Most of us have trust issues, but without even realizing it, we’re far more trusting than we think. Those we trust the most are the ones with authority, and this can lead to a slew of mental health struggles that we face on a daily basis. Anyone who has been to therapy after having a rough childhood has been taught to question things that happened when they were a child. We unwittingly believe we aren’t good enough because of things we heard as children because we give so much power to people with authority.
I Learned the Most Valuable Lesson at Age 6
Join me as I tell you an embarrassing story that I’ve never told publicly, but it’s time for me to share it because although it’s embarrassing, I was able to learn this valuable lesson at an extremely young age. For that, I’m forever grateful.
I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, until age 10, and my kindergarten teacher was one of my favorite teachers of all time. I remember when she retired a few years later, I cried so much. I was so sad that this wonderful woman was leaving, and I wouldn’t be able to see her around the school anymore even though I was no longer in her class.
The next year, in first grade, I had a much different experience. I had a teacher named Ms. Fanger. The fact that her name was Ms. Fanger was like living in one of those childhood movies or stories where the teacher’s name matched their awful personality. This woman was awful. I know as kids, our mind exaggerates how awful a person is, but this lady was mean. When you’re a kid, when an adult is mean to you, you automatically assume you did something wrong. Why else would they be mean to you?
One day, not long after recess, I had to go to the bathroom. This lady was so mean that I was deathly afraid to ask her to go to the bathroom. So, I decided to try to hold it so I could avoid having to talk to her. I had held it in quite well on long road trips, so I did my best to hold it in class.
Eventually, it was too much, so I raised my hand and asked her if I could go to the bathroom. She scolded me for not going to the bathroom at recess and refused to let me go as a way to “teach me a lesson”.
I was a pretty good kid and always did what I was told, so I just shut my mouth and held it in. It hurt, and it felt like I was going to explode. I eventually got to a point where it was so bad, my survival instincts must have kicked in, and I said, “Fuck it,” and I raised my hand again to ask if I could go the bathroom even though I knew she’d be pissed, and I was right. She was not happy.
She berated me in front of the classroom and made an example out of me in front of everyone and again refused to let me go to the bathroom.
Not long after that, you guessed it, I pissed myself. Although many of us still had instances of wetting the bad at such a young age, and people around the playground peed themselves for lesser reasons, that didn’t stop everyone from making fun of me the second they realized what happened. So, I’m sitting in this classroom, just pissed myself, and all my peers are laughing at me (and as I write this, I think I’m understanding when my social anxiety started).
How did Ms. Fanger respond? By yelling at me again, which led to me breaking down in tears. Now I was the kid soaking in his own urine while crying like a baby. This wasn’t a good day.
As children, we blame ourselves for everything. We’re such self-centered little fuckers. Parents are in a bad mood? We must’ve done something. Teacher’s mad? Our fault. If only we realized we’re not nearly as important as we think we are.
At the end of the day, I went to the afterschool program and waited for my dad to pick me up. When he came to get me and asked how my day was, I told him. I told him exactly what happened even though it was such an embarrassing story, but he was bound to figure it out once he had to wash my pee-soaked undies. Once, I told him, he was furious…but it wasn’t at me.
Something you should know about my dad is that he’s the main reason I’m so resilient as an adult. He taught me to take accountability for my actions and apologize to people when I screwed up. He taught me to respect adults, to be polite and many other life lessons that I now teach my son. Lastly, my dad had absolutely no problem letting me know how bad I fucked up (and he still does it today even though I’m a 34-year-old man).
So, when I told my dad this story, and he became extremely mad, I was so confused because I figured it was my fault. I must’ve been a bad kid, and that’s why she didn’t let me go to the bathroom, but that wasn’t the case. The next day, my dad took off from work, brought me to school, and we went straight to the principal’s office, and my dad went off about what this teacher did to me.
After that, he had a few more meetings with the principal, and I think he even had a meeting with my teacher, and two things happened after that:
- She wasn’t nicer to me, but she left me alone for the rest of the year.
- She “retired” at the end of that year.
