I’ve just realised something about myself. And that is my negative association with being a child. To me, being a child is to be vulnerable. To be alone. Scared of everything. Unable to think for myself.
The picture I drew in counselling depicting a childlike state, had me in a pit, absolutely buried.
And during counselling I discovered that to me, directly opposite to being a child, is to be independent.
For me, independence is depicted as being victorious. Up on a mountain, waving my flag (with the smiley face in the centre). Independence means absolute freedom, self-sufficient. Safe. Unafraid.
My counsellor made me stand on each of these drawings.
I felt silly doing so, and thought that it would be a waste of time. But I did so.
And my counsellor observed and reflected back to me my changes in posture in both of these states of being.
When I stood on my piece of paper where the child was buried in the pit, I pulled my sleeves down. I shuffled from foot to foot. I avoided eye contact with my counsellor. I shrugged my shoulders.
However, when I stood on the piece of paper where my flag was flying from on top of the mountain, I lifted my shoulders back. I stood still (no shuffling) and I met my counsellor’s gaze.
When I stood on my drawing of the child, I entered the pit. I felt those same feelings that I had felt as a child, where the world felt too big and I felt like I was too small to deal with it. Therefore, I adopted a pose that made me feel safe.
But, on the contrary, when I stood on the mountain, I felt victorious. I felt like an adult. I felt like I had grown up! I no longer felt afraid.
My counsellor looked at me and said to me that in terms of my pain (physical & emotional), what difference would it make if I faced it from my child-like state?
I looked at her, and grimaced, and said, “I wouldn’t be able to face it. I would be buried.”
She continued and said, “What if you faced it from your state of independence, victory?”
I considered and then said, “It would be okay. I would know that life goes on despite the pain.”
My counsellor smiled and then I knew that that had been the point of the whole exercise.
I realised on reflection that I have continued to adopt that childlike pose many times in my life – and each time when facing a new situation that appeared scary and I felt small. Situations such as meeting people for the first time, walking into events by myself, walking down the street during busy periods and feeling like everyone is watching me … each time I would pull my sleeves down, clench my fist and bury my shoulders down towards the ground.
I said to my counsellor that in nursing, when facing a difficult situation, I would take a deep breath and then march into the room and meet the situation head on. She smiled and said that that’s it – it’s not easy – being an adult is not easy! We have to make an actual physical effort to confront new, difficult and challenging situations.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been making a conscious effort to notice when I am doing the whole ‘shrug the shoulders, roll down my sleeves’ and counter it with rolling my sleeves up and holding my head high. I have definitely noticed that it is much easier to be positive and maintain my composure when my posture reflects the fact that I have “growed up.”
I thought I would include this short story that I wrote to illustrate this:
E l i s e
She walked into the room, scared of her own skin.
The room seemed too big – too wide a space. She only filled such a tiny portion of it. The ceiling loomed overhead, white and gloomy.
She kept her head down, crouching down as low to the ground as she was able.
Her life’s goal was to be invisible. And thus far, she was succeeding.
“Awww, she’s sooo cute.” Came a voice from behind her. An arm reached out and hugged her.
She tried to get away, shrugging her shoulders, but the unknown person leaned in closer.
She turned her head slightly and caught a quick glimpse.
It was Elaine, one of the older girls. Great.
Elaine peered down, her face bright with a smile. “Don’t worry, Elise, I’ll help you with your dishes.”
Elise pulled away but before she could protest Elaine had pried the bowl and spoon from her arms
Inwardly, silently, Elise protested, ‘but I wanted to…’
Elaine swiftly washed and dried the dishes.
She gave Elise a sickly, sweet smile. “Alright Elise, all done. Let’s go into the main room and play, shall we?”
Leaving Elise no choice but to follow she trouped down the hallway, dishes in hand.
Once in the main room, Elise snuck away from Elaine and silently joined a circle of younger children who were making castles from blocks.
The bell rang.
‘Freedom,’ Elise thought. Bag on her back, she escaped the terror of those four walls and walked into familiar ground and faces – her classroom where her lovely teacher waited.
Here was order, and safety.
“Morning Elise,” Her teacher greeter her with a cheery smile.
Shoulders back, face uplifted, Elise returned her smile with a cheeky grin of her own.
A giggle escaped her as she dumped her bag on the hook and raced another classmate to her seat.
“What are we learning today miss?” She asked as she took her book bag out and readied herself with pencil in hand.
…………………………………EIGHT YEARS LATER …………………………………
Elise pulled her sleeves down and gripped her fists tightly. She shuffled on her feet and avoided eye contact as she stood hanging out with a group of friends in the cafeteria. Her mind whirled, full of anxious thoughts – she truly hated chit chat. What if she said the wrong thing? Or if her words were taken out of context? … Inwardly she cringed. She’d forgotten to wash away the flour smudge on her sweater … she was sure every eye was on it. She shrugged her shoulder further inwards. Maybe if the floor opened up and covered her …
Elaine watched from the opposite corner of the room as she laughed and chilled with her classmates. She whispered to Lucy, “Check out Elise, she’s always been so shy. I feel sorry for her.”
Lucy looked surprised. “Elise??” She turned and took a closer look. “hmmm, she’s not like that outside of school you know. She’s actually quite the talker!”
Elaine laughed – “No, no, you can’t be talking about Elise. She doesn’t say one word the whole day at school.”
Lucy shook her head. “You’d be surprised. There’s a lot going on in that head of hers, she’s got loads to say. Trust me you don’t want to get her started about child poverty!”
“Do you hang out with her often outside of school?’ Elaine asked.
“Her mum is best friends with my mum, so we sort of grew up together,” Lucy replied. “I haven’t hung out with her for a while cause I’ve been busy with exams. In fact, I’ve been meaning to chat with her about how everythings going for her. You can come too if you like?” She said, turning to Elaine and then walking towards Elise.
“Hey!” Lucy called as she headed on over.
Elise looked up. Elaine watched as a subtle but obvious change came over her countenance. Elise stood more centred, both feet solid on the ground. She rolled back her sleeves, and her face lit up with a smile.
“Hey back to you!” She replied, moving towards Lucy and giving her a warm hug.
“I was just commenting to Elaine on how it’s ages since we have caught up properly. I was wondering how you are finding Third Form – now that you are officially a teenager!”
“Well, other than being called a Turd, it’s going very well thank you.” Elise laughed. “Na, in all honesty it’s great. I’m still settling in though, finding my feet – I haven’t made many friends yet. There’s quite a big group of us and I find it a bit overwhelming. I was always better one on one…” She paused briefly, her eyes meeting Lucy. Then she smiled, “As you well know.”
Lucy squeezed her hand reassuringly, “You’ll be fine. Give it time. You’ll make friends in no time. Think about when you first started here when you were five and how scared you were!”
Elise looked reflective. “Yea,” She replied. “I felt very scared just now, before you came over. It kind of felt like I was five years old again.”
She took a breath and pressed her feet firmly into the ground, “But now … now, I really do feel like it’s gonna be okay.” She paused and then repeated more firmly “I’m going to be okay.”
Lucy gave her another brief hug and then walked away. Elaine glanced back. Elise was still on the edge of the group but she no longer looked scared or shy. She was standing tall, shoulders spread out, feet firmly planted.
Lucy turned to Elaine. “Told you she wasn’t shy.”
Elaine nodded and then said aloud, more to herself than Lucy, “I don’t think she ever was.”