Sunday, 30 October 2022

Healing The School Wound

Recently I stumbled across an Instagram post from an unschooling parent, Lucy Aitken-Read, whose blog I really admire.

The post read: "Many of our daily emotions and behaviours are school wounds".

The words struck a chord deep within my soul.

School wound.

I'd never heard that turn of phrase before, but it connected with everything that I have known about myself for many years and everything that I've discovered in my therapy sessions over the last year.

My school experience did wound me. In fact it cut me deeply, on many different occasions and many different levels.

I have recently begun deep diving into my feelings and experiences at school within the safe space of my therapy sessions, and until then I really hadn't been able to grasp just how much of an impact my school experiences had on me...on who I am today, on my everyday behaviours, on the way I feel about myself and the way I present myself to the world.

School was not just the place where I learned to read and write, it was the place where I learned that I'm too much for people.

It was the place where I learned that being too emotional can be an inconvenience to others, and a reason for them to dislike me.

It was the place I learned that being disliked and cast out from the group feels scary and dangerous, and unsafe...and that my survival instinct is to sacrifice my personal comfort for my perceived safety.

As Lucy so eloquently explains in her incredible blog, the school wound can present in numerous different ways for different can show in our reluctance to dedicate time to the pursuit of intentional pleasure rather than productive busyness, it can reveal itself as a hunger for praise and approval.

For me personally, the school wounds I carry manifest themselves as core beliefs about myself...beliefs such as:

I'm too emotional /My emotions make me an inconvenience

I always found it difficult to fit in and be liked. Not only by other children, but by teachers too.

I was the "too much" girl...the child who cried at the drop of a hat, the one who didn't settle well and always wanted her mummy.

I took everything very much to heart, and I felt things very deeply - I remember so clearly trying desperately to literally swallow down my emotions, to try to stop them from escaping and being noticed. To stop my big feelings from inconveniencing people. 

I remember vividly the real physical pain that I felt as I tried to keep my crying on the inside - I remember clearly that sharp sting in my throat as I kept those sobs stuck there, so as not to annoy anybody.

I was always a crier.

From the moment I started primary school, when I kicked and screamed at the teaching assistant who tried to physically drag me away from my mother - I cried daily.

I cried on the way to school - this was inconvenient and irritating to my parents, who probably felt bad about forcing me to go in and just wanted to have a day without the guilt trip.

I cried when I arrived into school - this was inconvenient to the teachers who didn't want their morning assemblies disrupted by my tears and sobs. 

I cried at random throughout the day - again, very inconvenient to the teachers who would roll their eyes at me, sighing and saying things like "Are you crying AGAIN?" or "What's the matter now?!"

I remember certain teachers having me stand up in front of the class while they mocked me for crying for my Mummy.  I remember seeing them huddled together, staring at me while they whispered and made it very clear that they were talking about me...that I was a problem they needed to solve.

I only have one memory of being shown any empathy when I was sad about being at school. 

I was sitting in a school assembly, quietly sobbing to myself because I missed my Mum and I just wanted to go home. I must have been about 5 years old. The teacher leading the assembly was the new substitute head master.

He noticed me crying while he was leading the assembly and instead of ignoring me, he caught my eye and looked concerned. Then he walked over to me, kneeled down in front of me and asked me what the matter was. 

Just as I was about to tell him, one of the other teachers spoke up and him and the rest of the school...."Oh she cries all the time, don't worry about her".

I remember that sinking feeling in my tummy. He walked away and carried on with the assembly, but he kept shooting a kind smile at me every now and then and I'll never forget how reassured I felt ... just from being noticed and acknowledged. 

I'm not likeable / It's dangerous and unsafe to be disliked

I always struggled to make friends. I desperately wanted to - I wanted to be like the kids on TV who had lots of friends to play with, I wanted people to like me and laugh at my jokes and think that I was fun and cool.

But that wasn't who I was.

I was quiet, and shy, and awkward.....and, as we've already covered, I was usually crying! Not exactly someone who draws friends in easily!

I remember how all the other kids used to look forward to playtime, and I remember wishing that I could look forward to it as well - but I dreaded it. Because it meant 15 minutes of walking around, hoping somebody would talk to me or let me play with them, and feeling awkward, embarrassed and lonely.

I remember that same feeling of dread whenever I stood in the PE hall waiting to be picked for someones team, or whenever the teacher said the dreaded words "Ok everyone, get into pairs!".

I remember always being the kid who didn't have a partner for the weekly bus ride to the swimming pool - I remember that empty chair next to me, every single week.

I remember handing out invitations to my birthday party every year, because my Mum always thought that having a big party and inviting the class would help me to make friends - but I just felt terrified that nobody would turn up. 

I remember the feeling of absolute terror whenever my classmates would make it clear that they disliked felt so frightening to be an outsider, because our instincts are that we need to be part of the group in order to to be cast out feels life threatening and dangerous. That instinctual human fear was very much present through my school life.

I cannot do maths

I always found maths hard. I was good at English, I loved to write and I would happily read to myself for hours. I didn't mind having a go at art, and I found history really interesting - but maths was something I just could never make sense of.

I used to try though. I always tried my best, because I always wanted to try and make the teacher like me more by doing it right.

Until one week, when she'd had enough of me not "getting" the fractions we were learning....she made me stand up in front of the class, and she told everybody that I still couldn't do it...even after all the weeks we'd been learning about it. Then she encouraged everybody to laugh at me.

I remember feeling my cheeks flush bright red, and hearing my heart pound in my ears...I remember thinking I might be sick from embarrassment.

From then on, I don't think I ever tried to "get" maths ever again. Even now, no matter how hard I try - as soon as I'm confronted with a maths problem, my brain jumps right to "Nope, you can't do maths remember?".

I have a total block on the subject.

I have to be good at something to justify spending time on it

As an adult, I really struggle to allow myself to do something that I enjoy doing unless I'm good at it.

I discovered during the lockdowns in 2020 that I really love painting pictures. Whether its putting on a Bob Ross video and trying to paint along with him, or just painting something from my own imagination - I find the whole process soothing and so very relaxing.

But I have zero talent for it. 

So I find it really hard to allow myself to spend any time on it, because my brain is hard wired to believe that time spent on a pursuit that I'm not "Good" at is time wasted. 

These really are just the tip of the iceberg. Since starting therapy I've uncovered so many repressed memories from my time at school - from being bullied by peers to being bullied by teachers - it's little wonder to me now that I grew up to have such extreme self doubt and lack of confidence.

But recognising these school wounds gives us the chance to begin the healing process - to start to unpick the knots of who we are and how our early experiences have shaped us, and to unlearn the lessons that were driven so deeply inside of us. To finally set our inner children free.

The frightened little 5 year old inside of me deserves that.

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