I have used humor to get through brutal and extreme abusive situations that I suffered as a child before being abandoned into foster care. There are many times that I would be the class clown. It was hard for me to sit and be quiet so I would blurt out inappropriate comments to get attention. I would try to shock my teachers, pastors, scout masters, coaches, foster parents, etc… I was all about getting attention. My foster parents will tell that I always tried to shock people to get a reaction from them.
The truth is that I used humor to keep people at a distance from me. The purpose was for distraction so that I wouldn’t have to talk or feel the pain that I was carrying. As a kid, I never went the path of depression. I was mainly the class clown and then could switch in an instant to the angry guy of out control that loved to fight anyone…including adults. If somebody came at me with what I thought was disrespect or telling what to do, adult or youth, I would take the challenge on and explode on them verbally and physically. I also was a very hyperactive little boy who was extremely fidgety, had severe anxiety and was very suspicious of others. I would even try to shock my psychiatrist by the way I reacted to situations just to throw them off their game. To me, it was an even bigger game.
I rarely shared with others that I was in foster care. I kept that pretty much hidden. I never started off a conversation like “hey, I’m a foster kid that was thrown away and now I have a foster home because I was a reject”. I felt a lot of shame about it. It definitely was not a conversation starter. It was my little secret and if you knew, you probably found out by my foster parents, foster brother or foster sister. I never liked talking about it. I probably covered it up with the violence and being a clown. Even into my early adulthood, I wouldn’t openly admit that I was ever in foster care.
I learned early on how to distract people and how to get attention in exactly the way I wanted in that moment. I also learned to shut a person out. I was a master at what I was willing to feel, how much I would tolerate feeling and when. I would protect myself emotionally in relationships. I always had an emotional back up plan. The reason why was I didn’t know when I was going to get dropped or dumped. I always kept up a facade, a mask to not let anyone really know who I was. But the irony of it all is that I was yearning for someone to know me for who I really was. It was difficult to be vulnerable enough to have a healthy relationship. I generally sabotaged my relationships.
Here are a few ways to view children that have gone through brutal trauma and how they might deal with it:
Humor may be exposed as a way of keeping people at bay; commonly known as a class-clown, but serving a very specific purpose of distraction.
Numbness as a way of moderating pain; this is not the same as dissociative disorder.
Trusting would not be prudent where survival is at stake; this is not the same as an attachment disorder.
High concentration on surroundings leaves minimal concentration available for school; this does not reflect on academic ability, but may speak to academic availability.
Managing a complex environment makes honest relationships virtually impossible; this does not mean kids are “liars”; they need help to manage the complexity of their lives.
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