Do you remember Middle School? I bet that you do, because, in general, those years are accepted as the most awkward and difficult during the journey to adulthood. Chances are you didn’t emerge unscathed which is why I think you remember.
Just like you, I had my own damaging experiences during Middle School. And in the past decade I have been witness to all five of my kids going through this particularly uncomfortable rite of passage.
As a parent, I have helplessly watched as my darlings started 6th grade as excited, enthusiastic, peppy wide eyed kids who slowly morphed into sullen teens who were moody, cautious, measured and either keen to or adamantly determined not to fit in.
I know this drastic change is normally attributed to hormones and puberty.
I believe it is more than that.
Middle school is where kids start to feel judged. It is when they first feel the need to act a certain way around their peers. It is when doing things for the sheer enjoyment of them suddenly becomes a spectacle and then something to be embarrassed of.
Dress up day is not cool and fun anymore. It becomes full of ridicule and teasing.
Not only do kids worry that others are pointing and laughing—in many cases they actually ARE pointing and laughing.
It is damaging (and as a parent, breaks my heart). It keeps kids from being who they are, which sets a dangerous precedent.
There are many well adjusted kids who move onto High School and College and are able to let go of all of those hurtful memories.
And then there are the rest of us. We are imprinted with:
Constantly trying to fit in.
Struggling to be good enough.
Not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.
Afraid of being judged.
Living to avoid other peoples criticism keeps you in a place of fear. Even though you are an adult with all the responsibilities that go along with that, in some ways it is as though you never left Middle School.
In order to keep yourself safe from the bullies and popular kids, you may inadvertently land in cynicism.
Cynicism looks like this: instead of following your heart and doing what makes you happy, you make very specific parameters for yourself that feel safe. These parameters include acceptable behavior, intellectual ability, careers, places to live, clothes to wear and activities to participate in. You tailor these parameters to your strengths and they are further determined by what was ok in your family and community.
Once you have (unknowingly) created these unwritten laws to live by, you step into your self imposed cage and lock yourself in. Whenever you peer through the bars and see someone in the world living differently than you, there is an overwhelming need to make them wrong.
Because you have put yourself in this voluntary cage and have made very rigid decisions about what is ok and what isn’t, anyone breaking your rules is immediately suspect. If someone else has the nerve to live outside of your parameters, they are free game for your derision.
There is usually a word of choice used to describe whatever these people are or aren’t doing. Idiot. Fool. Stupid. Moron.
The reason you insult them is because their difference scares you. They are doing something outside the comfort zone of your metaphorical cage. The place you don’t allow yourself to go. And if you “can’t”, how dare they be able to?
But instead of seeing this truth and daring to be different, it is much easier to leave your cynical hat on.
People then become too loud, too fun, too boring, too rich, too poor, too flashy, the wrong religion, the wrong political party, the wrong socio-economic class, the wrong fashion plate, or in some other way deemed wrong by you.
Originally you made the cage to keep yourself safe. And in Middle School it may have been necessary.
But you are in the real world now.
Whether you realize it or not, your “safe place” has now become an actual prison. You keep your circles and experiences small because those are the only things permitted within the rules of your cage.
When you are being cynical about anyone or anything you are separating yourself from the person and the experience. So instead of trying new things and broadening your life with different, interesting people, you put a wall between yourself and whatever might expand your horizons. You end up not being able to connect with anything different than yourself.
If being cynical and putting people down has become a game for you, recognize that it is a way that you protect yourself from really putting yourself out there. From living full out.
It can certainly keep you from failing.
But it also keeps you from being your whole self.
I have yet to figure out how to change the Middle School dynamic.
But as adults I know we can do our part to let the cynicism and the judging go. We don’t have to be afraid to be ourselves anymore.
As difficult as it was to be ridiculed and made fun of in Middle School, the truth is that as an adult when you are doing what you love, you don’t care in the least what other people are saying because you are enjoying yourself too much.
As with much of what I write, I have come by this knowledge first hand. I realized about seven years what a small and confining cage I had put myself in.
It’s hard to admit this, but I used to be the one quoting Steel Magnolias: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”
It’s true. I was a cynic of the first order.
But not anymore. Once I saw how I was limiting myself, I wanted nothing more than to expand. And that meant coming out of my cage.
How about you? Are you guilty of this?
Now that you see it, is it ok with you?
If it isn’t and you want the freedom to be you again, please know that it is more than possible. You have held the key to your cage all along.
The first step is to stop criticizing, stop judging and stop being cynical. Stop separating yourself by believing that other people are wrong. Recognize that it is the fear talking.
This gives you permission to start trying new things and meeting new people. Heck, you might even start wearing some of those unique clothes you were always putting down.
There is a whole world waiting to open up for you and I can report that it is amazing!
Let’s leave Middle School once and for all, shall we?
Today’s post is much longer than usual. Kudos and many thanks if you have read this far!
In order to change your life, you must first change your mind.