When a child is shamed
I hear this often from my clients, friends and colleagues: “I never felt like I fit in” or “as a child I always felt different” or “even now I do not feel like I fit in.” In most cases this “not fitting in” is followed by a description of a traumatic experience from childhood or a more recent example.
For me “not fitting in” has always been a good thing; it was something to be proud of. I never thought if myself as odd, actually I thought I was normal, it was all the others who were odd.
I owe this to my parents, especially my mom, who made sure that I knew that there was nothing wrong or strange about me. Because of my parents, I never questioned my self-worth or valued another person’s opinion of me over my own.
The following incident took place when I was 9 years old, living in the Soviet Union. Like all kids that age I went to school six days a week with breaks for summer and winter.
The Soviet school system required each gender and age group to wear a specific uniform. In the early grades, the girl’s uniform was an itchy dark brown woolen dress with a black apron for regular days or white apron for special days. I always thought the uniforms looked a lot like the maids’ uniforms, aprons and all. I could never understand why they wanted us to look like maids. But I detract.
At home, I had this dark blue dress. Its cut was similar to the uniforms’ but it had two benefits: it was much prettier and not at all itchy. The latter part was a huge plus for me as I have always been sensitive to natural wool. With my parents’ permission, I started wearing my dark blue dress instead of the dark brown uniform dress. I would put my apron on top of the dress and feel as pretty and comfortable as can be.
One day we had a roll call lineup (kind of like the one they do in prisons – but I detract again). My entire grade was lined up shoulder to shoulder in the hallway. The little me was told to take 3 steps forward. The principle then proceeded to call out my blue dress. She told everyone that I was not up to code, how I must think of myself to be so special that the rules do not apply to me, how my behavior puts the school to shame, how I did not think about anyone except myself, how my parents did not take care of me, and so on.
I remember becoming extremely confused because none of what the principle said was true as far as I understood the truth to be. I KNEW that my dress was beautiful and plus, my parents approved of my wearing it to school. I could not understand why the principle thought there was anything wrong with it or with me. I also did not understand how my beautiful blue dress can put an entire school to shame. I remember coming home and telling my parents about being called out. I do not remember feeling shameful, upset or in any way in the wrong. I just remember feeling confused.
By a unanimous decision, my parents and I concluded that there was indeed nothing wrong with my dress. I proceeded to keep wearing my beautiful blue dress instead of the brown uniform for the next year. No one ever commented about it again..
What about you. Have you or your child been shamed because they looked or acted in a way that is different from everyone else? How did you handle it?