As a teacher I can remember the times when a child in your class would come into your class and try not to show the bruise on his arm or the cut on his leg.
Notes were made and discussions were had with my Teaching Assistant. Keep an eye out for Johnny, ask him some questions in a chatty sort of way, what did he do at the weekend? Was he feeling alright? See if he tells you anything, but no leading questions about whether big brother punched him or dad whipped him with a belt. We knew the letter of the law and understood just how delicate an area all of this “abuse” thing could be.
But what about the taunts by the bullies out of school? What about your mum’s latest boyfriend telling you for the thousandth time that you were rubbish and that you had no future and why don’t you just pack your belongings and leave the rest of them in peace?
STICKS AND STONES. How many times have we all been told that lie?
I am, at the moment, reading an excellent book by Matthew Lieberman called “Social“. Lieberman is a pioneer in what is called Social Cognitive Neuroscience. The subtitle to the book is “Why our brains are wired to connect”.
The main argument in the book is that we evolved as social beings and that much of our life is driven by the need to connect with others. There is though a dark side to this hypothesis. If connection is good then disconnection, abuse, isolation, indeed anything that cuts us off from our peers hurts. It doesn’t just cause us mental pain, according to Lieberman, it is as painful as real pain and indeed he even posits that Paracetamol, a common pain killer,can be taken to alleviate the very real pain that we feel because of the words, deeds, events that have happened to us.
The interesting thing though is that, although we may bear the scars of a physical hurt or abuse, we do not show the real pain that we feel when we are abused verbally or are isolated and made to feel different or odd or somehow freakish in our peer group or our family.
The mental scars though can often outlive the physical. They cannot be covered over or treated and they can last with us for a very long time.
I thought about this the other day, when a friend and colleague made a very brave statement on Facebook, about the fact that, three years ago, she tried to commit suicide a number of occasions. She stated that the primary cause of this was bullying by her Principal in the school that she loved teaching in and it was obvious that the scars of that event were still very raw in her mind.
She stated that she did not write the post to elicit the huge amount of support and sympathy that she received, but to make us all think about the reality of bullying. I think that the mental scars are often neglected when this horrible subject rears its ugly head. But we must think of this.
Lieberman is correct, the mental pain is very real pain and the scars are real but not seen. We cannot allow so many people to suffer (it happens to adults as well as children and often in their place of work).
There may be those, reading this post, who will flinch with the remnants of a pain that comes from the scar that someone inflicted upon you mentally in the past. We need to accept that these are real scars and never ever come out again with that awful lie…
STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES BUT WORDS CAN NEVER HARM ME.