I don’t look back at my high school experience with fond memories as most of my friends do.
It was in second year high school when I was bullied.
It wasn’t the typical form of bullying. I wasn’t kicked or punched in the face, nor was I publicly teased or mocked. No – my classmates were far more creative than most bullies.
It all started when I heard them saying the initials R-H-S while they laughed and joked around. Being the curious and nosy person that I was, I remember asking about it and them answering in jest that it was just red hot sauce. (I know – it did not make any sense)
I heard the same initials being tossed around in another conversation. And then in another. Soon enough, it evolved into an open joke that everyone – but me – knew about. Later, a very distant friend finally let me in on the secret.
Apparently, a group of boys in our class founded a club and called it “RHS.” It’s short for Raisa’s Haters Society and I, its namesake, was the last to know. Because membership in that group lent people safety from bullying, even people I considered my friends knew about it. (READ: When the bell rings: My story of getting bullied)
Bullying is about power
What people don’t realize is that bullying takes many forms – with the most common one taking the form of physical aggression. In some cases, bullies taunt or spread gossip about other people.
But I did not know this when I was younger. When I got bullied, I blamed myself.
I was perceived as someone too bossy, vocal, and opinionated in high school. Back then, I remember leading group projects or assigning members their tasks. I volunteered for difficult roles nobody wanted to take. My 14-year-old self was unapologetically competitive and purpose-driven.
In other words, as a young girl living in a very patriarchal society, I did not behave in a way most boys thought girls should: submissive, timid, and silent.
By creating a “haters’ society,” they sent a clear message: I was at fault for being too much – even though I was just being myself and doing things I know to be right.
My mistake was that I let that message hit me right in my core. Forgetting what it means to fight back, I accepted their reality and made it my own. (READ: These Filipino high school kids are out to end bullying)
Scars run deep
Being bullied fundamentally changed and defined me.
It was like driving a car along a wide highway in full speed and then hitting the brakes to make a full stop. All at once, I withdrew to my corner, turned inward, distanced myself from friends, and stopped trying to stand out. (READ: Ateneo Junior High School probes bullying caught on video)
I am already 26 and while we have all matured through the years and am friends again with my childhood bullies, my scars have not fully healed.
In college, I did not join organizations and sat in the back row. I avoided developing deep relationships with people. At work, I struggled with crippling self doubt and was pulled back by my fear of offending others.
Being self-aware about how my past affected me did little to undo the consequences of bullying. For the past decade or so, I constantly restrained myself, wary of being too much for the people around me.
What I wish happened
Recently, I watched videos of how a high school student bullied his classmates, pushing me to finally write this and make sense of how my past shaped my present. While I do not personally know them, I can imagine how difficult and haunting the encounter could be for the bullied students.
But this blog hopefully will serve a greater purpose for the people surrounding the victims – the teachers, parents, school administrators, and even the bystander classmates who are capable of providing the support the bullied students need.
Because in my case, since high school I still haven't stopped replaying in my head different possible helpful scenarios.
For example, I wish somebody had told me that I should not have blamed myself nor my classmates who were none the wiser. We were all young and they may not even have been aware that what they did amounted to bullying.
I wish I had known that, in the face of crisis, there are only a few things that I could control and that excludes what other people do or how they perceive me. Had I known this, maybe I would not have blamed myself. I would then have shifted my attention to my internal locus of control like how I should respond and react to the bullying.
I wish I knew who to talk to – that there were clear guidelines for people like me who may need counseling and guidance. It wasn't until years later when bullying became a buzzword and people realized how gravely it affects teens and children on the receiving end. (READ: DepEd reminds schools of anti-bullying policies after Ateneo Junior HS incident)
I wish somebody comforted me and told me that I did not have to change who I was and that it was not wrong to stand out.
But the simplest thing that could have happened was for even just one friend not to turn a blind eye. Simple.
Then maybe, I'd be looking back at our high school experience with a few fond memories like everyone else. – Rappler.com
Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.