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Roots and Wings

Surviving the mean girls

/ 05:01 AM April 11, 2018

“Bull session” is a term hardly used nowadays, but it was quite popular in the late ’70s to early ’80s in private schools for girls.

A bull session is really nothing but a bullying session, with a group of mean girls wanting to point out your flaws, supposedly to correct you and make you a better person.

I was around 9 or 10 years old when I got invited to a bull session. The girls placed me in the center of a circle. One by one, they would tell me what they didn’t like about me. What do you do at age 9? You just take it all in and watch your self-esteem jump out the window.

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Although the terminology and methods have changed through the decades, bullying still exists, perhaps in even worse forms, such that teenage victims have been known to end their lives because of the pain.

I asked two friends, who were terribly bullied back in elementary school, how they managed to survive. Their stories are interesting, and underscore the value of familial love and support.

My good friend Karen Crisostomo says that “fabulous and fearless” were not adjectives she would use to describe herself back in grade school, even though it did seem that way when you look at her childhood photos, posing with other classmates on the school playground.

“I was fearful. Fearful of the older girls from the upper years calling me names,” Karen recounts. “‘Hey shorty,’ ‘Hi big nose’ were just some of the ‘terms of endearment’ used to call my attention as I walked down school hallways. Perhaps they did not realize just how much their words affected my self-esteem and confidence.”

She can’t recall telling her mom about the name-calling but remembers asking her several times if she was pretty. “Like any mother, she would say, ‘God made you. Yes, you are beautiful.’”

Chin up

However, despite her mom’s loving and reassuring words, she still dreaded going past those groups of older girls. “There were days when I would walk right by them with my chin up, pretending not to hear, and there would be other days when I would look them all in the eye and still not say a word.”

Karen’s ordeal went on for several years, until finally, in the sixth grade, she decided to tell one of her older brothers about it. “He asked if I knew their names, but I knew only some surnames.

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“One day, during dismissal time, he picked me up. He asked me to roll down the window of our car, and he yelled out the surname of one. She looked up when she heard her name, and he yelled out a swear-word before driving off, with a smug-looking me staring out the car window.

“That girl never looked at me nor teased me again after that. I may have seemed unfazed to my peers, perhaps compensating for how inferior I truly felt, yet internally, the damage had been done. I had become a self-conscious teenager and young adult. It was something that I struggled with for years.”

Later on, Karen fell in love and got married. “My sweet, kind, intelligent and handsome husband, who loved me the way I was, made all the difference. Because of his loving and caring ways, I was slowly able to overcome my inferiority complex.”

Accent

My other friend, Gigi, went to a Manila private school for her primary education. In the latter part of elementary school, her family had to relocate to another country due to her father’s work. After two years, she came back.

“My former classmates didn’t take too well to the fact that I now spoke nasally, and without the vowel sounds Pinoys speak with,” she recalls. “I wasn’t even aware that I had acquired an accent. Nasty classmates started talking about me within earshot, about how I was being maarte. They started making comments about not staying too near me, because it might be contagious.

“Later on, that escalated. If I held the classroom doorknob, someone would ask for alcohol to clean the knob so as not to spread the disease,” she says.

As I listen to Gigi’s story, a part of my heart breaks. How cruel some children can be.

Tough cookie

It helped that Gigi was one tough cookie. “I am not an emotional person, so these bullies never got the response they were after,” she points out. “No tears, no tantrums and no confrontations. I just went about my business and did my school work. One day, I was assigned with one of the bigger bullies as my project partner. She was not the nastiest of them. Working on the project was a blessing. She was much nicer without her friends around. We worked well together. We got a good grade on our project. We learned that we liked each other. We became friends.”

Gigi says that having that friend in her corner meant the others had to step back a bit. “The nasty girls probably still did not like me, but they stopped their bullying. Thirty years later, we are still very good friends.”

Being bullied early in life teaches one resiliency, tenacity and kindness. Because you’ve been on the receiving end of nastiness, you never want to be that way with others.

You also learn to survive. It helps to remember that, usually, bullies are themselves hurt people who were probably being bullied themselves.

The bullying scenario has three players: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. Each one needs to be helped.

As Gigi describes it, “I learned to be confident in my dealings with other people and to try to get along. I also learned that life’s troubles truly have silver linings, hidden gifts that just need to be discovered. Childhood difficulties make you stronger and prepare you for future adversity.”

As for the bully who led the bull session when I was 9, well, she’s on my Facebook friend list. We’re not exactly chummy, and she’s still obnoxious. We’re all grown up now, and she probably wasn’t aware of the pain she brought me.

I read this passage yesterday that perfectly describes how I hope one will feel someday after surviving bullying: “Don’t get angry or enraged, or insulted. Rise above. Flick your light back on, and shine it brighter than ever. And fall so deeply in love with your own life that anyone who tries to wrong you becomes a laughable, ridiculous and distant memory from now on.”

E-mail the author at storiesbykate@gmail.com

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