I loved school when I was a kid. I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and attended Kindergarten to 8th grade at a Catholic school called St. Columba. Some of my fondest memories were there and the greatest teachers and friends I have ever known in my childhood years. I loved that I was accepted for who I was regardless of being the minority and one of just a few Asian families in the entire school. They embraced diversity. It wasn’t something that anyone pointed out or made a big deal of. I was just me. Theresa. Smart, short, sarcastic dimple face, funny, handwriting perfectionista, shy and poofie hair extraordinaire! I know you have heard me allude to my poof. Well, here is proof of the awesome nest. It was real. Those of you who are my age — I know you get me. And I know you thought it was awesome too. I blasted my Paula Abdul tapes, perfected the Running Man and Roger Rabbit with my rad pinned stonewashed jeans and crop top. I will admit I adored my permed hair too. I thought I was one cool chick! Well, I think I still am. When I graduated 8th grade, I didn’t realize that it was the end of a magical, happy era for me. The dark days were coming.
I Hated High School
High school was a horrible experience for me. There were some fun times, but what overshadows those 4 years was being a victim of bullying … not even by girls, but by BOYS! The first time it happened, I was walking into the classroom and went across the front row of seats to sit where I usually do. As I was heading to my seat, I felt something wet on my arm. I looked down and I saw drops of clear fluid on me. One of the boys spit on me. HE SPIT ON ME. What was going on? Oh, it was not an accident because when I looked at him, he just smiled back. I didn’t even know how to respond. No one had ever treated me like that before. I didn’t have time to be pissed. I was just SHOCKED. Why did he feel the need to spit on me? What did I do to him? What did I EVER do to him? We NEVER even spoke to each other before. Who was this boy? Let’s just call him Crow. Crow was a jock and friends with “Derrick” one of the boys I used to “date” in grade school. I thought maybe that Derrick told Crow some things about our past relationship that somehow made Crow think I deserved to be treated that way. It didn’t end there. He and another boy “David” would call me “Gook”, “Chinese Chink”, say things like “Ching, Chong, long duck dong” and laugh at me. It was very discrete. No one ever noticed. There would be times when Crow would just GLARE at me and even though I was across the room, it was as if I could feel his stank breath on me. I would just sit in fear and used all of my power to not look his way. There would be accidental “bumps” and “pushes” in the hallway. I know they weren’t accidents. These guys were always sneering at me. I wasn’t a loner. I had great friends and I was friends with everyone, yet these boys just wouldn’t let up. I was too scared to say anything to them in fear of confrontation. I never wanted to tell anyone for fear of sticking out as the girl who was bullied. I just wanted it to be like at St. Columba where I never felt different or like an outcast. Just loved. I never told anyone during the 4 years that this happened and never spoke of it until about a decade after high school was all over.
I don’t know why I never shared this with my parents or friends in high school. I was just a girl who wanted to be accepted. I didn’t even like being Vietnamese because I wanted to look like my caucasian friends with the brown hair and blue eyes. They were so lucky they could fit in anywhere. No one ever bullied them. But as you become older, you become wiser – well, most of us do at least. I started to embrace my culture, my identity and the woman I was becoming. The memories of being bullied became like dust in the wind. Or so I thought.
What I Learned
If you have ever been constantly bullied by someone before, then you know it’s one of the worst experiences you will ever have, and it will deeply affect you for the rest of your life, if you let it. It affected my self-worth and confidence for years. I just didn’t know this was the reason why. I would mask it well, but felt so lonely at times because I was too ashamed to say anything to anyone. Not having dealt with my past and then later on in adulthood, becoming an entrepreneur, this experience has really shed light on the long term effects bullying has had on my life.
For so long I felt unworthy and undeserving of recognition and success. I felt like a big, fat fraud. Crow and David really did a number on me. I didn’t realize that I had allowed them to have this power over me. The day I understood where this feeling of not being good enough stemmed from (because I held on so tightly to the past), I decided right then and there to let go of that story of shame and begin the process of forgiveness.
When I shared this with one of my mentors, she asked me “What is the proof you have to show that you are not worthy?” I had none. It was a rude awakening. So many times we doubt our own goodness and deem ourselves not just unloveable, but undeserving based on an experience that has nothing to do with the measure of our worth.
I had to overcome these self-limiting beliefs of feeling like I wasn’t good enough. This type of thinking pattern was so toxic and I was ready to finally just remove it because it was weighing me down for so long. First, I had to forgive myself for not standing up to my bullies. Secondly, I had to forgive myself for not telling someone and allowing myself suffer through it by myself all those years. Third, I could then forgive Crow and David. I consciously said “I forgive you. I choose to cut the cord and will not allow you to have any power over me. I am strong, smart and deserving of everything that I want in my life and no one can ever take that away from me.”
It’s not as easy as just changing your thoughts and BAM – like that, it’s over. No, no. It is a process. I knew how important it was for me to understand the fact that my life would not get straightened out until my thoughts did. In fact, when I shared this with a old highschool friend a few summers ago, a flood of emotions overcame me and I was a hot crying mess with tears getting all over my avocado toast. Retelling the story of hurt and as if there was something freakishly wrong with me affected me more than I thought. But I was in the process of healing and just like with all wounds, it took time to finally replace that old, false story with the true one. When I catch myself falling back into this trap of unworthiness, I “flip the switch” and replace those thoughts with ones of positivity and inspiration. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts and those thoughts can be changed.
I continue to see myself progressing through life and the obstacles I have encountered have been redeemed by good outcomes.
I have created a new story – one of redemption and freedom for myself and it’s full of confidence, beauty and fulfillment.
Today I am strong, wise, resilient and happy. As you begin to change your thinking, your words will follow and so will your life! We all have these old stories in our lives that we tell ourselves. It’s time to break the pattern, forgive yourself, and let them go.
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