Friday, September 14, 2007

school trauma flashbacks

I'm amazed at how much trauma we experience in high school. I recently ran into someone from my graduating class, and we spent some time talking. She mentioned the rough time she had in school: backstabbing "friends", social pressures, conformity problems, and a whole host of petty miseries. I was surprised by her revelations; she was one of the very popular people, pretty and smart and well-dressed, and she moved in enviable social circles. I had never really thought about the problems the extremely popular people had to experience as part of their lives. Me? I was on stage crew, displayed an utter lack of fashion sense, and was rather a jerk in school; my social problems were of a different sort than hers. And, while I can respect that popularity can carry a fair amount of misery with it, unpopularity is worse in most respects*.

I think I was also surprised by the revelation that some of the trauma she experienced in school is still echoing in her adult life. I get little echoes myself, now and again. I've dealt with all the problems I had in high school, or at least most of them. But occasionally I'll notice something -- an instinctive reaction to circumstances, or an odd viewpoint -- that on reflection is rooted in some school-age trauma. For instance, I just recently caught myself doing some social planning with the assumption that I'm a little embarrassing to be associated with in formal situations. I don't think, empirically, that this is true; I clean up pretty well, my wife picks out some nice dressy clothing for me, and I'm a decent conversationalist. Nonetheless, I caught myself working from the unchallenged assumption that I'm too scruffy and undesirable to associate with, and that people would be happier if I hid in the background a bit. It took me some thinking to take a guess at the root of this attitude. And, of course, it was school-age trauma I picked up in Catholic-school junior high. It makes me wonder: how many other school-age personality quirks and bad assumptions am I carrying around? How many quirks does everyone carry around with them from school-age misery?

* We get a bit of the same logic as adults; we're told that the rich have their problems too, that their lives aren't all sunny and glorious. But it rings hollow. I think we all get the idea that while the rich might have problems, none of them would trade their problems for those of poor people. Sure, it's hard to find true friends or a trustworthy housecleaning service. But eating ramen or cereal for dinner every night, not being able to afford a doctor's visit, and agonizing over which bills to leave unpaid is worse.


Jennifer B. said...

It makes me wonder: how many other school-age personality quirks and bad assumptions am I carrying around? How many quirks does everyone carry around with them from school-age misery?

I know that I still carry around a lot of assumptions about myself that I received as "fact" in middle school. I consider myself, to this day, as an introvert - regardless of how inaccurate the term due to the feeling that it is better if I keep everything to myself than to share it with the world. I also feel that the first thing people will notice about me is how I LOOK, not who I AM. It is a very hard thing to unlearn these idiosyncrasies that LOGICALLY do not hold true. Yet, I still fight those perceptions within myself.

I, too, was a loner and hung out on the fringe. I can remember an acquaintance telling me they would be my friend, but not while we were at school, and I was willing to accept that just to HAVE a friend.

As an adult, I feel I am still trying to overcome feelings that were created more than 22 years ago. We're in such a formidable stage in junior/senior high and words from peers, however hollow, tend to shape and mold the person we become.

I adore you, and I never saw you as scruffy or unapproachable. You were an inspiration to me to become more confident of my SELF as is, and to walk tall and be proud of that. Thank you for that! *hugs* :) :)

Jeff Mountjoy said...

I think that most reasonably self-aware people could track down a lot of their personality quirks to some early-years trauma. I think just being aware of the connection helps a lot; I was in my mid-twenties when I figured out how much I was still carrying around that was based on the opinions and actions of sixth-graders. And once I realized that, it was almost embarrassing to keep defining little parts of my life that way. Still, every so often, I'll find myself reacting to something in a way that doesn't mesh with who I'd like to think I am, and after some pondering I'll figure out I'm still being influenced by my youth.

I'm also amazed at how many of the problems we have in life as we get older are the same problems we had when we were kids. Finding good friends gets harder, if anything, as we get older. And we still try (some of us) to figure out what we're going to do when we Grow Up.

Jen -- you're truly a person of quality, and you've got a lot to be proud of. I'm glad I got to know you. And, I'm glad I was a good influence on someone at the stage in my life when we met. :-)