The day I finally decided to stand up to bullies

Friday, March 24, 2017 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Not so long ago, a group of nasty girls bullied and intimidated me in private. I was told by a lot of people not to do anything about it.


They said that I shouldn’t make “patol” (go down to their level), that I shouldn’t call attention to what was happening or I would look weak, that I shouldn’t give it a label and call it bullying or I would be exposed for what I was at the time: a victim.


“Huwag pumatol (don’t engage)”

I endured a month of nonstop bullying. I was shamed, ridiculed, pushed around on a daily basis – privately, silently, with me doing very little about it – because I followed the passivist, pseudo-pacifist advice that well-meaning people gave me.

What made it worse was that nobody really knew (except a handful of people who witnessed everything just as silently as I experienced it) that I was being bullied. To everyone else, these bullies were nice girls: As “charismatic” bullies, they were popular and well-loved. (By the way, that’s one of the many ridiculous ways apologists try to justify bullying.)

I was unaware at the time that adult bullies could find ways to hide their nastiness. Some of them would grow up to be popular. You’ve probably met the type – they were the typical mean girls, yet everyone still wanted to be their friend.

“The charismatic bully’s charm is likely to mask any hint of anti-social behavior, thus making them difficult to identify. The charismatic bully can be a student leader, athlete, business executive, or even a politician, for example.” -- Dr. David Rivera, Psychology Today

My flaws and mistakes, which were many, were used to justify these bullies’ microaggressions. Slowly, their snide remarks and the bad things they said about me chipped at my confidence until I started to believe them.

I didn’t want to go to med school anymore. I refused to be on call for days at a time, staying at home and earning 7-day demerits for each day of absence, simply because I was too afraid. The more I skipped my duty hours, the more I gave them reason to bully me.

It was a cycle I couldn’t break.

It was a cycle that broke me.



In a month, I lost 20 pounds. My sadness had eaten away at my body more literally than I thought possible. I didn’t have an eating disorder – I still ate like a trash compactor – but I continued to lose weight.

Speaking of which, that was exactly what I felt like: trash. I felt useless. I felt alone because I didn’t speak out. I felt helpless because I didn’t fight back.

That month, at just 95 pounds despite my five-foot-five height, I marched to the director’s office and handed in a letter saying I couldn’t take it anymore. I filed for an entire year’s leave of absence.

I spent that year asking myself if my fractured soul could take another beating.

I didn’t know if I could go back to med school.

I didn’t know if I would ever graduate from med school.

Just because I kept quiet.


Target, not victim

I assumed the role of a victim longer than I thought was normal, incapable of springing back to my feisty, optimistic old self, because I was beaten down and stepped at so hard that I had shrunk too small and too far inside my own mind.

But let’s call a spade a spade. I wasn’t just a victim. I was a target. Every victim of bullying is.

When my leave was finally over, I went back to school. I was back to my old weight. I eventually did graduate – and with honors, something I remain thankful for to this day given how I almost threw it all away – but it was not without a lot of unconditional love and support from family.

Without them, I might have remained a hollow, damaged version of myself for a long, long time.

This week, I met another bully.


Victim no more

I’ve been bullied so bad before. It turned out fine, what with me realizing I wasn’t meant to be in the field I started out on, but the experience made me learn a lot about bullying… including how to spot a bully.

And guess what? I met another one just this week.

bullyA cyberbully singled me out, hunted me down on Facebook, and sent me nasty private messages. He harassed me privately and told me to shut up.

This time, I fought back. I exposed him for what he was and confronted him online. (I didn’t know him personally, so confronting him face-to-face was neither advisable nor safe.)


I was surprised, however, at the deafening silence of my friends. Very few made an effort to reach out.

As hours rolled by, I realized that people aren’t ready to handle bullying – not as victims, nor as witnesses.


Spectator shame: When witnesses enable bullies through their silence

All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing, so the saying goes.

This is why witnesses are asked to testify. This is why people show their support for people who have been abused, harassed, and terrorized.

Why aren’t people showing support for victims of bullying?

I realized that bullying, although present since time immemorial, has only been recently identified as a social phenomenon. The word bully itself used to mean “lover” or “sweetheart”!

While the word “rape” has already been used in a negative context since the 14th century, it wasn’t until the 17th century when the word “bully” started to mean “harasser”.

To this day, rape still carries with it an unfair stigma. Although we have made progress here and there, many victims of rape are still shushed and silenced.

Bullying, which didn’t even earn its name until 300 years after rape did, is not faring any better. Targets of bullying are asked not to make any fuss (“huwag pumatol”), to let bullies be (“hayaan mo na lang”), and to hope against hope that bullies soon stop their attacks (“magsasawa din yan”).

Victim-shaming, a come-what-may attitude, and a defeatist mentality add up to spectator shame, wherein witnesses enable bullies through their silence.

If you know why we shouldn’t keep quiet when it comes to rape, then we shouldn’t keep quiet when it comes to bullying.

Here’s something else that rape and bullying have in common.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!