Thursday, July 7, 2016

What Lies Beneath

"First thing is first," the over-eager young woman said to me. "I want to learn how to control my anger."

After listening to her explain how she no longer wanted to have explosions and get into fights with her loved ones, I indicated that I knew exactly how to help, but that the answer would likely confuse her. She assured me she was up for whatever I had to say.

"Well," I began. "You're not actually angry when you have an outburst."

Silence filled the room. "What do you mean?" She asked.

I followed with my patented schpeil about how anger is a secondary emotion. I explained that anger sits on the surface, and carries with it a variety of externalizations that are easy to act upon. We discussed how angry people often act without thinking, because anger doesn't require thought. She stayed with me, but insisted that her experiences were solely anger.  So, I did what any self-respecting adult does when kids decide they don't know what they're talking about. I bet her a candy bar that I was right.

"Tell me about the last time you got really angry," I invited.

She provided a detailed account of an argument that occurred the night before when her brother had teased her for being forgetful and disorganized.

"Do you like being forgetful?" I asked
"Not really."
"What about being disorganized, is that something you're proud of?"
"I don't mind really," she insisted.
"Does it seem like it gets in your way though?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do your organizational skills make you successful, or unsuccessful?" I asked. I suggested she consider her follow through on homework, her grades, how often she gets in trouble at home, and what for. 
"It makes me unsuccessful, I guess."
"Do you like to be reminded of that?"
She shook her head.
"Hmm, so there's some shame there huh?"
"Yeah!" She responded passionately.
"And what happens when you feel ashamed?"
"It makes me mad," she said.

I didn't make her buy me a candy bar. Instead, we talked about what would have happened if she had chosen to tell her brother about her hurt feelings rather than explode on him. How that might have impacted her reaction, and if he would have received the information in a way that felt emotionally safe for her. Then, we went on to another example of a time she felt angry, and another. Slowly, we pulled out that her anger outbursts really stemmed from feeling incapable, unsupported, and unheard.

In later meetings, she and I worked to define a wide range of emotions so that she could enhance her understanding of how discomfort and pain can vary more widely than black and white; angry or not. Then, I told her about times I felt angry, and had her guess what feeling I was hiding from her. She made a lot of progress.

Did she stop feeling anger all together? Of course not.

Anger, as I have told her repeatedly, is a normal human emotion. We all feel it, and that's okay. The problem is that we often forget to listen to anger. It makes us communicate in ways that we can't hear ourselves, and others don't want to listen to us. This causes more problems than it resolves. Before we know it, we are angry because we are angry, and the original pain is so deeply buried under a colossal pile of anger that we feel suffocated. The trick to resolving that is to reframe our understanding of anger. We need to learn that anger is a cue to listen harder, to ourselves, and to those around us.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Evolution of Imagination

"Um..could we go for a stroll?"  A delayed adolescent boy asked me one day.   Of course I agreed, and as we walked he asked, “do you like imagination games?” 

I replied with a resounding, “I LOVE imagination games!”

“Would you like to play my imagination game?”

If you’ve read my blog before (which you might not have because it’s been literally forever since I’ve met you all here) this probably sounds like the beginning of my perfect afternoon. Time spent outside, with a kiddo, playing an imagination game, and exploring the themes he develops and works through.  Um…yes please!

Unfortunately, this didn’t go the way I expected.  The young teen walked me down to the football field, and proceeded to tell me the rules to “the game I play in my head.”   The game was called “Clash of Clans,” and if you’re thinking that this is a game that already exists in tableland.  You’re right where I am.  Open-minded and optimistic, but confused.

***For the reader’s information - As I understand it, Clash of Clans is the new equivalent to a point and click adventure.  While there is a back story and one or more goals, the overall action of the game is to “tap” on different parts of the map in order to collect whatever it is they are collecting.  In order to play it, you basically sit and watch the game play itself until it has produced something you can “tap” on. Get it?  Cool.  On with the story!

Kiddo explains to me that we need to build the town barracks, fortress, or some unspecified medieval edifice.

