October is National Bullying Prevention Month: Think Before You Speak

By Evana Brenelus

Do you remember the saying, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all?’Well, there is a reason why we were constantly told this by our parents, professors and other figures. Words hurt and leave lasting scars.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and it is important to understand what bullying is and the negative effects it can have on people. 

According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is a repeated pattern of unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Although their definition focuses on school-aged children, it can happen to anyone. They also expand on the different forms of bullying in order to raise awareness of this consistent issue.

Throughout my childhood, I was bullied verbally, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and I truly believe it negatively impacted me. One instance I remember clearly is when my peers used to refer to me as an ‘oreo’ or ‘white girl’ because of the way I spoke, my personality and not fitting into the stereotypical box they wanted me to. This is a commonly shared experience among many Black people. Being compared to a white person in those terms basically translates to Black people not being smart and it is insulting.

I was also bullied for being ethnically Haitian, which is something I will never understand. I live in South Florida and around the time I was in middle school, being Haitian was seen as the worst thing in the world. It was so bad that my parents would not allow me to wear a Haitian flag to school when it was Flag Day because other students would get beat up and have flour thrown at them along with other horrible things; it was dangerous.

I spent a lot of my time in middle school in my guidance counselor’s office because it was the only place I felt safe. Being a counselor was more than a job to her and she made such a huge difference in my life by making sure I stayed alive and graduated. During that time is when I also started relying more on myself and avoiding people.

I believe when you hear people describe you as something over and over again, eventually you start to believe it. When bad things kept happening, I felt like I deserved it and accepted it. I never really had much confidence in myself, so breaking me down was a lot easier at the time.

Overall, I think the part that hurt the most when I was being bullied was the fact that I did not have the best mental health and the bullies were aware of that. They used it against me, and it only worsened from there.

As a result of what I went through, I have a strong need for independence because I am too afraid to trust people and even when I do need help, I would rather suffer first. Every time I meet new people, I start overthinking how they view me. “Am I being annoying right now? Do they like me? Are they going to leave when they get to know me more?”

I will replay a conversation or situation in my head a million times until I forget about it. I also hate being touched by people and it makes it difficult for me to externally show that I care about my loved ones most times.

I do not think I have completely overcome everything I experienced with bullying, but I am still working on myself. Therapy has helped me a lot because it teaches me that I need to be kinder to myself regardless of what others do and how to be selfless.

Having a support system and surrounding myself with people who allow me to be authentic makes me rethink those difficult moments I endured and create more positive ones. I have also learned to love my ethnic background and be proud of the legacy my ancestors built. I am still working on how to stand up for myself when I find myself in situations where I feel small; rebuilding myself back up has not been the easiest, but I am committed to making myself whole again.

I have come across people who believe being bullied makes you stronger, but I disagree. The part that makes us stronger is learning to love ourselves and getting to a place where we understand why kindness can make such a huge difference in people’s lives; you do not need to get bullied to come to this realization.

Before saying something or treating someone a certain type of way, think to yourself how you would feel if you were on the other side of that situation. Would it make you feel better about yourself? If not, then you should probably not say or do it. 

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