I recently listened to a podcast in which the guest, a licensed psychotherapist, said therapy is about unbecoming rather becoming. She explained that when babies are born, they are clean slates but as they grow inside a particular society, they are conditioned through direct teaching/enforcement or subconscious learning, to conform to the dominant values of that society (social conditioning). The morals, values, and behaviours learnt through the conditioning can be beneficial, harmless or harmful to an individual or to the society. Therapy is about unlearning the harmful morals, values, and behaviours we have learnt from society.
When I was a little girl, I was the boldest, bravest and most adventurous girl that I knew (FYI, I knew a lot of people then). I would climb trees, ride bikes, try new food and speak up when I saw injustices, and just be my true self. I have been reminiscing a lot these days (major side effect of unemployment) and I am trying to figure out when exactly and why I lost those qualities. There is no exact moment because I realised that my evolution was gradual and subtle. There was no Big Bang; just a culmination of small events that resulted in my change.
Looking back, I think the first event that initiated the evolution was my fall from a tree. One afternoon, when I was climbing a tree, I climbed onto a branch which seemed sturdy to my 6-year-old self. Turns out you can’t really trust the judgement of 6-year olds when it comes to safety because the branch fell off while I was on it (Yikes). The tree wasn’t really close to my house, but my screams were heard from my house and my family ran to me. Needless to say, after that day, I never climbed trees again. I learnt to fear that day and became way less adventurous but not less stubborn though (insert devil face emoji). Oh, I forgot to mention that I have a scar on my chest from that fall that I actually don’t to fade (I am not normal).
I mentioned that although I became less adventurous, I was still very stubborn. One day, I asked my aunt to take me to a family friend’s house to play and she refused so I decided to walk there by myself. Mind you, the house was very far from ours and during that period there were several kidnappings in Benin, Edo State, where we lived at that time, but I was determined to play with my friends, so I walked there. My family and I had been to the house several times and apparently, I had subconsciously learnt the route (Smart me) because I made my way there without asking for directions. After I had been at the family friend’s house for a while, my very worried aunt called and was relieved to find out I safe and sound. Thankfully, I didn’t get beat but I got scolded for putting myself in danger. That day, I learnt that the world is not very safe for women, especially young women. I am sure my guardians were not purposefully trying to make me less brave, they were just trying to teach me the realities of the world.
The incident that discouraged my adventurousness with food was a horrible hot dog. I didn’t get to eat hot dogs until I was 10 years old. My family and I went to Mr Biggs’ often, but I usually stuck with to usual (Meat pie, Doughnut, Eggrolls. Etc) but I was very curious about the snacks I saw in foreign movies and I wanted to try them. During one of my family’s regular trip to the Mr Biggs’, I ordered a hot dog. I was the first person in my family to try Mr Biggs’ hot dog and it was really horrible which is probably why I have a conservative palette now. I think I also became repulsed my hot dogs because when I was in America, I had several opportunities to eat the original American hot dog, but I was so traumatised by my first hot dog that I couldn’t even attempt to eat any of them. I still try out food new food but I try my favourites from different places.
In primary and secondary school, I quickly learnt that my outspokenness and stubbornness were deemed undesirable in females and I decided to tame myself down a bit to avoid beatings & other forms of physical punishment (I was beaten into conformity) and ostracization. I received corporal punishments from teachers and ostracization from my peers: teachers didn’t appreciate my “unladylike” character but they greatly appreciated that I was willing to report other students whom I left were in the wrong. So, I got into trouble with teachers for being rude, but I also got flak from my peers for being a snitch which put me in a really awkward position. For a teenage girl with low self-esteem in boarding school, social ostracization is worse than corporal punishment (at least that was the case for me). So, I decided to stop reporting injustices to teachers to gain acceptance from my peers.
I want to go back to being that fearless girl who was very bold, brave and adventurous. The girl who would climb a very high tree without thinking twice, swim, ride a bicycle, walk to a family friend’s house, on the other side of town, alone (don’t do that youngins), and speak up when something didn’t sit well with her. I have gotten a bit of her back; I travelled to four countries in Europe alone and I went on a very scary amusement park ride which was vomit inducing but that is by the way. Oh, I am also very assertive now. The ease with which I say “No” is surprising to family and acquaintances.
I do understand that fear is useful; it keeps us alive by preventing us from engaging in life-threatening actions. But fear can prevent us excelling and realising our potentials. My goal isn’t to be completely fearless like extreme sports athletes (I think they are borderline suicidal), my goal is to master my fear and to distinguish the rational fears from the irrational ones.