“So,” he says, “first we need to collect wood by chopping down those trees!”  He points toward the northwest corner of our line of sight, at about 50 degrees from midline.

“Great!” I energetically declare, as I grip my make believe axe and start to swing.

“No, no!” he reprimands, as though I’m missing the obvious.  “You just tap here and slide it.” Kiddo then proceeds to “select” the same area he indicated prior, and slides it horizontally on the same plane.  This is when I realize that the game he plays in his head is just that.  It is a literal game, that he is playing in his head. What happens next involves me essentially gaping at him as he seems to project an invisible giant tablet into the foreground of his line of sight, and continues to “tap” and “select” unforeseen areas of the map in order to achieve some inexplicable goals. 

He narrates the whole thing for me.  At times he asks for me to take on a task.  He gets annoyed that I attempt to act it out and explains to me, again as if I were an idiot, that I simply need to tap the thing in the air I cannot see. In theory, I should be tracking it.  It’s not all that complex.  Instead, I notice my heart sinking. I feel helpless. I become slightly annoyed with this game that “we” are playing.  Suddenly, I start looking around for excuses to interrupt the game.  I grapple with the tension between improving our relationship by allowing him to play, or impeding our relationship by sitting with him for a full hour, irritated with our activity.  Eventually I claimed a mixture of “it’s too bright outside for my eyes” (a lame but true fact for those of us with blepharitis and no sunglasses) and “I think you should get back to class so you don’t miss anything.”

Over the next several weeks I struggled with this memory.  I love the unexpected and imaginative things that kids do in their minds.  It is my favorite when they invite me to witness it.  I should find this delightful!  So, why did I find it so off-putting?

It wasn’t until recently that I put it all together.  I was sitting with a different delayed pre-adolescent.  I was observing him to use jenga blocks to create an entire world.  In front of me evolved what looked like a cityscape.  The same wooden blocks were used as mortar and as character.  Blocks spoke to one another, while more blocks constructed skyscapes around them.  I was, to say the least, captivated.  This was incredible.  This kiddo was using his imagination to work out issues.  The conversation between his humanoid blocks was rather unintelligible.  I have no idea if they were discussing world piece, impact of trauma on world view, or just what ice cream they both like, but it doesn’t matter.  This kid was practicing some very useful skills. Whether or not he was aware of it, he was testing the limits of reality, by using his imagination to play out some dynamic scenario. 

This is play with a purpose.  It is how we learn about ourselves and the world, and it’s crucial.  Many species do this.  All you need to do is turn on national geographic, and you are eventually bound to see some video of a polar bear, a lion cub, or tiger pup using play to practice very necessary survival skills.

That’s the difference.  The mind tablet lacked utility.  Kiddo was not using play in the way it was developmentally intended.  He was not practicing social skills.  There were no social skills being used. The game was entirely one sided.  Even when I participated, I had no idea what was going on, and he typically ended up taking over for me.  He wasn’t working through survival skills.  The clashing clans were warring with one another and protecting their territory, but Kiddo just “watched” and then “tapped” when it was over.  The only thing I can see him learning from this process is patience.  The work was definitely not hard, and the topics were flagrantly simple. 

My sadness and irritation then comes to the question of why?  Play exists to help us learn, and kids are incredibly adaptive.  Which, means that this kiddo has got to be working through something, and I don’t understand it.  This leaves me wondering if I have reached that very depressing aspect of adulthood when I no longer understand “kids these days.” Or worse, is this the work of modern children?  Is it becoming a 2-dimensional and nonreciprocal world of “sit and wait,” or “tap and slide”? How painfully sad would it be if children physically reenacting stories turned instead into watching flat projections that no one can see and engage them with? Is our thinking becoming more and more 2-dimensional? Or have I lost my ability to connect?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Having come down with something, I took today off from work.  With no responsibilities other than to improve my well-being, I slept in until 11am. I then got up, and planted myself on the couch.  I laid there, watching tv, and falling in and out of consciousness all day.  (I'm pretty sure I took two naps). With all that rest in my body, all I can think about is time.

