The definition of the term ‘Bullying’ in the dictionary is as follows: seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable). Bullying can happen for any number of reasons and can happen to anybody of any age. This may be because of someone's physical appearance, race, culture, gender identity, sexuality, disability, family situation (i.e. growing up in care or parents divorcing) religion or beliefs. It could also be because an individual is shy or introverted, appears anxious, vulnerable or has low self-esteem.
My memories of being bullied started from an early age. I was about 9 years of age when I remember the very first time someone was purposely unkind to me. My family had moved to a small island overseas and I was instantly recognised as being different. I stood out. I spoke differently and I had a different background to the other children. I attended quite a small school, I think the other children were curious about me but I always felt like an outcast and a lot of the time I was always told that I didn’t belong. I would get involved in a lot of the out of school activities, I played for the school band and joined the brownies. I was always trying something new, I guess looking back I was trying to find a space where I wasn't judged or harassed for being me. I never told anybody about the things that the others said, I didn't want to be seen as a troublemaker and I certainly didn't want to bring any more attention to myself.
One year, I had been selected to play the leading part as Aladdin in the school pantomime. I was really excited. I loved learning my lines and really enjoyed the ‘acting’. However, the fact that I had been chosen did not go down well at all with a few of the other children. One day as I was walking home from school a group of children from my class started to follow me. I became aware and started to walk a little faster. They started to run and when they caught up with me they created a circle all around me so I couldn't get away. It was a mixed group of boys and girls and all of them started shouting and calling me names. One boy moved towards me and started to shove and push me around and another girl joined in. The name calling continued whilst I was being pushed around this circle. After one particular big push, I did fall to the ground. Nobody helped me and the shouting didn't stop. Some of the children started laughing and made fun at the fact that I was upset. I remember just laying there, on the floor, all curled up wishing for it all to stop. It did stop eventually and they all walked away, still laughing. I got up and continued to walk home. I did have to tell my parents as it couldn't be ignored due to the state I was in. As dramatic as it sounds, I was never really the same after that. That event shattered my confidence and I started to really believe that I wasn't as worthy as anyone else.
As a family we left the island and returned home. For the next few years, I muddled my way through school, I did make some friendships some of which I am lucky enough to still have to this day. As with most places there were some individuals who didn't like you for what seemed no particular reason at all. When I was 15, one particular girl decided that I was going to become her scapegoat. She would befriend me, then threaten me on a regular basis. She would say the most awful things to me, and to anybody else that would listen. It was such an unpleasant and upsetting time which just brought back so many negative feelings about myself. And I was scared. This particular girl had a bad reputation of being involved with fights and I was 100% terrified that she would physically attack me. This behaviour carried on for quite a long period of time until one day I decided I had enough. I don't know what it was to this day which made me stand up for myself but after a particularly horrible gruelling from her I responded back. Of course her first reaction was to lash out at me and she landed quite a few punches but I did fight back. The fear which I had carried with me for such a long time all came flooding out, I fought back, lashing out and screaming. It felt like such a release and I was very happy to let it all out.
After that incident things were different. That particular girl still didn't like me and would still try to intimidate me on a regular basis but something within me changed. The fact that I had stood up for myself and the fact that I decided I wasn't going to be afraid anymore seemed to fuel me with a new sense of freedom. I made an oath to myself that no matter what, I would never allow people to treat me with unkindness or disrespect in the ways that I had experienced growing up.
This year, the theme for Anti-Bullying week is ‘reach out’. It is encouraging everyone to come together and reach out to others to stop bullying. Research has shown that bullying can have long-lasting effects on children’s mental health. Young people who have experienced bullying are more likely to experience mental health issues, and those who have mental health issues are more likely to be bullied. Times were very different when I was at school, I didn't have to deal with or cope with the many different ways that people can experience bullying these days. There are so many different platforms now and that is why it is so important to talk about these subjects. If you see someone being unkind or bullied, reach out and say something. It can and will make such a difference to that individual who is on the receiving end of unkindness.
And please remember the person or persons who are bullying you or others... It is them who are troubled, who feel threatened, or scared or jealous or insecure. IT IS NOT YOU. It is always about them and their doubts within themselves. It is their behaviour which needs to be addressed and acknowledged, NOT YOURS. It costs nothing to treat each other with kindness and respect, unfortunately this is something which bullies do not understand.