Bullying is not always as blatant as it is portrayed in mainstream media.
I have never witnessed a student be violently shoved against a locker and yelled at with threatening, hateful speech. That does happen, however, bullying can be subtler, it can pass off as crude humour, and it can be received from those you consider friends.
This type of bullying is often ignored because people think it is not as harmful. You may not recognise it at the time, but it is vital to flag up tormenting comments, attitudes and behaviours as soon as possible. To reflect and respond to them before they lower your self-esteem, make you lose your self-confidence and feel isolated.
When my family and I migrated to a new country, I felt completely isolated and anxious. I didn’t recognise my difference until I was in a place where I was the minority and every aspect of my identity was under scrutiny. In my attempts to fit in, I wanted to show that I was easy-going and could take hurtful jokes and comments.
The nicknames, exclusion, and taunting that I received in school, made me build a wall that stopped me from accessing my emotions and taking care of my wellbeing. This wall extended to my family. I didn’t tell them how I felt, instead I suppressed the turmoil of hurt feelings and anxiety. I didn’t think that my family would understand what I was going through and didn’t want them to worry about me. So, I chose to live in an alternative reality of videogames, television and minimal social interaction with others.
My tactics only hid my internal struggles from others. They didn’t stop me from being hyperaware and critical of my appearance, how I spoke and how I acted. Everything that I was before my migration became a distant memory. My story and prior experiences became irrelevant, as no one wanted to know who I was as a person beyond the stereotypes about my nationality, race and culture.
Everything that was positive about me and my life was put aside and I was overwhelmed with negativity. Lowered self-esteem and lack of emotional expression stopped me from having a positive outlook for my future and believing in my ability to flourish. It stopped me from having the drive to achieve my dreams.
When I reflected on my childhood experiences of bullying and exclusion, I was able to start reworking my negative view of my self-worth, my capabilities and my aspirations. Accessing distressing memories can be very difficult and confronting them for what they are can be complicated. Denying and dismissing our feelings can seem like a way to protect ourselves, but it is part of the reason we feel stuck and uninspired at times. It was vital for me to visit my younger self who was locked away and reassure her that it was going to be okay. To tell myself that it was time to let go of that heavy weight in my heart and make space for happier and more fulfilling experiences.
I believe that talking about bullying in all its forms is crucial, because sometimes we convince ourselves that we are overreacting or are being too sensitive. My advice would be to create a safe space where you can express yourself and be confident in your identity. Surround yourself with people who care and are willing to listen with empathy. Most importantly, don’t suppress your feelings and give your emotional wellbeing the importance it deserves.
Click below to find out more about what bullying is, how it can affect you and what to do if you think you're being bullied.