In the last year, it seems like something shifted, and there's no more time any longer.  My New Year's resolution was to finally begin reading for fun. Since grad school was over and I'd gotten into a routine at work, it seemed that there was finally time to read for pleasure.  Well, I've been slowly chipping away at the same piece of KidLit since then.  I have a to do list in my brain a mile long.  Every time I think I'm close to completing it, another life changing thing adds on to it.  It just seems that there's no time for it to ever be complete

Don't get me wrong, I love my life.  I'm pretty freaking happy with how things are evolving, but that's just the thing!  My world is constantly evolving and changing, and at some point in the last year it picked up the pace. Suddenly, I can't keep up with it.  As I try to, I'm reminded of all the time I've lost track of.

Growing up is a process that we so often forget to observe.  We get so easily drawn up into the drama of daily life.  Before we know it we are rushed down a stream of bill paying, dish washing disputes, un-laundered clothes, car payments, and broken headlights.  We get bogged down by the necessities of the holidays, and planning the traditional milestones of our lives that we don't even allow ourselves to notice the time passing by. 

Today was perhaps the first in months that I have allowed myself to lay in silence and savor the time.  Congested and achey, I provided myself with a long overdue stillness to appreciate the time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Only Constant

As a little girl, I enjoyed merry-go-rounds.  I would find quiet moments on playgrounds to sneak off to the spinning structure, swiftly run around it, jump aboard, and lay down.  As the world spun frantically and madly around me, I'd close my eyes and focus intently on the wind rushing through my hair, the air passing crossed my face, and the sense of movement all around me while I lay their motionless.  In the midst of my frenzied and ever-revolving surroundings, I was still.

Just as the younger me spent hours attempting to root myself in an moving and changing climate, the older me frequently attempts to find consistency amongst change.

This is a difficult task, and it's a task many of us take on.  Over and over again, we learn that the one thing we can invariably count on is that there will be change.  Like it or not, things will be as they are until they aren't.  Sometimes we know that change is coming. At times we fear it.  Other times we anticipate it.  Some of us hunker down.  We put our feet in the ground, and we refuse to move with the change.  We get stuck, and fall behind.  Then there are those of us who attempt to control the change.  We try to force it.  Knowing growth will come, we apply pressure to our circumstances in an attempt to coerce the change into something that is predictable and expected.

Our varied reactions are a result of discomfort. Change is hard. As a young professional first entering the world of mental health, this was my mantra.  I found myself labeling this for kids, parents, and colleagues frequently.  Change is hard, and we so rarely allow ourselves to acknowledge that.  We want to be okay with change.  We need to "be chill" and roll with the punches, but it sucks and we invalidate that all the time.

Change is a fact of life.  Our brains and bodies are constantly growing and stretching.  The seasons change, and bring a multitude of weather systems.  People come and go.  Buildings go up.  Trees fall down.  The ground moves.  The waves crash.  The world spins...endlessly.

All we can do is look for an opportunity to hop on the merry-go-round, be still, and experience the changes as they come.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Turning Five

Image found here
 Recently I found myself seated across a distressed mother asking for my advice.  We were discussing her resilient daughter's most recent birthday.  She turned five earlier this year, and though she was a bit eccentric this girl was particularly normal.  Yet, because of my career path and educational background this mom, like many other parents in my social circle, felt the need to seek out my knowledge.  ̶ This is beginning to happen at increasing intervals.  It's as though my job reminds people that they could mess up their children, and they need to confirm whether or not they have as soon as they are aware it's a possibility.  Fortunately, this has come largely from the well-intended and, albeit neurotic, healthy members of my community.  So, I get to smile and listen to cute stories, and reassure people that their child is alright and any screw-ups made obvious are what I like to call "normal."

