A victim of bullying by both her teacher and her peers, she looks back and finds redemption.
Speaking about my past is undeniably something very painful to do. But the world needs to know.
Although the profile for both male and female child bullies are very similar – they spend less time with adults at home and often seek dominance in their surroundings – the way they bully is different.
Boys tend to be more physical so when a child comes home from school one day with a black eye claiming that he “walked into a pole” (like in the show The Karate Kid), parents often can tell that he’s lying and will do something about it.
Bullying among girls, on the other hand, isn’t so straightforward. (Is anything with girls ever not complicated?)
According to psychiatrist Ann Ruth Turkel, while boys are encouraged to kick their negative feelings away, girls are taught to avoid direct confrontation. They would viciously gossip about you behind your back, deliberately exclude you from their clique, cruelly shame you in front of the boy you like, heartlessly mock you and call you names day after day… and the list goes on.
The common misconception is that victims of bullying are physically different, overly sensitive and socially awkward. But the truth is, anyone can be bullied. Bullying expert, Sherri Gordon lists several profiles of targets including those who are popular or well liked, intelligent, determined and creative as well as those who get a lot of positive attention.
I was, from a young age, extremely headstrong and outspoken. Adults told me that these were the marks of a leader. Unfortunately, they were what my perpetrators exploited to bring me down when I was 10. It only took one person to label me as “bossy” before she influenced the rest to start doing the same.
One by one, I lost my “friends” (they weren’t, really) and I was made to sit at the furthest end of the classroom alone every day while someone made an occasional comment about how “nobody wants to sit next to that arrogant devil”. My stationery began to go missing during recess and once, my school shoes mysteriously vanished before strategically making its reappearance in the computer lab several days after the marching competition.
Difficult as it may be, you can forgive. Quoting Dale Carnegie, “When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health, and our happiness.” Channel the hurt, anger, bitterness into positivity and write about it, compose a song, paint pictures with it – anything to release those pent up emotions.
Negative energy can be used as rocket fuel and inspiration to create the most amazing works of art.
I wish I could say that my teachers came to my rescue; instead they just contributed further to the problem. People assume that bullying stops in the playground, but sadly, it spills over into the staff room. Adults often gossip about these classroom “misfits” on the pretext of “sharing”.
Teachers, the ones who are supposed to step in and help stop the intimidation, can be bullies themselves too. Another psychiatrist, Stuart Twemlow, defines a teacher bully as one “using power to punish, manipulate, or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure”.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers are people I have utmost respect for. As Twemlow words it, “There are a few bad apples, but the vast majority of teachers go beyond the call of duty. They’re very committed and altruistic.”
Take, for example, this teacher I had, Puan T. Ever since I started primary school, she had it out for me. Maybe because there was this one time in Year Two when I was asked to describe her and I candidly likened her to a “tigress”. She was the sort of teacher who adored those who falsely flattered her with compliments about her beauty, dragged the students roughly by the collar if the greeting wasn’t audible and made them stand in a crucifix position on the wall as justifiable punishment.
During our post-UPSR trip, the chaperoning teachers were fooling around at the back of the bus boasting about their looks. Puan T’s daughter, N and I jokingly scoffed to ourselves, “perasan” (too full of yourself).
Immediately, the cheerful banter stopped and Puan T boomed, “WHO SAID THAT?!”
An innocent classmate replied, “J and N!” Completely ignoring the fact that her daughter was a part of it, she singled me out in front of all my peers and began yelling insults at me, humiliating me. She later took me aside and said oh-so-sweetly, “I love you and I want you to learn. Don’t need to tell your Mummy or Daddy, you hear me?”
I’m pretty sure you’ve come across these bipolar teachers before. One moment they’re as sweet as Mother Teresa, but the next, they’re on a Nazi genocidal war path. It can be difficult to solve the bullying by teachers as they have more authority. The best way is to inform your parents about it so that appropriate measures can be taken. Never take these matters into your own hands as things will definitely get messy. You don’t want it to backfire on you!
But what if you know that telling them won’t make any immediate difference? In cases of emotional, social and verbal bullying, adults in authority take a longer time to step in as it’s not so easy to spot such behaviour. Initially, my parents whom I trusted, brushed off my claims of being bullied, causing me to lose faith in them.
I mean, if your own parents don’t believe you, who can you turn to, right?
“It’s just a small issue; don’t let it get to you,” they told me. It was only after several breakdowns that they wised up and realised that “it” wasn’t such a “small issue” after all. If you are ever in this position where it seems like they aren’t listening, keep telling them!
So maybe the adults didn’t do anything to help. But guess what, YOU can. At some point or another in our lives, we become bullies ourselves as we join in with the name-calling because we’re afraid of being singled out, as we silently watching the daily drama of this student being tormented to tears.
Defending someone against bullying, speaking out or comforting that victim makes you stand out and many fear the repercussions. But your one voice could make a world of difference.
Because this friend of mine thought that it was unfair for the teacher to lead the whole class in an anti-J movement, she then told a trusted adult who went to the right channels and appropriate action was taken.
Because there was this teacher who closed her ears to the staff room gossip, she placed me in a new social circle when she made me the conductor of the choral speaking team. They became my Ohana: warm, non-judgmental and equally as strong-willed as I was.
I know how it is to feel like no one understands you, that you’re crying, screaming, hurting but no one hears you. Because I’ve been in that dark tunnel with no light before. It got to a point where it was so horrible that I contemplated skipping off my balcony into nothingness. But a Higher power willed me to keep on living. Let me tell you that it isn’t worth it. Don’t give your bullies the satisfaction of knowing that they got the better of you. Because your life is a gift which you should never throw away.
As strange as this may sound, I thank my bullies because it’s not what happened in the past that defines who I am today; what counts is how I overcame it. The invisible battle scars still remain but they’re marks I’m proud of.
Because I came out victorious.