Editors Note: We are so pleased to share, for the first time since the launch of our website, the writing of a therapist in our NYC practice who isn’t the founder and director, Matt Lundquist. Heather Mayone Kiely is a psychotherapist and Art Therapist who joined the practice in 2012 when we expanded to a larger therapy office. She is a creative and thoughtful observer of human beings and writes beautifully about those observations, including of herself. As an artist she is particularly engaged visually and many of the photographs and art work represented here will be her own. You can follow Heather and see more of her photographs on Twitter.
The Problem with “Problem Children”
We receive all sorts of unconscious messages from the world–society, teachers, friends, family, coworkers–about what our value is. We are especially vulnerable to these messages early in life as we are growing and developing our sense of self and identity. When our external world and the people around us have different values or don’t get us that we internalize that message come to believe that we are bad. This experience of not being understood is incredibly isolating and we feel special, but not in a good way. I have heard this story unfold in my NYC therapy office countless times in many different versions. The young man with (insert challenge here–depression, anxiety, Aspergers) whose teachers consistently thought he was an oppositional and having behavioral issues identifies as a “problem child“. The woman who wants to have an open and honest dialogue with her family, yet the family is hell-bent on avoiding painful truths identifies as “overly emotional”. The person who grew up in a community who, by and large, was made up of people who had different socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religious beliefs than them identifies as “less than”.
As these folks grow and develop, these now internalized negative parts of their identity might be subtle and harder to spot but they come up in relationships in all sorts of ways. Former “problem children” are quick to assume that when they feel out of place or something is not working that it is a result of something being wrong with them.
Finding Fault in Feeling Out of Place
This image is inspired by a conversation I had with a young woman who has internalized that she is “bad”– she continuously ends up in relationships, jobs, and situations that reflect that back to her. After some exploration, we identified that throughout her entire life, she has felt like a star that has been trying to squeeze into mismatching other shapes. She can’t fit into a circle or triangle, she can almost fit into a square but it still doesn’t feel quite right. She often ends up wondering, what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I fit in? Why don’t I feel valued? No matter how she turns her five points, she is not going to fit. Not because something is wrong with her, the star, or the square for that matter. It’s because until she finds people and places that fit her and reflect good things back to her, she will never feel like she belongs and she will never feel good.
People and Places that Support You Being You
Often when we feel out of place we are quick to assume that there is something wrong with us and we need to change. Having a mismatched feeling may be an indicator that it’s time for you to change your environment. If you are in a job, school, or with people who you feel you can’t fully be a “star”, or whatever shape you are, it might be time to switch it up. And if you have had this out of place feeling for quite some time, it’s likely an indication that you were given that message a long time ago. It might be time to reflect on its roots to ensure you are not being held back from being connected to people who see and value you for who you are. Or if you are a “triangle” and think your kid might be a “circle”, curiosity and even some external support and guidance can go a long way.