On this particular occasion, this nervous mother comes to me to ask my opinion of an apparently odd behavior her child had engaged in the night before her fifth birthday.  She explains that their family tradition mandated that she read each child a birthday story and tuck them in the night before their birthday. However, on this particular birthday, this woman's daughter struggled with her nightly routine.  She power struggled over tooth-brushing, and dawdled in picking out her jammies.  This was, evidently, atypical for this little girl.  She, unlike most children, had no issue with getting ready for bed, and in fact seemed to enjoy the daily routine.  So, my friend was understandably confused when this particularly special nightly routine took upwards of an hour.

But she muscled through it, as all good parents do.  She summoned the patience to apply and reapply toothpaste in just the right quantity.  She tolerated being targeted with whining words as she calmly brushed her daughter's hair, and she maintained composure as the young girl tried on every single set of pajamas in her dresser. After all, this was tradition.  It was the eve of her baby girl's fifth birthday, and she couldn't be more proud of this bossy little girl in front of her.

Eventually, they got everything all settled.  She tucked her daughter in, and read her the birthday story.  When she was all done, she closed the book and repositioned to look directly at her daughter.

"Tomorrow morning," she whispered lovingly, "you're going to wake up, and you'll be five years old."

She intended to go on further, explaining the excitement and pageantry planned for the day, but she didn't get to.  This tireless mother paused because something did not seem quite right.  She looked at her little girl, and saw that her widened eyes were full to the brim with tears.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

All at once, this soon-to-be kindergartener wailed out "I don't want to be five!"  Before she could even respond, the little girl threw herself in her mother's arms sobbing and heaving.  Streams poured out of her eyes, and she repeated in gasping breaths, "I- don't- want - to - be fi-ive!"

Just like any good mother does, she wrapped her arms around her daughter, perplexed by her reaction but modeling self-soothing through tacit and rhythmic shhhushh-ing.  After some time, the little girl began to calm.  Her tears slowed, and her breathing regulated.  The mother waited another minute or so, and then quietly asked "why don't you want to be five?"

And the little girl responded with the answer that would make this mother later wonder what she had done wrong. "Because," she answered, "when you're five, you're a big girl, and I don't want to be a big girl.  I like being four.  I like all my toys, and I like being at home with you.  I don't want to be five."

"What do you make of that?  What does that mean?"  This mother asked me not too long ago, looking for my diagnostic impression of her child.

"It means you've got a smart kid," I said, and I really meant it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Readiness to Change

I give my dad a lot of flack and some mild public flogging for the excessively rational manner in which he raised me.  My all time favorite thing to razz him about is the time he tried to coax a much younger me off the side of a mountain by telling me I could choose to stay there forever.  As an adult, I think back on this encounter and cannot believe someone would say something like that to a child.  However, it was so effective that I have since made it my goal to attempt this paradoxically supportive intervention.

Image found here

Several years ago I saw my first opportunity.  I was working with an oppositional 6 year old boy.  We had gone out to a special playground for the afternoon.  At some point in the day, he had managed to climb down into the middle of a cylindrical ladder and was pretending to be a caged prisoner.  When it was time to leave for the day, we cued all the children to line up.  After the chaos of transition, we counted all the little heads and determined we were one short. When I went to find him, he was claiming to be "stuck" inside the barred structure; citing fear to leave. I did what I could to support and encourage him, but it quickly became apparent that his "fear" was more related to a distaste for the end of play time.  So, I changed my tact.

"Look dude," I said. "The way I see it, you have two choices.  You could choose to stay out here forever, bu-"
"Fine," he cut me off.
Startled, I stammered "but, like, what if you have to go to the bathroom?"
"Okay," he said flatly. He was still fairly young and thus unconcerned with voiding outside a restroom.
"Um...who's going to feed you though?"
"I don't know," he said with a startling degree of ambivalence. The idea that someone might not was not a reality in his mind.

I attempted to persuade him into seeing that there were better choices available to him.  However, his developmental state did not allow for getting past the idea that he could choose to stay on the playground forever.  I had inadvertently given him permission to defy my expectations. We were screwed. Ultimately, I admitted defeat, and wound up calling my supervisor for back up. She came right out and began the slow but ominous count to three. Problem solved.

