I was a third-grader in a strict catholic school – supposedly the best school in town. My parents begged the principal to get me in mid-session. I was thankful. Until I was hit.
She preferred a slim stick or a 12-inch wooden scale. Streaks of stinging red left on my palms every day. Sometimes she would ask me to turn my hands. I knew what was coming- a crack of the edge of her scale on my knuckles, and that lingering mean smile on her face.
It was an all-boys school. I was new in class, new in town, and lost all around. For two years straight, she was my class teacher. Maternal, spectacled (a metal chain completing the look) and forever in a neatly pressed sari. It seemed as though she enjoyed the conflict she induced in the minds of seven or eight-year-old boys- no one knew what was coming.
I was her identified victim for the two years. It was rare for me to leave school without some innovative reason for punishment- delayed homework, forgotten stationary, a minute tardy, or not participating enough. Sometimes it was just because I was there. My classmates used to laugh whenever she called me out to the front, their eyes wide in anticipation. They pitied me – I know because some of them are still friends. I was their guilty pleasure. They hated to love seeing me in pain and trembling like a leaf.
That teacher was physically abusive to me. She was a bully and a sociopath. Deriving pleasure from pain. I know that now. As a seven-year-old, I felt I deserved it. I expected punishment, resigning to my fate. I remember being a reasonably happy child until that grade. She brought me down – so low that the slightest hint of disappointment or aggression in others still induce pangs of guilt and fear. Now I am a 33-year-old well respected, successful physician. Yet, the hurt seven-year-old mind comes alive unpredictably, whispering- “it must be my fault.”
I got a sense of self-efficacy when much older, in high school and beyond. Ultimately regaining my confidence in medical school and now as a practicing psychiatrist helping thousands of children and adults who have been similarly traumatized. Healing others helps me heal.
April is child abuse awareness month. How many of you have been abused? Or seen someone being abused? Or maybe even participated in some way in abusing? We hurt each other, we accept abuse and make it normal. We expect it. If you aren’t already aware, you are likely not looking within. We need to stand up for our children. We need to change the culture of aggression and inculcate compassion.
If you are a child or adolescent reading this, tell an adult that you feel safe with, that you are hurting or have been hurt. If you are an adult caregiver of a child, ask her if she has ever been hit or touched inappropriately by anyone. Let them know that you are there for them. That the world can be scary but doesn’t have to stay that way.
Share your story. It’s time that people reveal their scars and know they are not alone and never will be ever again. Never Again.