This was an extremely confusing experience for me, but my dad broke it down nice and simple for me. He explained to me that teachers are people too, and sometimes teachers can be assholes. It was then that I learned the most valuable lesson, which is that people are always going to be people no matter what position they’re in. There are going to be good people and bad people, but more often than not, there are going to be good people who have bad days.
How This Wisdom Helps
Black and white thinking is often associated as a hallmark symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), but it’s something we all struggle with. We look at this world as black and white in so many situations, and it often leads to our own suffering and misery. We think everything is either one way or another, and this illusion skews our perception of the world.
Growing up, that lesson I learned when I was 6 gave me a lot more empathy towards the world, but I lost it when I fell into my drug addiction and was living with untreated anxiety, depression and anger issues. It took a while, but I finally got back to the place of realizing that people are just people, and when I realize that, my expectations are managed in a much better way.
Whenever we are in a situation, we have a cognitive appraisal. Cognitive appraisals are part of human nature so we can judge what’s good or bad, what’s safe or unsafe and what’s healthy or unhealthy. This means we slap an expectation onto everything we do, and it can get us into trouble. We expect others to be a certain way, and we expect ourselves to be a certain way based on these appraisals that we’re constantly making.
When our mom doesn’t live up to our standards, we get upset because she “should” be a certain way. If our boss does something we don’t like, we’re angry because they “should” act a certain way. Each time we go into a situation where we require customer service, we think the customer service person “should” treat us a certain way. The list goes on and on, and each time the word “should” pops up, it’s an easy way to see that we’re placing expectations on a person, place or situation.
The reality is that we forget the most valuable lesson, which is that people are just people. Each person we encounter is just a sum of their life experiences up until that point. People have bad days just like you and me, and they’re susceptible to their unconscious biases the same way we are.
Everyone is Irrational and Bias
I have read an insane amount of books this year, and the more I learn, the more I realize that we are this insanely irrational species, and it’s incredible that we made it to the top of the food chain. Reading books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely , Situations Matter by Sam Sommers and Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke not only helped me realize how irrational other people are, but it also has helped me become much more self-aware.
Along the way, this has helped me get back to an empathetic state, and it helps me understand the world around me much more. Remembering that all people are just people explains everything. While it’s not an excuse for some of the awful things that happen, I remember that we’re all fallible.
Each time I learn about police being far too aggressive or even deadly with civilians, I wonder if that cop was just having a really bad day and what types of traumas they’ve been through. If a waiter or waitress is kind of rude to me, I wonder how many pain-in-the-ass customers they’ve dealt with that day. When I see an influencer on YouTube or celebrity have a scandal, I think about how they’re just some random person who got famous for something they’re good at, and they’re still human.
Now, what really inspired me to write this was finishing my second book in a row about some of the issues our society faces with the inflation of mental illness diagnosing and over-medicating of all sorts. Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals are humans too. No matter how much schooling and training they’ve had, they can just as easily slip into biases and irrational decisions as the rest of us.
For them, it’s a little riskier, so the best we can do is just always remember that they’re people as well. This is why when treating our mental health, we should do our own research and get a second opinion. Maybe that psychologist just got back from a conference about ADHD, so now they’re diagnosing everyone with ADHD. Maybe that doctor was just visited by a pharma rep peddling the latest anti-depressant, so they’re prescribing the medication left and right.
I’m not saying to not trust professionals, but I want you to become a little more aware that you’re dealing with other humans. We’re all capable of making really bad decisions, and we’re even more likely to do so when we become emotional, and our prefrontal cortex stops working at full power. Stop holding people to such high expectations just because of the position they hold in society, and while you’re at it, cut them some slack too.
We’re all just people with our own issues and trying to figure this world out one day at a time. If you’ve ever wondered why I always say that we all need therapy, this is one of the hundreds of reasons. The most we can do is become more self-aware about why we’re doing the things we’re doing and try to work through them. My first-grade teacher was probably phenomenal when she first started in her career, but somewhere along the way, something changed, and it can happen to any of us if we’re not careful.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 25, 2019.