Lesson learned. The intervention is a particularly complex one that requires a significant degree of skill and the right kind of child to be able to hear the underlying message. So, I tucked it back into my memory and set it aside for refinement and later use.

Then the time came.

Not long ago, I found myself hanging out with a particularly anxious young woman who had recently learned of an upcoming transition. We sat together as she lamented the difficulty inherent in change.  I listened to her express fear of possible failure upon adjusting to something new.  I validated her feelings and praised her for past ability to manage herself; attempting to remind her this was not her first experience with change. She continued to evidence worries and concerns to the tune of "what if I can't do it?" "What if nobody likes me?" "What if it's hard?" "What if it's scary?" Allowing me to challenge her on all of these concerns but not yet feeling confidence in herself, she joking declared that she was going to wrap her arms around a nearby structural pillar and refuse to leave her present location.

"You could definitely try it," I smiled.
"Really?!" She looked at me with widened eyes, baffled by my response.
"In fact," I offered up. "let's do it together."  I stood up and started to walk towards the identified pillar.  My friend remained stationary; staring at me with a perplexed expression.
"But you know," I stopped and turned back toward her.  "What are we going to do when you get hungry?"
She shrugged.
"I mean, I guess we could probably arrange for someone to bring you food, but that's probably going to make you feel guilty.
No response, minus a slight smile.
"And, what about when you have to go to the bathroom?"
She knit her eyebrows and slumped her shoulders, an expression I had grown to recognize as irritation with a good point. So, I sat back down and continued in a playful manner.
"Even if we figure that out, eventually the paint on the building is going to chip. Then you're going to get paint chips in your hair, and the maintenance team is probably going to need to fix it, which will result in them trying to physically pry you off, and that sounds awkward."

Her affect started to brighten. Together we began to laugh and joke about the various different factors that would make her release her grip on the building.  As the conversation dwindled, I looked her in the eye and delivered the moment of insight I had come to after that cold day on the mountain so many years ago:

"My point is, no matter how bad you want to hang on, eventually something will happen and you will feel ready to let go. It may not be because you want to, and it may not be until after it happens, but eventually you're going to realize that you were ready for a change."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Forcing the Fairy Tale

One of the more memorable children I have encountered was a young woman who had a strong affinity for cosmetics.  Much of our time together was spent discussing the pitfalls of my eyeliner, or the decorations on her nails.  She enjoyed experimenting, and was quite skilled with her materials.  This type of rapport building was necessary, as this adorable and likable child was incredibly insecure.  She had been raised in poverty and neglect.  Described as "the neighborhood child," she spent much of her childhood providing for herself as her ailing caregiver slowly perished in front of her.  As a young child, she tended for the one adult she had to love, and fed herself by journeying to the houses of unsuspecting neighbors who took pity on her.
Image found here

When this phase of her life regrettably came to a close, she was transported in the middle of the night to a family friend's house where she was told she had to stay with no explanation of why or what had happened.  She then lived in transition, without acceptance and space for her grief.  She was shuttled repeatedly between households of adults who believed her to be a burden and treated her as such.  Forgetting her lack of proper parenting, and refusing to acknowledge her own emotional reaction to loss, disruption, and distress, she was forced to abide by rigid and irrelevant rules.

While in my care, she lamented the world around her.  Expressing that adults, well intended and not, had instructed her to believe that the world was an awful place.  She'd been coached to radically accept that life sucks, and it never gets better.  She was in a pivotal place in her life in which she was attempting to construct her own independence within a framework of dismay and artificial hope.

She sought my guidance often about what to expect for the future.  I joined with her in frustration for the "supports" she'd been given, and attempted to convince her that it didn't have to be that way.  I spent hours being real with her, telling her that life gets better, while admitting that it always remains hard.  She listened attentively.  It was a nice story that she liked to hear.  She wanted me to tell it over and over again, but for her that's all it was. It was a fairy tale that I was desperately wanting her to buy into. 

We parted some time ago.  I sent her on her way, set up with as much as I could give her, but knowing it was not enough to fill the unhealed wound that was her childhood.  Though I would continue to think about her, I had to accept that it was likely the last time I'd see her.

