I am a people person. I like people. They intrigue me and I like to understand what makes them tick. One of the benefits of being a high school counselor is that I get to meet all different types of kids. I see the high achievers, the not so inspired, the funny, the bright, the anxious, the depressed, and everything in between. A natural analyzer, I have the luxury of having multiple personalities at my disposal to read and understand, helping me craft my skills.
What I like the most about meeting people is peeling their layers in an effort to understand where they are coming from. Each of us has layers of our personalities, of what we are willing to show and what we are more comfortable hiding. Typically, what we hide is well protected and is revealed only at times or moments we deem as safe.
Kids are not quite as good at hiding their layers and that is an advantage for those of us trying to get in to understand and help them. And depending on what they show, their layers are more transparent than they’d like to think. The high achievers have the secret underworld of insecurities, waiting for those around them to find out that they are not as perfect as they portray. The not so inspired haven’t found their niche or their passion yet, so they choose behaviors that either keep them under the radar or keep them in full view for all to see they are struggling. And the everything in between kids probably protect their layers more than the rest, and they are so good at keeping them hidden, they may not even notice how interesting each of their layers are. Once you peel off the layers and see them for who they are, they each have their own brand of beauty to add to the world and their needs are basically the same…to be loved and to give love. It’s just innate.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that I spend more time getting to know the kids who face heavy challenges. I’ve run multiple groups for teens including Anger Management, High Risk Behaviors and Grief Groups. Although individual counseling provides insight into the person, group counseling provides insight into the person and how that person works in a society, obviously a much smaller society, but none the less, their interactions with others is quite telling.
We’ve all watched people socialize in groups, how they interact, the way they position themselves and the body language…its what makes people watching so fun. We’ve been annoyed with how one person presents themselves in groups and wished they’d go away. We’ve also been surprised on occasion when we’ve talked to the same person one on one and they really weren’t that unpleasant or annoying as we originally judged them to be. Once we let go of our assumptions and invited them to do the same, it’s amazing how the image of one person can instantly change into one we can accept and even like.
And that’s because of our layers. It is my belief, that we each have five layers. The first layer protects us with words and actions that shelter us and portray whatever image we think will get us what we need. This is the layer we see after knowing someone for five minutes.
The second layer has increased protection with meatier words and behaviors to back up the first layer. We use our behaviors in this layer to mold others perceptions of us and assess how much more we want to share based on their reactions. This is the layer revealed after talking to someone for an hour.
The third layer holds our beliefs of other people and the world, the way we see them and talk about them. For example, do we speak of life experiences and others with a positive tone or a negative? Do we live our lives with optimism or pessimism, or a combination of both? Our negativity exposes our fears and insecurities and our optimism shows that we are able to find faith and acceptance.
The fourth layer reveals how we see ourselves. Even to those who know us well, we keep this layer well protected as it creeps into the layer where we are most vulnerable. Our insecurities, our pride, our truest belief in what we feel we are able to do lie here. This layer takes quite a while and a lot of trust to be revealed to others.
The last layer, our core, the culmination of it all, is the essence of who we are and this is the layer we only expose to those we trust the most. In order to see this layer, you will have to prove to us repeatedly that we are safe in your presence and we do not feel judged. Overall, the more we trust, the more layers we’ll show.
It is typically the most annoying, the most rude, the most outwardly dysfunctional, whose layers are the most transparent, but because of their unpleasant persona, they are most often rejected as the “bad seed,” “loser” or “lost cause.” Yet, if you take the time to peel off that first layer and then the next, you will more likely find the scared little boy or girl who got hurt somewhere along the way and recognized the need to protect themselves. And what better way to protect themselves than to choose behaviors that repel others from getting close to them and setting them up to be hurt again.
One more layer down, you will see the same little boy or girl who, like everyone else, really does want to be cared for and accepted, but just doesn’t trust enough to allow it to happen. You will also find the self loathing and sadness that peppers their mind with negativity and creates an inability to understand that different behaviors and thinking can create better outcomes. They just get stuck in their own head which keeps the cycle going strong.
But “lost cause?” “Loser?” “Bad Seed?” I think not. Broken maybe, but not irrepairable.
We all have layers, therefore, we all have the ability to see the layers in others. It can take time and patience to wait for others to be comfortable enough to unpeel their layers, but our natural instincts and insight can speed up the process when we allow it to. That young boy that lives down the road and teases the kids on the block has layers. That teenage girl who struts around in skimpy clothes has layers too. The quiet kid who the other kids say is “different” has his own layers. And each of them has a need to be cared for and accepted. Just like you and me.
One of my students gave me a card at the end of the last school year that read…
“In a world that’s easily impressed with “star quality,” it’s a rare person who sees the promise in quiet souls. Who sees beyond a shy exterior and recognizes a hidden talent.”
I was honored that she saw me this way, but in reality, it’s not a rare person who sees it. We all have the ability to see the promise in others. We just have to be willing to open our eyes, let go of the judgments that muddy our vision and have faith that our efforts will pay off…and one layer at a time, allow the beauty to shine.