Pride goeth…

Today I had one of those “No wonder I’m depressed” moments. I was reading through a podcast transcript on Imposter Syndrome, and there’s a short aside about telling people they’re smart versus telling them they worked hard, and I came across this gem.

Chuck: My mom basically told me whenever I’d come home complaining about the other kids at school, that they were jealous of me because I was smarter than them. And that that’s why I was being picked on. So, I not only got the, “You’re smart” reinforcement, but then I got the “And it’s causing you problems” reinforcement. So, I didn’t really know which way to go with it, because I wanted to be smart and I identified with being smart, but then I wanted to be accepted too. And being accepted and being smart were mutually exclusive.

I can so relate.

I’ve said before that I’ve always struggled with social issues, but the severity of that struggle has varied over time. Fourth grade was when things really hit the fan for me and I went from passively unpopular to actively bullied. And of course, this was one of the things I was told to try and cheer me up, that the other children were just jealous of me. Like pretty much everything I was told on this subject, I never believed it (which is probably a good thing–much of the advice I got was rather depressing if you think about it very much). There’s two negative aspects to this kind of advice–first, it makes it the victim’s fault that they’re being bullied. There’s a lot of advice of this stripe going around, and all of it misses the point that someone else is choosing to be a bully. The other negative aspect, specific to this variant, is that it takes one of a person’s good qualities, something most of us aspire to, and turns it into something bad.

While I never believed that the people actively picking on me were jealous, that doesn’t mean no one was though, and my last few years of high school proved this. Because I wasn’t just one of the smart kids. I was the smart kid who didn’t study and finished her work in half the time the other kids at the top of the class got while pulling down the same grades. That didn’t win me any friends, and some people were sure to point this out, asking me how I managed it (not that I had a real answer). At that point in my life I didn’t have a lot going for me, and my grades were pretty much the single objective proof that I had any redeeming qualities. And I learned to downplay them. One of the only things I had that I could take pride in, to reassure myself that I wasn’t a total loser, I couldn’t take pride in. Not publicly, anyways. Sure, I got affirmation from the adults in my life, but from my peers? One of the few good things I had was a source of solely negative attention from them. And that’s just plain messed up.

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