Until I recently re-encountered her in a circumstance I cannot fully explain, except to say that there was a stage and an open mic.  I had seen her early on, sitting in the crowd by herself; her hair hanging in perfectly curled ringlets that covered her face.  Near the end of the event, she got up quietly and made her way to the stage.  While up there, she caught my eye and we exchanged amused expressions.  She seated herself cautiously, gripping the mic with a shaking hand, and sang a melancholic version of Payphone by Adam Levine.

I found myself misty eyed as I watched this young woman nervously sing. As she crooned the following words, I was transported to visions of that poor little girl extracted from a situation without explanation and given to people who would not allow her to process her loss.

"I know its hard to remember the people we used to be. Its even harder to picture, that your not here next to me.  You say its too late to make it, but is it too late to try, and in that time that you wasted all of our bridges burnt down. I've wasted my nights.  You turned out the lights.  Now, I'm paralyzed. Still stuck in that time when we called it love, but even the sun sets in paradise.  I'm at a payphone trying to call home.  All of my change,  I spent on you. Where have the times gone? Baby it's all wrong.  Where are the plans we made for two?  If happy ever after did exist, I would still be holding you like this.  All of those fairy tales are full of it."

When she finished, she smiled bashfully at the crowd and returned to her seat.  As she passed me by, I couldn't help but reach out and touch her shoulder.  She startled and turned toward me.

"That was beautiful," I whispered.

She widened her eyes, reached out both of her arms, and crashed into my shoulder.  For just a moment, I gave a tight squeeze back.  When she released, we exchanged bittersweet smiles before going our separate ways.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Commitment Issues

Image found here
Let me first start by apologizing for my prolonged and unexplained absence.  I had an unexpected change to my work schedule that resulted in a lot of late appointments and difficulties rearranging my day to day needs. 

This came at a bad time in terms of my writing progress.  I was feeling like I just finally got back in the swing of things.  My recent blogs were sounding and feeling less forced than they had been.  Then, bam! Change of schedule.  My routine broke up, and now I'm out of practice again.

To be totally honest, this frustrates me.  Just a few years ago I found myself to be frustrated with my blogging peers for their own intermittent commitment to their "passion."  At the time, I was following multiple internet authors, and gaining information about the process of running a blog.  I found that I enjoyed the predictability of regularly scheduled blogs, and the writing quality seemed to improve with blogs that posted frequently.  So, when the posters I followed began to slowly trickle off the internet I declared confidently to myself: "I will never do that."

Certain I could sustain such a problem, I trudged forward with a goal of weekly posting.  Thus began Monday Musings.  And, I was fairly successful with it.  For over a year I faithfully published a post every Monday.  Then came my graduate thesis and my internship, and a hiatus seemed in order.  It was with great displeasure that I announced my break from Leaving Neverland to finalize my academic pursuits.  The plan was always to resume weekly blogs once I earned my degree.  However, I'm clearly not holding strong to that plan.  My epic writers block and jam-packed schedule have made blogging and book-writing take a back seat, and I hate how this looks.  It would seem like I no longer care about this endeavor, and the truth is far from that. 

So, I'm understandably dissappointed.  The problem is, I just don't know how to move forward.  I'm suffering from a strong case of writer's block; going on 6 months now.  The only thing I can think of is to implore my readership for ideas. I'd like to resume weekly blogs, but clearly I need a storage of ideas and topics.  Either that, or I need to readjust my schedule.  Which is where I look to you all.  What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Automatic Answer Syndrome

Image found here
When I was little(r), I was somewhat of a know it all.  If I was comfortable, I could be quite the chatter box.  Any question pointed in my direction likely got a lengthy monologue in response. Sure, I was pretty cute, but even the cutest of little ones can exhaust the attention of those that love them.

