When you’re growing up, your perception of yourself is often determined by the people around you and the things that they say about you. If you grew up in a household where your mother always told you that you were beautiful, then you’re more likely to be confident about your appearance. On the other hand, if you grew up in a household where your parents constantly degraded your appearance, you're more likely to have lower self-esteem.
The point is, at a young age, you’re subjected to the judgment of those around you, your parents, teachers, your friends, all these people in a way shape you into who you are. Healing from childhood trauma could be one of the most difficult tasks that you have to do in your life. It’s important to remember that the perception that people give you of yourself isn’t always you, but how they want to see you.
I’ve often had this feeling throughout my childhood. In my early years of elementary school, I struggled with learning skills like reading and memorizing basic facts. But as the years continued, I began accelerating in school and being seen as a ‘nerd.’ People would want me in their group to work on group projects because they knew that they would get a good grade. It kind of felt like gifted child syndrome where at a young age people perceive you as more intelligent so they have higher expectations for you than other kids. You get compliments about how mature you are, and how you’re going to be successful. On the one hand that could feel good, but on the other hand, most of the time when kids are mature, it’s not because they should be, it's because they’ve had to grow up faster than normal because they’ve been through things.
What’s even worse is that I would hear my peers who are Black just like me, say things like “are you biracial?” or “you talk white.” I felt out of place because they would make those comments as if they almost associated intelligence with being white. In my head subconsciously, it felt like I had to be better than everyone else, people were putting these expectations on me to succeed in a way that the people around me weren’t succeeding in. They pushed the narrative so much that I was supposed to be different that I was attempting to fit into the role that they gave me. In middle school, I had a white classmate, who was one of the very few white people at my middle school, and almost from the get-go he was seen as essentially the smartest person in the grade. I was a competitive academic student and so I became his friend. Eventually I started to get better grades than him, and I was aiming to be valedictorian. Although with the pandemic my efforts, for the most part, didn't mean much.
High school also started remotely and since I wasn’t in a physical classroom setting, I didn’t feel that same competitiveness as I did when I was in school. Unlike many other kids, I actually enjoyed online learning. It wasn’t the most ideal for absorbing the most amount of knowledge, but I liked office hours, and I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to constantly compare myself to others to feel validated. When 10th grade began, which was my first year in person in almost 2 years, it was terrible for me. I would nap every single day, I would frequently, almost daily, have mental breakdowns. The pressure that I was putting on myself was so immense that it was damaging to my mental well-being. Suddenly having to be the “exception to the rule” didn’t feel like an accomplishment. All the effort that I put in in middle school wasn’t really seen, and now I was getting into high school and falling back into the same negative mindset. Even now, in the 11th grade, I cannot say that I fully feel like I have gotten through the obstacle of not feeling less than others. I choose to take the harder classes at my high school because I want to be successful just like anyone else would. Most of the time I am one of the few Black kids in my classes, but I don’t want to let that intimidate me or stop me from becoming who I want to become.
The lesson here is to not put so much pressure on kids to exceed expectations. Children are meant to be children—we’re meant to have fun and make stupid mistakes sometimes. You shouldn’t have to be seen as different from anyone else just because you view the world in your own way. Just because a kid may be more advanced in one subject doesn’t mean that you should put more pressure on that kid to succeed more than other kids. Intelligence is too broad of a thing to truly measure accurately, and kids could have talents in all sorts of subjects that have nothing to do with academics. It isn’t fair to put children on pedestals for a brain that they didn’t choose to have. Today I am still trying to figure out my place in society and choose who I want to be. I understand that people may see my talents and want me to develop them, but I still want time to figure out who I am and what I genuinely want to do, and I don’t want my decision to be influenced by someone else’s perception of me.