It’s still trauma, Mary

I wrote quite a bit about a month ago about my tween’s experience with an abusive teacher at their school. While we finally got their 504 accommodations updated, and I’m guessing that teacher got a talking to, they continue to be unpleasant. They have continued to tell their students that they are emotionally underdeveloped because of their year (ostensibly slacking off and not dealing with any trauma or stress whatsoever with their perfectly stable and unstressed parents) off from in-person school due to Covid.

Recently this teacher decided to ask their students why they thought they were so emotionally impaired. (Who does that?) My kid raised their hand and said, we’re not impaired, we’re traumatized. This gave the teacher momentary pause, but then they responded by saying that all the students can’t be traumatized.

Really, Mary? In pandemonium? In a panorama? Two fucking years into a constantly mutating, killing people every day pandemic from hell? Just the fact that you said that indicates trauma. Our number one defense mechanism is usually denial. We ignore or minimize things that we can’t deal with. It’s the “This is fine” syndrome. And no shade to defense mechanisms — they help us function when everything is weird or horrible. We really do feel like everything is fine — until we don’t. Long-term trauma has long-term effects. We are less resilient. We have memory and sleep issues. If we have diagnoses like depression or anxiety, they can get harder to manage. When we inevitably encounter additional stressors or traumas, we don’t have the bandwidth to deal with them as well as we would during a time of relative peace and calm.

When my husband was hospitalized, people commented on how well I kept my shit together. And I did. Until I didn’t. We get this blast of hormones during emergencies that allow us to dissociate from the immediate horrors that we are dealing with and just function. But this is a temporary fix; afterward, you have to deal with all the emotions that your body helped you stuff down. I had an epic meltdown a few weeks after my husband got out of the hospital that was totally expected, and my resilience is still low while my anxiety is high. This is normal. But if you don’t understand the trajectory of trauma (and compounded trauma) you may think you are functioning because you are a superior life form and everyone else is weak. You are not and they are not.

This applies to EVERYONE. We are all living through collective trauma. Some people have been devastated by the effects of Covid, and some have just been inconvenienced, but nobody can ignore how terrifying and confusing and disruptive it has been.

However, Teacher of the Year, just because you haven’t experienced compounded, impossible-to-deny-trauma, doesn’t mean that your students haven’t. Kids have fewer defense mechanism tools in their psychological toolbox, even though they may seem super cool on the outside. Kids rely on adults for survival, so when we are unstable they often compensate by over-functioning or functioning for us. This does not make them extra great kids or mature beyond their years, or old souls. It makes them traumatized. Kids adapt because they have no choice. Adults have a choice. You can get therapy, scream into a pillow, journal, hike, whatever helps you get back into your body and your feelings, and then just fucking deal with the pain and fear and insecurity that comes up. Or you can blame your middle-schoolers for your own stress and make them feel like shit about themselves. Because apparently, that’s an option.

Once again I find myself saying to adults who parent or teach or take care of other people: unpack your shit. Your kids (and students) are an extremely convenient screen upon which to project your problems, issues, and flaws. Doing so is an abuse of power and you need to stop.

If you want to know more about how trauma passes through generations and how it plays out, I highly recommend learning about Family Systems Theory.

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