BY RACHEL WONG
Growing up, it was always made clear to me who my superiors were. I was aware of them, whether they acknowledged me or not. In work situations, I would put my head down and follow instructions in order to gain their approval. I would not complain or whine, I would just do. If they acknowledged me, I spoke little; addressing them with utmost respect and never boring them with more than they needed to hear. I would be invisible.
My childhood upbringing solidified this idea that I was, and am, invisible. As a child, I was bullied ruthlessly by a boy who I thought was my friend. I had no idea why – if I had done something to him, I was completely oblivious to it. But deep in my heart of hearts, I knew that I did nothing wrong. In his mind, I was in his way at all times, and he didn’t like that. In fact, he didn’t like me at all.
I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone that this was happening. Realistically, what could my friends have done to stop this guy from passing around a list of reasons as to why I was a slut? I didn’t even know what the word meant at 11 years old. When I did try to discuss it with my teachers, it seldom proved helpful. “Don’t let him get to you, just keep doing your own thing,” they offered. “There will always be tomorrow.”
But with every tomorrow, I was faced with the same taunting, pushing, shoving and name-calling. All of this torment followed me into high school as my bully grew in popularity, and I faded into obscurity.
When I tell people this story today, they always encourage me to be assertive and stand up to bullies, as if it’s that easy. As a child, I didn’t feel like I had that option. In some twisted way, I accepted my bully as my superior. I was to keep my head down and stay out of his way, so that’s what I did.
Because of this, I grew up with an inferiority complex that plagued me all throughout high school. I always needed reassurance and never felt satisfied with what I did. I had trust issues and was left defenseless in the face of bullies.
I recently began working at a job where the superior-subordinate relationship was extremely apparent from the very beginning. The lessons I’d learned in my childhood continued to ring true: Keep your head down, do your work, only speak when you are spoken to, and never bore anyone with more than they need to hear.
But when my superior went from gently teasing to full on taunting me, I knew that I finally had to stand up and stand tall.
Some of my biggest triggers for my anxiety are alcoholism and excessive drinking. This is all thanks to my experience dating an ex-boyfriend who loved to party and drink. Turning 19 in my province meant that I was now of legal drinking age. And while I did have a few drinks on my birthday, stories about my night out quickly spun out of control and my supervisor began to use them against me.
The thing with triggers is that they never leave me alone. I would go to sleep with my supervisor’s words echoing in my head, and suddenly I would be brought back to all the times I found myself fending off my drunken ex. I would have nightmares and sleep very little. It had gotten so bad that even the smell of mouthwash made me nauseous.
After two months of teasing, I knew that the only way that I would get any sleep was if I talked to my supervisor about it.
Admittedly, I was really scared. What if he didn’t care? What if he dismissed me? What were the chances that things were going to improve as a result of me speaking out? But talking to my supervisor did end up helping. Explaining my situation and reliving the horror of these experiences again showed my supervisor why his comments regarding my supposed drunkenness and partying hurt me. Ever since, there has not been one offensive crack made about me at work.
The trick to being a respectful subordinate is just that – to be respectful. Never approach superiors out of anger or frustration; instead, take the time to cool off and really think about what you need to say. What emotions are you feeling, and how are they affecting you? Having an explanation is crucial for any real progress to take place. At the same time, don’t wait too long and don’t let yourself stew over the issue. It is best to approach these situations head on before they begin to escalate out of your control. Stand up and stand tall – even though you are a subordinate, you are still a human entitled to respect and a voice.
With my newfound voice, I did something shortly after standing up to my supervisor that I never thought I would do. I confronted my former bully. I tracked him down and sent him a message online since he was out of the country. My message was simple – I told him what my issue was and how I felt about it all those years ago, and then wished him well. And he replied a few days later, apologizing for his disrespect towards me and wished me the best as well.
Though no words or apologies can ever erase the past, the closure and the lessons that came with this experience were incredibly valuable.
Thanks to my childhood bully, I grew up to be the person I am today and finally found a voice inside of me that was silenced by others for so long.
Rachel Wong is a Communications student at Simon Fraser University. She is a slam poem enthusiast, foodie, self-proclaimed music nerd and wannabe photographer. A regular contributor for Student Life Network, Rachel’s favourite thing to do in her spare time is write – anything from haikus to 6 minute long poems, posts on food or changing the world. Her goal in life is to make an impact and help to eliminate the social stigma around Depression and other mental health concerns, one word at a time. You can find more of Rachel’s work athttp://rchlcwng.blogspot.com.