Bullying: ‘Sometimes all you have left is yourself’

Primary school: We asked readers for their views on and experiences of toxic behaviour by others from their childhood. Here is a selection of your responses

Over the past few weeks, The Irish Times has been covering the issue of bullying – how it affects people, the lasting impacts, and asking how we can best support those affected.

As part of the series, we asked readers for their views and experiences. There was such a big response that, unfortunately, we cannot publish every submission.

Below are personal stories of bullying which are all connected to attending primary school.

‘Why did my mum not notice?’

“I was relentlessly bullied when I was in primary school. It went on for years and, for some reason that I still don’t understand, I never said a word to anyone about it. Not my teachers and not my mum. I suffered the name-calling and jibing about my appearance, my clothes, my hair, in silence. There were four girls in particular and I was so humiliated because three of them were younger than me. This made it all feel so much worse. I used to walk to school and from the moment I set foot outside my home I was in constant fear of meeting this group – so much so that I used to leave my house at a ridiculously early time so as to avoid such a situation.


“I have often questioned why it wasn’t picked up on – them following me around the yard at breaks, hissing insults that I continued to ignore. Why did my mum not notice that I never wanted to go outside, or I would be near tears when asked to run an errand? As a teacher now myself I am so aware that things can go on under your nose and you may be totally oblivious to it, but I find that I am asking myself why a child is looking forlorn on the yard or why a child is sitting by themselves on a wall. I have experienced first-hand the devastation that bullying can inflict. I can only be grateful that I didn’t grow up in the digital era where today’s bullies have a wide open playing field.” – R, Co Donegal

‘Sometimes all you have left is yourself’

“If you ask me to imagine my childhood, the first thing that comes to mind – sadly – is the homophobic bullying I experienced from the age of 7/8 in my all-boys’ primary school. At the time I had no concept of sexuality, but kids have an ability to pick up on difference from a young age and target it. I was persistently jeered, called names and excluded, but I refused to tell my parents because I was so ashamed of what was happening to me. That shame would cast quite a long shadow over the rest of my childhood and adolescence, colouring the way I thought about myself and affecting my self-esteem.

“I have a few distinct memories from the time that come back to me a lot. The first is the principal of the school encouraging me to smile more, as if that would help to solve the situation. Another was a recurring event which was getting ready for school in the morning, sitting on the stairs tying my shoelaces and crying, petrified of facing the same bullies again that day in the schoolyard. But perhaps the strongest memory is the one where I told myself, at quite a young age, that all of the ugliness I was experiencing would pass and that some day I would make it out the other side.

I believe that schools are often an opportunity for the bullies to test their skills on easy targets

—  A, Co Kerry

“If you are a child excluded and left in the corner alone, sometimes all you have left is yourself, and you can build up an incredible resilience at that young age. However, that resilience is a coping mechanism which can cause a coldness in later life, a lack of trust in others and a constant feeling that you are bracing for something bad to happen, even when you know that’s no longer the case. So it’s my firm belief – based on my own experience and many more like mine, especially those of LGBT people – that bullying at a young age has profound effects into adult life, and for that reason it is essential that it is rooted out as quickly as possible, in the interest of the child’s future.” – T, Co Dublin

‘I carried this latent aggression with me’

“I attended school from the 1970s through to the mid-’80s in a rural village. I was a quiet, shy, chubby kid with poor social skills – characteristics which were ideal for any would-be bully. I endured physical abuse throughout primary and the early years of secondary school, and due to the nature of my family dynamics, there was nobody for me to turn to for advice or support, including the school. This abuse continued until just after third year, when I experienced a life-changing event. On that day, one of my classmates (a bully) made the mistake of lashing me across the backside with a metal-edged ruler – I can still feel the pain which was excruciating. At that moment I had enough; my natural response permanently flipped from flight to fight. I turned on the bully and beat him until he cried. This happened during a break at the front of the classroom with most of my classmates present – after that day I was no longer troubled by bullies.

“This may read like the script of your typical feel-good Hollywood drama, but it wasn’t. Unfortunately, I carried this latent aggression with me for years after. It became the primary tool in my emotional toolbox which was applied regularly and inappropriately in stressful situations. It has taken years of therapeutic counselling for me to resolve my anger issues and come to terms with the traumatic consequences of bullying.” – M, Co Galway

‘Bullies rule the world’

“To say I hated school would be an understatement. I went to an all-boys’ school back in the 1980s, when being a hard man was how you were supposed to carry yourself. I was very young for my class and although I was reasonably capable at schoolwork, I didn’t assimilate that well into groups, possibly due to undiagnosed ASD (autism spectrum disorder). There is no doubt that others may have suffered worse, but painful memories are hard to erase.

“Usually I was too intimidated or outnumbered to fight back. However, anger can be a powerful motivator, so sometimes I did. There was no support. There was nobody to talk to.

My niece and nephew now go to the same primary school, and as I wait outside to collect them I still can’t shake those memories

—  J, Co Westmeath

“Up until the culmination of these experiences I may have been under the illusion that if you behave well and work hard at school that things might be all right, maybe some kind of magical rescue would arrive and bring justice for the wrongs that had happened. In reality, I believe that schools are often an opportunity for the bullies to test their skills on easy targets. As I have come to realise, the bullies rule the world, they have their hands on everything and the world is made for them.

“My advice? Understand the nature of our unfair society. Understand the motivation of people who will try to dehumanise you and others to take advantage. Try your best to stand up for yourselves and try to help your kids not to be pushed around. Listen to and know your own children.” – A, Co Kerry

‘This is not the way society should be’

“I remember long summer holidays alone with no friends. I was bullied in primary school and the worst thing was, it was accepted. That was the 1980s, but this is still accepted in schools and bullies get away with it. They say it’s survival of the fittest, but this is not the way society should be. Children should be taught at an early age to have kindness to one another, not to put everyone down around you and laugh at you.” – A, Co Cork

‘It was a horrible time’

“I was bullied constantly at primary school. Granted, it is now over 20 years ago, but I remember it clearly – the name-calling, insults, kicking, hitting. I used to sit in front of a boy who put his compass into my back repeatedly, making me bleed. It was a horrible time.

“My niece and nephew now go to the same primary school, and as I wait outside to collect them I still can’t shake those memories. Thankfully, they both love school. I recently saw the main bully and he had to nerve to say hello. He is still arrogant and pushing his weight around, but now I am no longer afraid of him. No longer the skinny bow-legged little girl. A sharp ‘Are you talking to me!!’ stopped him in his tracks. The effects of bullying? I don’t know, all I know is I’m still angry that nothing was done to stop it. – J, Co Westmeath