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  • Writer's pictureKristen Miller

misfits, rebels, & round pegs in square holes

growing up i never felt like i "fit in." i was painfully shy, and the idea of talking about surface-level, useless stuff the way other kids and teenagers would just didn't interest me. but i did my best. right around middle school i was fortunate enough to find several individuals who shared my distaste for small talk, and we are still good friends to this day. we get together (not as much as any of us would like) and talk about what is going on in each of our lives, we laugh, and we talk about REAL stuff. this is probably one of the most difficult parts of working with kids - seeing them go to all kinds of crazy lengths to "fit in," and seeing the havoc they wreak on those in their destructive path.

as my biography mentions, i'm kind of a "self-help junkie." i am fascinated by people; by what makes people do things, what makes people act the way they act, say the things they say, etc. i recently bought several books about the opposite of fitting in (aka "non conformity") and have been thrilled to learn the psychology behind all of it. i am even more thrilled learning that a math term i taught for several years showed up in one of my self-help books: incongruence. BEING a former math teacher and teaching kids about congruent triangles for years, i instantly knew the definition of incongruent. (quick math fact: two triangles are congruent if they are exactly the same - same side lengths, same angles, same everything - so two triangles that are incongruent are triangles that aren't exactly the same in one way or another. if you've made it this far and are wondering how this has anything to do with people wanting to "fit in" in life, i digress...keep reading...)

so there is this idea of inner incongruence in psychology. what it means is that we all have our own true, authentic selves deep down inside of us. these are the people we are BORN as - then the myriad of experiences we go through in life shape us to be what we are today. as we grow up and encounter new experiences, we try on different personalities, different clothes, different hairstyles, different behaviors, different mannerisms, different ways of talking, all in the name of "fitting in." sometimes we are lucky and the new things we try seem to "fit," other times the things we try don't seem to fit...and this is where inner incongruence comes into play.

think back to your teenage years. let's suppose you have a really good, close friend that you've been friends with since elementary school (this friend "fit"), but then entering middle school you meet a new group of friends ("cool kids") and they also want to be friends with you. you're thrilled! now you and your old BFF (best friend forever for those of us that don't speak "teen") can be part of the popular crowd. only problem is that the popular crowd doesn't like your BFF and tells you to not talk to her or hang out with her anymore...every time you and your BFF come around the cool kids, the coolEST kid says to you, "don't talk to her - she's a bitch." you desperately want to fit in with the cool kids, so you stop talking to your BFF and pretend she doesn't exist. after awhile you start to miss your BFF but don't want to let the cool kids know this, or they'll discard you from the group. so you keep ignoring your BFF in front of the cool kids while secretly attempting to repair the friendship behind the scenes (calling her, buying her Starbucks, etc.).

this is a perfect example of inner incongruence. you are trying on a personality, a set of behaviors, mannerisms, etc., to fit in. but internally, deep down, for your true authentic self, you are experiencing massive pangs of guilt. you KNOW what you are doing isn't right, but you're so desperately trying to fit in with a crowd that you just don't fit with, that you're willing to go against what is right FOR YOU. meanwhile, the BFF who you DO fit with is experiencing massive depression, anxiety, confusion, and sadness, reeling at the loss of the authentic, true friendship she used to have with you.

a certain amount of inner incongruence is normal and expected as we trudge through the many stages of life. HOWEVER. when we start taking steps in a certain direction and experience guilt, anxiety or discomfort as we continue walking in that direction, that should be a BIG FLASHING RED LIGHT that perhaps the direction we are heading in isn't in line with our true authentic self, and that we should turn around and go the other way immediately. sometimes in life we spend so much time trying to fit in, that we don't realize we were born to stand out and stand up for something greater than the masses.

(side note: i wish i could say this story is fiction, but it isn't. i was working with the discarded BFF on a separate situation, when she opened up to me and we began working together long term on the situation described above. she and i worked intensely on her self esteem, confidence, inner beauty and all of her positive qualities. she has a new group of friends, though still does miss her old BFF and sees her parading around with the cool kids every day at school. we are continuing to work on coping strategies and resilience, things she can do for herself when she encounters life situations that are out of her control, to keep her strong internally. i keep reassuring her that despite the difficulty of this situation, she is maintaining a huge level of inner congruence, and for that she will continue to grow into a beautiful, strong, confident young woman who will have the power to change the world if she so chooses.)

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