There are some things that I think should be compulsory on the learning agenda of every child. It would contribute considerably to the chances of that child arriving at adulthood with their mental health intact. Of course, it’s easy for me to say. I don’t have children. Right now I don’t even have fur-kids, but I was a child, and I know that if I had learnt some things earlier on in life it might have helped me in establishing my self-esteem and my sense of having a right to be on this planet.
I was eight years old when I came face to face with the school bully (or one of them). I was walking home from my best friend’s house after playing with her after school. Note this was back in the 1970’s when it was safe for kids to walk places by themselves. Because it was quite a long walk, I had taken with me my favourite doll (Suzie) to keep me company on the walk home.
As I came to the top of the hill there was the bully. She took my doll off me, and threw her down a very steep and muddy bank. My doll was very important to me and so there was no choice but to head down the bank myself to retrieve her. I have no memory of what state I arrived home later but suspect I was pretty much as muddy as the doll. Mud and grass stains all over her dress and through her blonde hair.
I told my mother what happened, and her question to me was
“What did you do to deserve that?”
It was a question that I would come to hear numerous times as I travelled through my young life. The conclusion I formed from the question, especially when asked repeatedly, was that
If something bad happened to me then it was probably my fault.
I have gone on to blame myself (before anyone else could) for many things even to the extent of blaming the events of 9/11 on myself. I wasn’t even in the country, and actually a small point to note was that it was 9/12 in my part of the world by 9/11. How could I be to blame? Still, I had been ‘trained’ well and like many other events, both in my life and nothing to do with me, I assumed the blame.
Zoom forward some years from the day Suzie went down the bank, and recently a ‘school bully’ metaphorically threw me down a steep and muddy bank. This time I was covered in dirt, battered and bruised, but after a lot of tears, I chose not to allow myself to blame me. Yes, I chose not to let myself believe that what happened was my fault. I chose not to let myself believe that I deserved what I got. That was a major victory for me.
Still, I was wary of the world. I was scared that people around me would be quick to point the finger and blame me for my fall. I didn’t even tell my aging mother, because so many years on I was scared of her ‘What did you do to deserve that?’. I continue to be careful who I tell, and what I say, because somehow I’ve heard that question too many times in my life to want to hear it again. I can be indignant for myself that someone (the ‘school bully’) should treat me that way, but I can’t quite trust the world around me to be indignant for me too.
Only now can I refuse to blame myself for the bad things that happen in, and around my life. The question I heard so many times, ‘What did you do to deserve that?’ is only part of that, but it’s a big part. Learning to value myself has been a slow lesson too. Learning that sometimes bad things just happen to us, and actually while we are the one’s hurt, often it’s got little to do with us.
Where I did have a role in the bad that happened to me,then I needed to learn to forgive myself, rather than dwell on it and beat myself up further. This time though, I am quite clear that it was the ‘school bully’ who was to blame, and that I didn’t need to carry extra guilt myself.
I don’t think my mother’s question, which would be repeated over the years, was intended to cause me the harm it did. I suspect other family members got the same question but did not choose to see everything as their fault as a result. It’s just that in some ways, my being was almost just waiting to be knocked down. Does that make sense? All I needed was those questions to believe I wasn’t worth anything.
Going back to Suzie for a moment, I learnt a few other lessons that day when she took her tumble down the hill. I got her home and attempted to clean her with bathroom cleaner. I probably should have asked Mum what to use but I went ahead anyway. The bleach in the cleaner turned her blonde hair green. Another disaster for the day.
And so I gave her a hair cut (again, not seeking advice). I wasn’t quite old enough to understand that her hair wouldn’t grow back. Actually it was a pretty good ‘shaggy cut’ (fashionable in the seventies, so I told myself) and the important thing was that the green was mostly gone, but gosh, Suzie must have wondered how many more things could go wrong for her that day. But she didn’t deserve any of it.
© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.