Teacher by day, TikToker by night: Bernadette on emotional abuse and her coping mechanisms

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Bernadette is an Australian born, Palestinian, Irish influencer who started her TikTok journey as a COVID-19 hobby, and instantly grew a following. Her videos have had millions of views and shares. One video in particular shared something about her story that many of her followers did not know. We sat down to catch up with Bernadette on emotional abuse, her coping mechanisms, and her TikTok journey.

Favorite Arabic food? 

Mlokhieh

Favorite Arabic song? 

Palestine, Crown on The Head, by Muhannad Khalaf

Typical Palestinian question – where in Palestine are you (your family or roots) from? 

Haifa! Though I still have yet to visit. This summer was supposed to be my first trip but that didn’t happen thanks to COVID-19.

You’re half Irish and half Palestinian. What’s your favorite thing about both cultures? 

Palestinian culture – it would have to be the music and the food. Mlokhieh has to be my favorite Arab dish. It’s the best! 

Irish culture – how relaxed people are. Also, the “craic” is the best thing ever. It’s sort of like to have good banter and a few laughs amongst each other. 

You’re in Australia, your dad is Irish and your mom is Palestinian. When did you start embracing your Palestinian roots?

You’re not going to expect this. In terms of music and language, growing up, I wasn’t as in touch with my roots. I didn’t grow up in a traditional household with the typical Palestinian patriotism. My family were very patriotic but not my mom. I felt denied these experiences because my upbringing didn’t really embrace our Palestinian culture beyond food. It wasn’t until six years ago that I became vividly proud of my roots. I started to realize there’s so much more to the Arab culture than food. I remember once I left home and started to connect more with the rest of my family, everything started to fall in place. I started to listen to our music more, started to learn the language and it all just grew from there. I would say, it was an organic love. As if the pieces of a puzzle, that was myself, just started to all come together. 

What made you decide you wanted to be a primary school teacher? 

I actually did my undergrad in commerce and law (of course, I was convinced I should become a lawyer by my mother!). I then did a postgraduate teaching degree. 

I realized I wanted to be a teacher while I was studying at university. The first thing that made me realize this was that I used to teach my friends what we were studying. I knew that the only way to properly study together was if one of us pretended to be a teacher. The second thing was growing up with teachers who I had a bad experience with, it made me want to be the teacher I always wanted, rather than the ones I had. 

@b3rna_dette

Their laughter at the end just warms my heart! 🙏🏼💕 ##teacher ##teachersoftiktok ##chickenwing ##arab ##comedy

♬ original sound – Berna | برناديت

What made you decide to TikTok? 

I originally started because of COVID-19. I knew that people were talking a lot about it. I had so many funny stories that I enjoyed retelling and sharing with everyone. 

What’s your favorite Tiktok video? 

I literally have no idea. I did the flip switch with my grandparents, and my grandpa wore my grandma’s dress which was pretty funny. 

We asked Bernadette on emotional abuse, and share her journey:

You’ve been very open about having an abusive mother growing up.  Why did you decide to share that story? 

I remember seeing a trend on Tiktok where you showed a before and after photo of yourself. I found a photo showing what I looked like before I left my mom versus now and it allowed me to appreciate my story and how much I’d grown up and changed since then. Someone left a comment asking me if I would share my story. So that was the first time I ever did and it all just grew from there. 

I thought perhaps this might help people who are in the same situation and I wanted them to know it would or could be okay. 

How difficult was it for you to share? 

It was tough reflecting on it. I was crying my eyes out whilst making those videos. When you try to put things in writing – I realized that there were so many painful truths. Retracing those events, it put me mentally back there again. 

What made your mother so abusive? 

It wasn’t a ‘classic’ mother-daughter relationship. Nor was it your traditional protective relationship. Growing up, my mom used me as a little maid  to say the least. I was the only child she had with my father and I wasn’t treated equally as my other half siblings. I really felt like I wasn’t part of the family at all. 

My mother was really violent. Both physically and emotionally abusive.  Physical wounds can heal but the emotional abuse; I’m still struggling to have those scars heal. I’m finding it hard to rewire myself mentally after it all. 

Also, I should point out that the fact that my mother was Arab had nothing to do with the abuse I experienced. It was independent of stereotypes some people may have about Arab parents. 

What made you decide to leave? 

One of my friends watched me over time and noticed I wasn’t in a healthy state of mind. By listening to everything I was going through, they were also getting secondary trauma. They knew about my situation and one day decided to find my father’s number. At this point, I hadn’t actually seen my father since I was a kid. 

How did you leave? 

I contacted my biological father and we soon arranged a day and a time where I’d leave and move in with him. That night I packed some of my things and got all my documents, including my birth certificate. The next morning, I made my mother tea, put on a poker face and then left on my way to university. I told her I had a university presentation that day so I had to leave early. I was so anxious! I couldn’t believe what I was about to do. 

I remember meeting my father that day, so well. He picked me up from my university, put me on the back of his motorcycle and (like a scene from a movie) we rode over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I sat on the back seat whilst a Timbaland song was playing. It was almost magical.   

@b3rna_dette

Since ##tiktok might get banned, reposting what started it all. 💕 ##fyp ##foryou ##arab ##tiktokarab ##middleeastern ##palestine ##trending ##viral ##YLT

♬ original sound – Berna | برناديت

What made you get to where you are? 

It was by force. I read a book that talked about the law of attraction. When I read it, it hit me. It suggested writing down, every day, 10 things you’re grateful for. So when my mom would say something harsh, I’d write down 10 things I was grateful to have. As if to counteract her negativity. I would later tell my students to do the same. 

I’m still slowly trying to consistently be grateful and stay positive, with whatever comes comes my way. 

What advice would you like to give to anyone who might be going through a tough time in their life right now? 

Start acknowledging and writing about what you should be grateful for. Try to not focus all your attention on the negative but rather on the positive as best you can. I genuinely can say that writing what I am thankful for really helped my mental wellbeing. 

This could be one thing you could learn from Bernadette on emotional abuse, and her journey of survival, bravery, and persistance; to take her own destiny into her own hands.

Bernadette’s Instagram

Bernadette’s TikTok

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