I was never the popular girl at school. I had one, or maybe two friends, but mostly I stayed to myself and slunk around trying to be invisible, a little like my new kitten, Oscar. I envied popular girls. They seemed to be so much more confident, smart and pretty than me, and everyone wanted to be with and like them. In particular, I remember one popular girl in high school. She teased me and called me names, especially when her group of groupies gathered around. Mostly anti-Semitic type names. It hurt to the core, and I tried to keep out of the way when I could. Even as I think back to those times, I feel a surge of anger. I wish I had had the strength at least to ask someone for help. But, I think I might have been ashamed, and as I still do, probably thought they were right about me, or that I had done something, just by being me, to deserve their scorn. As I reflect back fifty years ago, I still feel those painful feelings as poignantly as I did then, as a young teenager in my old Rhodesian high school. High school was not a happy time for me. Mostly, I felt threatened and afraid, but, more importantly, I felt that I could not match up to all those people ever so much more beautiful, confident, and smarter than me.
Lately, I find myself confronting all those past, painful emotions once again. They have been welling up almost daily since my trip to Italy in October, where I was faced with similar kinds of behaviors and reactions from a person I thought had been close to me. It was devastating for me, and those feelings have remained with me until now. It surprises and dismays me to experience such ancient emotions now at the ripe old age of 63! As soon as I sense a twinge of anger at having been treated badly, that old shame floods in as it used to when I was a young girl back in Africa, struggling to fit in, find a place, or feel belonging. The same old ancient shame that the person was right about me, or that I had done something, just by being me, to deserve their scorn.
Everyone needs attention and acknowledgement. It is not something to be ashamed about. As I look at the inner child in me, as a teacher or counselor, I understand what I needed and did not receive as a child. The more I learn these things about myself, the more I realize how critical our relationships with young children are. Especially with regards to neglect. Young children need attention from us in order to learn about their identity and self worth. When they are quiet, or try to make themselves invisible, we need to seek them out, and remind them how valuable they are to us. There are many children out there strutting and showing off their smarts and talents. That is their style of seeking acknowledgment. They know how to snatch up the attention they need from people around them, probably having learned at an early age to compete for their parent's acknowledgement, just as withdrawing children learned to keep their heads down, or stay out of the way of the unpredictable or violent rages of their parents.
Still, it is remarkable, really, how such old habits and ancient feelings still affect me when I am becoming as old as the hills. When I look at myself objectively and realistically, I see an accomplished older woman, who contributes to improving the emotional lives of so many children and their teachers around the country. I write, teach, and give presentations and workshops all over the nation, even internationally.
And yet, when someone is mean to me, I collapse in a heap, as distraught as I used to be when I was thirteen or fourteen years old!
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Resolutions