on the edge.  At age 7, I was too young to think about killing myself, but often thought about running away.  Running away was an idea that tugged at my immature mind for years because it was the first thought I had for dealing with my desperation.

I never did run away, though.  Instead, I dug deeper into my inner resources, searching for hope.  The truth is that I was always an optimist, even in my darkest hours.

Growing up in a music-filled house was unwittingly my saving grace.  To know me even moderately well, you know I’m a huge fan of Stevie Nicks.  As the style columnist for Metro Silicon Valley, I even wrote about Stevie as a style icon.  She wrote a song called, “Think About It.”  Like many of her songs, it’s about love.  Several years after the sexual abuse began what was a certain downward spiral, the song’s lyrics reminded me to love myself enough to not give up.  It’s like Stevie sang this directly to me like a personal anthem.

Even when you feel like your life is fading
I know that you’ll go on forever You’re that good
Heartbreak of the moment is not endless
Now your fortune is your life’s love

Somewhere from deep within came the determined resolve to find myself instead of losing myself.  From the depths of desperation developed the passions I am known for today.  I found my life’s loves by becoming secure in who I am [and still want to become], and having a totally committed and loving relationship.  And I have a fulfilling and ironic career helping successful people transform their personal brands.  I know a thing or two about that.

So for a short, Jewish, left-handed, glasses-wearing gay guy who has been tormented and bullied for all this and more: I am living proof that if you just stick with it, life really does get better as you discover that your fortune comes from depths of your spirit.

Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit for details. 

My role, as a personal brand and style strategist, is that of a storyteller. I learn about a person’s personality and strengths, translate that into an appropriate personal style aesthetic, and help each client to visually and non-verbally tell her or his story with ease and authenticity.

  • Oh, Joseph, thank goodness you persevered! I had no idea what you have been through, makes my heart hurt! You are such a truly wonderful guy, I can’t imagine anyone treating you so badly! Hugs to you, thank you for being so brave to share, and really raising awareness. You are such an inspiration, living your open & honest life. I want to be just like you! Thank you for hanging in there, you are such a great addition to my life!

  • Shawn, your thoughts and support mean a lot to me. Thank you for that. Having truly lived through situations that seem to force others to end their lives, being an example of what is possible is so important for all kids.

  • dani d

    A good local list for help can be found at:

  • Danielle, thanks for providing this link. I particularly appreciate the listing of outreach geared to LGBT youth in California [posted here]:

    California Teachers Association

    Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

    GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) Network – California

    Hillcrest Youth Center

    Jewish Family and Children Services

    Lambda Youth Group

    Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Youth Programs

    Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance

    San Diego Youth and Community Services, Inc.

    Solano Pride Center

    The Pacific Center for Human Growth

    The Trevor Project

  • Joseph, You are truly a wondeful person. I am so fortunate, a few years ago, I placed that phone call to ask you to meet with me for a morning coffee. I knew you were a special person.
    Great video.

  • Valentina, your note is one of those great reminders of how much life really does get better when special people come into your life. I’m so glad we are friends.

  • Sharon (Besterfeldt) Bessinger

    Hi Joseph. I went to school with you and believe it or not, I’ve thought about you at times over the years. I remember you as a kind, quiet and reserved kid and now, I guess I have a better understanding of why. I too was bullied but for entirely different reasons. Not that it matters why; bullying is horrible and unless you’ve been through it, I don’t think you understand it fully.

    I am now a child therapist and love this video because it sends a message that is soooo hard to communicate to my child clients. I’m so glad that you made it through and if you are ever in doubt of your life’s purpose, remember that you touched at least one person with your message. Keep up the good work!

  • Joseph, You are a Blessing to so many. I pray that your message gets to the right kid at just the right time and that it changes that life!! I am sure the message will save many.. but even one life is the greatest gift you can give the world. Thanks for your openess and honesty and the demeanor in which you have gotten this message across…. Your face says it all… you have shown great love to many!! and it started with YOU!

  • Mary Alsheikh

    Joseph, you are a wonderful person. Having the pleasure of knowing you through your work, but also having socialized with you it breaks one’s heart to know how much you’ve been through. You are one of the strongest people I know so kudos to you and keep up the good work. Ciao Mary

  • Jen

    You are very brave & generous for sharing Joseph. I hope your post reaches someone who needs to hear the encouragement in your voice. Bravo

  • Sharon, thank you so much for posting your comment to my blog. It’s absolutely amazing that posting a video on my blog, YouTube, and Facebook would garner the attention of classmates from nearly 25 years ago, who I had expected had all but written me off.

    Your reaching out proves the point to remain open to the possibility of growth and change – proving that things do get better. Your very outreach proves how it is possible. I’m so sorry to learn that you, too, were bullied. No matter the circumstance, it’s a horrible experience that we all could do without. I, for one, could have done well enough without this being characterized as “character building.” It stole away from me my voice and robbed me of the opportunity to develop normally as a child. If that’s character building, I would like no part of it.

    Honestly, I’m so glad you connected with me and that both of us are pursuing just what we should be. It’s amazing how life works out.

  • Marlene, thank you so much for supporting this anti-bullying message. Based on the blog comments, private emails, and phone calls I have received, many people have been affected by the message I am sending. Strangely, it almost feels like “coming out” all over again! If just one troubled teen comes across this and sees an alternative is to work through their troubles, I will be so happy.

  • Mary, you of all people know how much I love to enjoy life and love a good laugh! There’s no doubt that after all those years when there was no laughter, and daily life was lived in terrorized fear, you see in my work and socially the proof that life does get better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for allowing that point to be made.

  • Jen, I know we share some overlapping history about this topic, from different periods of our lives, and that you’ve been speaking out about domestic abuse, too. We really have to keep our stories out there for the benefit of helping others, even though it’s tough to live through the memories. Since you’ve been doing your outreach, I’ve seen you grow, too. So there is personal benefit as much as it will absolutely reach at least one person who needs to receive the message.