I cannot stop reliving all the bad memories from my school days

Tell Me About It: ‘The years of bullying I endured in school are affecting me in college’

PROBLEM: In June of 2017, I sat my Leaving Certificate and graduated from secondary school. It put an end to six years of torment for me. I was bullied relentlessly, mostly verbally, and although I considered talking to teachers or parents about it, I reasoned that it would only have made the situation worse. I figured that, once I went to college, I could put it behind me and start over.

However, I’m now 21 and in the third year of my degree, and I still think about my time in school constantly. Although I have friends in my classes, I have difficulty making strong connections with people. At night, I lie in bed, reliving all the bad memories from my teenage years.

Does it ever get better, or will this trauma last forever?

ADVICE: The reason that so many of the support agencies have tag lines such as “talk to me” is that one of the main healing aspects to trauma is to express it and have it heard fully and completely. You still have not done this and it seems that you will continue to suffer until this happens. You say that you are making friends but have difficulty making strong connections and again, I’m afraid, this is due to the fact that you are withholding vital and deep parts of yourself and this interferes with your ability to connect fully with people.

Part of how we move from acquaintance to true friendship is that we take a risk and allow the other person to know something vulnerable about us. When this risk is rewarded with understanding, or the revelation of something from the other person, the friendship moves to a deeper place. It takes courage and self-esteem to open yourself up to scrutiny by another but it also shows the value you place on the other person as you trust them enough to take the risk.

Six years of being bullied leaves a huge scar and this happened at a time when you were developing a sense of self so it was especially torturous. That you did not trust any adults in your life enough to seek support is sad, as I’m sure that many of those adults would have understood the need for discretion and they may have been capable of helping you out. Many young people do not tell their parents, or other adults of their trauma in order to protect them from the burden of their suffering – in other words it is an act of love.

You felt that you were better off handling this alone and that you had the strength and capacity to wait it out until you went to college, thus not leaning on your support system. Think about this: if you were in charge of a young teenager who was going through the horror of bullying would you like them to endure it alone or would you prefer they share it with you so that you can support them in whatever way you could? Probably the latter, so now you need to use this wisdom to inform your next steps.

Start by setting up some counselling sessions in your college – these are free, completely confidential (now possibly by phone or video) and will allow you to express your experience in a safe and tolerant environment. Then you might extend your friendships by allowing some of those you trust most to know what you have experienced. This will challenge you, but it will move you from a position of carrying the can for the bullying to placing the responsibility where it belongs – fully with the bully.

True confidence comes from a willingness to be yourself, to know that you deserve to be heard fully

Bullying and abuse continues in part because no one calls it out – we are all responsible for this and all of us need to speak up when we see it happening. The reason most people don’t intervene, or demand justice, is fear of awkwardness, fear of creating further abuse or fear of drawing the bully’s attention to the observer. This is why there is such a strong need for bystander programmes (teaches people how to intervene safely in possible abuse situations) in our schools and society.

We need to change a culture that allows this to continue. Remember that someone who has to put someone down, in order for them to feel powerful is not a confident, strong person – in fact they are fearful that if they are not dominant, they will not be respected. It is hard to view your past bullies in this way but in time you will come to see this is true.

True confidence comes from a willingness to be yourself, to know that you deserve to be heard fully and an ability to see the truth behind the bully in front of you. Take this one step at a time, book a counselling session, take any opportunity to speak honestly with friends and accept that the trauma caused by the bullying needs attention, expression and compassion and this will lead to a richer and more fulfilling life for yourself.