I Needed to Know This

CateThere 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.


11 thoughts on “I Needed to Know This

  1. Children need to learn and unlearn a lot of things…..it\s frustrating working with them sometimes because they get so much information from all different places. It\s rarely a consistent message.

    • Thanks Angie. It’s such an important reminder for us all isn’t. It’s amazing what a few careless words can do, especially when repeated over time.

  2. It’s always difficult for me to read about children treated poorly. You post shows how important those younger years are and that how we are treated as children can shape our entire lives. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Hi Janet, it’s a really hard one isn’t it? Because you’re so right, it is upsetting to hear of children treated poorly. But then I think the more we find the strength to talk about it, the better it will be for children ahead. That’s my hope anyway.

  3. My goodness. I agree with you. The power of words. I’m so sorry you were given that message. You’re probably an excellent advocate for the children in your sphere of influence.

    • Thanks Lori for your comment. I agree that words are so powerful, and so often people dont’ think enough about what they are saying to children. Something for us all to work on.

  4. It brings me back to my grade school through high school years where I was always the butt of the joke, the one no one would play with, the one the other kids thought was really weird, and a teacher’s pet (except when it came to exams, then I was everyone’s best friend). I did not feel comfortable until I arrived in college. In college, everyone is weird, they have strange ideas, and talk about really abstract things. I was in heaven. I had finally found the place where I fit in this world. Unfortunately, college ends, you graduate, and you go out into the “real” world. You either sink or swim. I, myself, am treading water.

    I do not know if I would be as strong as I am today if it weren’t for the bullies I ran into over the years. But, then again, I wouldn’t be saying that at 42 years of age if it hadn’t had some negative effect on me. My parents, unlike your mother, were not aware of the bullying at school. They weren’t around, and when they were, my father,especially, was very verbally and emotionally abusive. And, I know darn good and well that he knew the power of words because at the ripe age of 10, I knew exactly what a well-placed word could do. I shouldn’t have known that.

    People, all people, need to think before they speak, and consider whether what they are going to say really needs to be said.

  5. This makes me think of Peggy O’Mara’s words: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

    It’s amazing the damage parents can unintentionally inflict, and I get what you mean when you say others probably heard the same words from your mother, but they weren’t “waiting to be knocked down”. When my sister and I were young and my mom would get overwhelmed and frustrated, she used to cry out, “I’m going to go jump off a bridge!” She never had any such intentions of course, and my sister took it in stride. But living in the city with the greatest number of bridges in the world, this always seemed a real, viable threat to me, and I was terrified I’d lose my mom. I think I can actually trace my once severe gephyrophobia (fear of crossing bridges) back to this continual agony in my childhood. Mom of course felt terribly and terribly guilty when I told her about it several years ago.

    In any case, for me probably the most important (and definitely most heartening) thing I read in this post of yours is:

    “Only now can I refuse to blame myself for the bad things that happen in, and around my life.”

    That is massive, wonderful progress, and I am so incredibly happy for you, my Cate. ♥

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