I remember it so clearly.
One day in 4th grade, I sat next to Cynthia and Arthur, who were chatting away about something or another. What did we gossip about in the 4th grade anyways? Wanting to feel included, and likely not even knowing what they were talking about, I giggled loudly alongside them.
Mr. Davis stood in front of the classroom with his arms crossed, shouting our names: “CYNTHIA! ARTHUR! STEFANIE!” then proceeded to write them on the chalkboard under his shit list. I can’t recall any real consequences (probably just a warning) but I felt publicly humiliated.
It was the first time I ever got in trouble.
Growing up, I was painfully shy, switching schools every few years and rarely making friends. To combat my untreated anxiety, I did my best to fade into the background. It didn’t matter if I was receiving positive or negative attention… I thought it was just better for me to go unnoticed.
At home, I was protected (read: sheltered) from all heat sources and stranger danger. Until high school, I never answered the front door or used the stove. My brothers and I were never spanked or grounded. I’m pretty sure this is what made me averse to consequences.
After that day in 4th grade, I didn’t get in trouble again until 12th grade biology. My friends and I found copies of previous exams that we used to study for our final. Despite this being ENCOURAGED in college, we were almost suspended in our last few weeks of high school.
I’ll never forget these incidents, though it would take me over 12 years to start processing them in a healthy way. I still don’t think I’m willing to admit how much trauma I carry from childhood shame. I’m perfectionist to a fault and someone who struggles with overcoming a fixed mindset.
I decided to put these thoughts into writing after being triggered by a few colleagues and friends giving me feedback about my behavior recently, i.e. talking too much or not listening enough. It caused me to completely shut down and spiral into self-loathing.
Why can’t I just flip a goddamn switch to have a growth mindset?
Since I was old enough to conceptualize, I’ve always said that I have high self-confidence but low self-esteem. I don’t think highly of myself as a person but know I’m capable of significant achievements. Honestly I’m not sure what to do with this perception, even now. I’ve talked to a therapist about it, but there was no tangible outcome.
I think to myself, “Maybe if I’d gotten into more trouble as a kid or was punished for stupid little things… I’d be better about taking feedback?” Grass is always greener on the other side, so I’m unsure but would love to hear other perspectives on the topic. My college roommates swear by being spanked as a kid, and that just blows my mind.
For the time being, and as a result of these unresolved issues, I’m incredibly self-aware of how I deliver feedback, whether to my partner, colleagues, or fellow Toastmasters. I try to be emotionally intelligent in all my interactions and check-in with those on the receiving end, often paranoid that I was insensitive or offensive.
And perhaps that’s the best takeaway I could ask for. The trauma I still carry from adolescence, both physical and psychological, has encouraged me to be more empathetic and vulnerable and strive towards what I consider to be a good person. I need to remind myself often that I’m a work in progress, and that’s perfectly okay.