After seemingly endless periods of squeaking my every thought and observation, I eventually encountered the much too advanced wisdom of my father.  I recall conversations in which he spoke at my wee tow-head about the concept of noise pollution.  Believing himself to be helpful, he explained that my excessive verbalization was just adding needless sound to the world.  He guided me through picturing what the air would look like if we could see sound, and insinuated that I was soiling breathable space with my desire to talk without purpose.

This was not as awful as it sounds.  Though my not yet fully formed brain was momentarily stifled by the all too scientific advice of my apparently heroic father, I didn't actually stop talking.  It's possible that I may have slowed down some in response, but historic reports of my family members would indicate the inaccuracy of this assumption. On and on and on I prattled; selfishly soaking up the sound space around my loved ones.

In particular, I loved to prove my intelligence to my father.  As you may have discerned from the above story, my dad was pretty clever himself.  I'm pretty sure that was always obvious to me.  I even imagine myself as an infant, craning in his arms, thinking "whoa! this dude is smart!" So, naturally I had to rise to the genetic occasion. As a bumbling tot trying to form my own understanding of the world, I assumed I had to prove my worth by immediately answering every question that even seemed meant for me.

Obviously, I got a lot of questions wrong.  That's what happens when you increase the frequency of your attempts at anything, you increase the chances for error.  Eventually, as it always did in my family, my behavior led to another paternal teaching moment.  I recall a family dinner, with us all seated at the table discussing our days, and likely answering trivia questions to the key of "for an extra two points!"  I must have exhausted the patience of others with my interrupting and attempting to guess at things I didn't truly know, because my father finally spoke out against it.

"You don't always have to know the answer," he calmly stated.  "There's nothing wrong with saying you don't know."  He then guided us through acknowledging our ignorance, and confidently stating "I don't know."  From then on, both my parents would pause us when we demonstrated notable sensitivity to the unknown, and guide us through calling ourselves out.  We were repeatedly coached to practice alerting others to our dearth of knowledge.

I found this activity irritating for the vast majority of my childhood.  I hated telling people I didn't understand them.  I abhorred acknowledgement of my inadequacies in a public forum, and I resisted encouragement to lay it all out on the table.  Only recently have I realized that this ongoing tutelage actually took.

In my adulthood, my academic and professional careers have been marked by my insistent confession of inadequacies.  It is possible that I call out my lack of wisdom all too often.  However, I'm frequently praised by superiors for indicating that I have yet to glean what I need to.  Personally, I often attribute it to my sense of innocence and inexperience with all things "real world."  Though, I have started to notice my own frustration with colleagues and superiors who lack the strength required to assert their ignorance. I find myself often grunting vexation with "knowledgeable others" who automatically throw out suggestions unrelated to the questions I have asked.  My head spins with annoyance when I turn to seasoned professionals who attempt to guide me through basic responses to situations I am comfortable with, and ignore my pointed questions about how to deal with advanced complexities.

My initial assumption was that this played on my own inadequacies.  My primary response was to think "they must really think I'm stupid if think I've forgotten the basics," but then I realized it wasn't this at all.  Due to my own prior experience with automatic answer syndrome, I quickly understood that the truth was they don't have the answers either.  It is they who lacks the knowledge to further themselves. Because they never had support to build comfort with their own lack of understanding, they have habituated time-wasting discussions of things that don't matter.  They don't understand the utility of recognizing a deficit in order to build upon it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Hats: The Asshole

Today, I am an asshole.  I am the bearer of bad news.  I am the nay-sayer, and the barrier to fulfilled wishes.

Image found here
This is the nature of my work.  I am so many things to so many different people, and generally that is okay.  For the most part, I'm able to acknowledge my varying head wear and done it accordingly. In fact, the variety serves as a protective force for me.  In one day I can be a savior, an attachment figure, an authority figure, and a friend.

The peculiar paradox is the difficulty inherent in the days marked by consistency.  Today was one of those days. I got to wear one hat today. I wore it all day long, and that took a toll on me.  It's hard to wear the bad guy hat for a sufficient length of time and not internalize it.  Eventually, it wears on you.

While I know that I am not truly a bad guy, and I understand that I am far from being an asshole, it's how I feel today.

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