Tales of a wandering lesbian

So high school

This is a little theory I’ve been testing out.  It’s part 2 of the Emotional Non-Violence series.  Let me know what you think.  Also, I’m not a psychologist, but still…

Psychologists say that when a person suffers trauma, a part of them freezes at that point, trapping the person in that moment and forcing them to relive the trauma over and over until it’s dealt with.  It’s a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Really.  If someone is emotionally or physically abused as a child, part of them stays a child until the abuse is dealt with.  (I know I’m simplifying, but bear with me.)  For me, and I think for a lot of people, some of the worst emotional abuse I’ve suffered came during junior high and high school.  It’s almost laughable – except that it’s not.

Think about how many times in our grown-up lives something happens with friends, or with co-workers that makes us think of high school.  How often do we use those exact words: “this is so high school”?  There’s a reason.

Once I realized that we’re all having some giant, collective form of PTSD, it started explaining a lot of the bizarre interactions I kept having.  Ones that didn’t seem to work for me anymore.

For a long time, I related to women (and probably men too) the same way I related to them in junior high.  I was the outsider – the uncool one who didn’t fit in.  Only, as an adult, nobody knew it.  And I didn’t want them to.

In my grown-up life, I was the lawyer, the athlete, the woman who was going to run for president.  The one who was in a ton of leadership positions.  I was.  Only the fear I had of being found out or left out dominated my interactions with coworkers.   So I’d sell people out.  If I saw someone getting thrown under the bus, that was fine.  I might even help, because at least it wasn’t me.  But it didn’t feel good.  And I didn’t really understand why I was doing it, which was frustrating.  It’s not like I wanted to be a jerk.

I finally realized what was going on when I found myself projecting onto a coworker who felt left out of lunch invitations and happy-hour get-togethers.  I stood up for her; wanted her to feel included.  Even when I didn’t want to invite her, I didn’t want to be the one not inviting her.

Because I was her.

Yes, if people were talking about each other at work, I’d join in.  I was afraid to be left out of that social experience.  But when it came to the actual invitation to be included, the exact type of emotional trauma I suffered in high school, I was put powerfully back into my 16 year-old self, afraid of not being included, and at the same time not wanting anyone else to feel left out.

And I started to understand.

It happened with my friends, as well.  Every time I was left off of an invitation it was like walking past the photo station at my Junior Prom and finding every one of my friends taking a group shot without me.  All of them smiling at the photographer that I’d hired, as I shuttled the punch and the cake and counted the cash, trying to forget that there was an unclaimed ticket waiting for my date at the front door.  I was Junior Class President.  Not so different from being chair of a city commission or a political committee, really.

The more I saw this happening with me, the more I understood that we’re all stuck there in a form of collective PTSD, reliving our high-school wounds.  Torturing each other the way we did in high school.  Or torturing each other the way we were tortured.  Talking about the neighbors, or selling out co-workers.  Doing whatever it takes to be included, to feel part-of.  Even at the expense of others.  We’re stuck – until we realize what it is we’re doing, and why it is we’re doing it.

And then we get to choose.

Because there’s something that happens when we see each other as “cool” or “uncool,” as “part of” or “left out”.  We buy into a dynamic, a power-structure that has been set up long before we get there.  One we’ve been a part of for a very long time.  One that’s an accepted part of our daily lives.  And one that’s violent.

That’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow.

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March 15, 2010   1 Comment