Do you ever wonder how we arrive at a place where we don’t trust ourselves? Why do we doubt ourselves? Why do we think that someone else must know better than we do, what is best for us even when we are grown up? And before we get to that place what happens that causes children to so easily accept that they deserve to be treated badly?
This is a story that I hear every day in the lives of others who struggle for freedom and wholeness. This is just one example of how I learned to doubt myself. I guess you could say that I was encouraged to doubt myself from a very young age by the way that I was raised.
I was a very quiet, compliant and sweet kid. I never caused trouble or got into trouble. But for some reason I was completely ready to believe that I was indeed a problem and I carried this belief with me into adulthood and into every relationship I ever had. When I was in grade 5, which would have been when I was 10 years old, I had a teacher who hated me. I don’t remember thinking that she hated me back then, I was too busy trying to please her.
This teacher humiliated me in front of the whole class. She regularly threatened to cut my long braids off if I so much as touched them. When my homework was correct, she told the class that my father must have done it. She said that she didn’t know why I was so slow. I disgusted her! She said a lot of horrible devaluing things that damaged my self esteem and I was deathly afraid of her. She seemed to just spit her venom out at me.
When I told my parents, I was told that I must be exaggerating; that I should respect my teacher. They accused me of lying! There was no protection OR validation to be found from my parents. I didn’t try very hard to get them to listen to me. They had been telling me for years that I was overly dramatic and that I liked to talk to hear myself talk, so I knew that I was wasting my time. Furthermore, I was willing to accept that it must be my fault. Somehow I had done something to make this teacher hate me. I was causing her stress somehow. I believed it.
I was taught to respect my elders by being told that I was lying, that I was exaggerating, that I was dramatic. Worse yet, these statements were made by my parents in smiling gentle tones so I could be told that I misunderstood those reprimands. Respect came to mean that everyone else is right; I am wrong. I believed that I was less valuable then others because I was not heard. I was dismissed. There was no equality. I didn’t even get a say. These things defined me, they became about who I was; a liar, dramatic, an attention seeker.
I got very sick that year. I suppose the stress affected me physically, but there were some things about my illness that caused the paediatrician to gently pry into my emotional life. He asked my parents to leave the room and I remember that he talked to me; he wanted to know about me and he listened to me and it came out about my teacher. I don’t remember all the details, but it resulted in him ordering them to take me out of the class that I was in. He said that if they didn’t, or if the school would not co-operate he would get a lawyer. The teacher was what psychology degree students would classify as emotionally and psychologically abusing me.
I felt guilty that he stuck up for me. I felt unworthy. Deep down I was pretty sure that I was the one that was causing the problem and that now I’d caused my parents embarrassment; they would have to go to the school and get me out of that class. This was a horrific time for me and my dissociation took a different turn that year. I can still remember the internal fight, I constantly questioned myself about whether or not I had made the whole thing up and then in the same breath consoled myself with the fact that my parents told me the teacher confessed everything in a meeting.
I learned to doubt myself way before this teacher abuse thing. I had learned to doubt when I was being abused and where the blame lay by the actions, reactions and teachings of the adults in my life.