I’ve noticed an interesting dichotomy within my psyche. When it comes to something new—whether it be a skill set, activity, or food combination—I’m resistant to step out of the known routine. Yet once I do, my body/mind feels a sense of glee, a tingling sensation, as though I’m receiving a physiological reward for my “daring” behavior.
As a child, routine was a given. Based on what day of the week it was I knew not only what we’d be having for dinner, but what laundry Mom had washed that day. My clothes were done weekly. At least until my teen years when rebellion over my skirt lengths won me—or lost me depending on how you look at it—laundry privileges.
Every Thursday I’d get a fresh stack of white cotton undies in my dresser drawer. And every summer, before the school year started, we’d go shopping for another eight-pair of the next size up. Why eight? Seven days of the week, plus the pair I’d wear while the others were being washed. If we’d only purchased seven then I would have had to go panty-less—a scene that has occurred in far too many nightmares—or even worse, shift laundry day up a day each week, thus creating a wholly different pattern. A cycle that Mom would have simply labeled as: wrong.
Being wrong, or more correctly, fear of being wrong, has been a huge factor in my life. In fact, when reviewing a list of false and thus limiting beliefs I received during a self-empowerment course, I’m Wrong came in as #1, closely followed by I’m Alone and I’m Too Much. This trio leads to a socially lethal combination. Even attempting to write about my inquiry triggers a wave of anxiety…
And so I take a deep breath, feel my body, and refocus my thoughts.
A while back I made a connection with this deep-seated need to be right. It was literally schooled into me. Of course most, if not all of us, have been through some type of praise-based educational system. I however, had the somewhat unique experience of being moved-ahead a semester as my reward.
I don’t know how the conversation went between school officials and my mother, a single-parent of me and my younger brother. All I knew was, at age 8, shortly after starting third grade, I got called into the office for testing.
I remember being mesmerized by the series of puzzles, some math-based—if you have this many containers of these sizes and need to end up with this volume, how would you go about it?—and some design-based. To this day when I’m bored I draw imaginary lines around rooms or objects looking for the most efficient, balanced route.
My IQ test results were never shown to me. In fact, the specific findings were kept from me; apparently to keep me from bragging. The effects however were clear: come spring-break of 1965, instead of returning to the second-half of third grade like all of my classmates and a friend or two, I skipped ahead to fourth grade. Back then, at least in the Los Angeles school system, we had students who started both in the fall and in the spring semesters, depending on when your birthday fell, so thankfully I was only lacking the knowledge of one semester, not an entire year, but that didn’t stop me from getting caught in a double-bind: being the smart one who didn’t know anything her classmates spent the last five months learning.
I remember teaching myself division. OMG… I just realized this “division” lesson came on many levels, though I was referring to the mathematical process…
My body remembers the scorn I felt from the other kids, feeding the I’m Alone and I’m Too Much beliefs; albeit these were unconscious parameters at the time. On the few occasions I attempted to maintain “star pupil,” a role I’d easily maintained and thrived upon up until then, the I’m Wrong filter got an unhealthy dose of confirmation.
By fifth grade, after Mom re-married, we moved to the San Fernando Valley. At Sherman Oaks Elementary school I was a true new-girl, not the girl you’d seen around who didn’t belong where she now appeared. In these unblemished surroundings I easily reclaimed my “teacher’s pet” status. Everything was reset.
I was still the awkward loner who occasionally showed off her brilliance before judging herself as wrong for overstepping her self-imposed—or socially mandated—boundaries…
Today the rigidity of right and wrong have become a blending of vantage points, a soft flow of introspection.
Today my passion is resetting beliefs, stretching my edges, challenging my comfort level.
From this perspective I have a lot of compassion for my younger self and the labels she absorbed. And thankfully I have tools, practices, and routines—some of which I’m willing to bend, expand, or even release—as I step into a larger context of relationship with myself.