2 Stories of Self-Segregation

Utterly Alone
Image by Michelle Brea -uninspired- via Flickr

I met a wonderful woman at a networking event last night. During dinner, my colleague requested that she adjust her seating arrangements to make conversation easier.

This prompted me to share a childhood story. It explained an adult habit of mine regarding social interaction. She in turn shared her story.

Kids are mean, even in Texas.

One day, in kindergarten, I was sitting alone at recess crying. Ms. Cook came to me and asked why was crying. After explaining that I had no one to play with, she took me by the hand and led me to a group of popular kids. She instructed them to play with me.

As she walked away, the leader said, “I don’t care what she said, we’re not playing with you. Now go away.”

So I took up my former position and turned back on the faucet.

Ms. Cook observed this and came back to me. After I explained what happened, she took me again to the group with firmer instructions.

Again, I was rejected.

I went and hid from Ms. Cook to cry. Even at five years old I was trainable.

My nature is to refuse invitations.

I’ve seen adults simulate Ms. Cook in their daily activities. My best friend will invite people to lunch just because they don’t already have a lunch partner.

This translates to very strange behavior for me as an adult. Occasionally I’m invited to an event by people I don’t know well. I will quickly analyze the possibility that their conscience (Ms. Cook) is instructing them to play with the lonely kid. If I feel that is the case, I will politely decline the invitation.

An overcrowded playground in a public garden f...
Image via Wikipedia

Kids are mean, also in Alabama.

My new friend, an intelligent black woman, told a story from her childhood in Alabama.

Segregation was no longer legal, but still practiced in the hearts and minds of many. She was the only black child in the advanced classes. The other children tended to only talk to her when they were alone. So whenever she was in a group, she sat slightly apart.

Her nature is to self-segregate.

Her experience influences her interaction in groups as an adult. If she ends up being outside of a conversation, she will not intentionally interject herself.

Last night this manifested itself in a physical manner, as she actually was sitting with one chair between us. She moved when specifically invited by another person at the table.

You are not alone -  تصوير عبدالعزيز جوهر حيات
Image by Aziz J.Hayat via Flickr


We both learned something meaningful last night. I self-segregate so the popular kids don’t have to play with me. She self-segregates so other kids won’t feel uncomfortable talking to her amongst their peers.

We were kids, and that’s what kids do. We are grown-ups now.

Also, we aren’t alone anymore. We haven’t been for a very long time. But those feelings are still a part of who we are.

Should we get over it? Perhaps. Or maybe we should just understand it.

Did you have something happen in your childhood that affects your adult life? Share it with us in the comments.

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8 Responses to 2 Stories of Self-Segregation
  1. Jonathan Manor
    November 10, 2010 | 6:16 am

    this is a really heart felt and emotional post. Thanks for sharing. Loved it!

    • Idearella
      November 11, 2010 | 4:09 am

      Thank you, Jonathan! I’m glad it moved you.

  2. Shirley
    November 10, 2010 | 8:30 am

    Wow! Well said, thank for sharing and encouraging me to share my story.

    • Idearella
      November 11, 2010 | 4:11 am

      Thanks, Shirley. It was a wonderful experience learning that someone else carried around things from their childhood like that. I feel more connected when things like that happen.

  3. Little Brother
    November 10, 2010 | 12:30 pm

    Self-segregation can be a powerful tool to keep us safe from criticism. I recall staying away from other kids and cliques because I didn’t want to hear mean or “not nice” things.

    Some kids I stayed away from because I liked them. If they knew I liked them, I would be in a compromising or unprotected position. Only later did I learn they had an app, er, a name for that.

    This is an example of a phenomenon called reaction formation, a defense mechanism in which we do the opposite of what we are compelled to do in order to ease an aversive emotional response.

    In my case, I was avoiding the feeling of vulnerability by pretending not to like people I actually liked. This was my reason for self-segregation.

    • Idearella
      November 11, 2010 | 4:14 am

      Thanks, LB. It is always nice to have a professional’s view of these things.

      Strange how human react not only to physical threats but also (perceived?) emotional threats.

  4. Todd Benton
    November 10, 2010 | 1:24 pm

    Great post! I believe that the self-awareness that this pattern still exists is where the power lies for both of you and for all of us. Unless we are aware of our patterns and are able to intervene in them when they are happening — or notice them afterwards and make amends to ourselves or others where necessary — we are not really evolving nor fulfilling our potential.

    • Idearella
      November 11, 2010 | 4:16 am

      I agree, Todd. Although I think the programming is so deep that she and I will probably continue this default because it feels safe. That isn’t to say that we won’t try in situations that feel less threatening, though. That’s the key – baby steps.

      Thanks for your comment!

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