Awareness Battling Ignorance
A personal anecdote of a peculiar child with peculiar interests
I was always a very inquisitive child, fascinated more by the process than the physical interface of the phenomenon being observed. I would point out basic elements of my surroundings to the person accompanying me and thoroughly interrogate them until my curiosity was satisfied. Most of the questions I would ask them would start with a ‘How’ instead of a ‘What’.
By the time I was 8, I was handier with tools than most adults, once I could figure out the mechanisms of how an item operated I would always be able to put it back together to its original state of functionality. It was basic logic to me, hard empirical facts that would remain true in any scenario. As I grew older, my empathetic awareness spread to other people besides me and once again I became curious.
How do humans function?
And that question alone set me on a journey to find answers to one of the most complex and unpredictable phenomena of the universe, the human mind.
I started with understanding the basic emotions of sadness, anger, and happiness that I possessed as well, but soon I realized context was crucial. These emotions could be triggered by a situation someone is living through, has lived through, or has imagined living through and it is so difficult to tell which one is in effect. As the inquisitive mind that I was, I became even more perplexed when determining which context was being applied to the emotional reaction someone was displaying at the time. Nevertheless, because I was not psychic, I could not answer that question myself and logically decided to ask the person I was observing. I recall many awkward moments where I ignored polite etiquette and posed an invasive question to an unsuspecting stranger, understandably the interaction almost always ended in a cold reprimand by my guardians and a forced apology to the stranger. This frustrated me to no end; I was too young to be a recipient of an intellectual conversation and too peculiar for other children to play with me. Moreover, it was rare for an adult to engage me in a deeper conversation than about what cartoons I liked. While the latter topic was fun for a full span of 30 seconds, it was not very fulfilling and left me wondering if I could break the illusion of the superficial ignorance people think children possess. Very quickly, I learned holding my silence and not revealing my deeper cognitions was a wiser option.
Eventually, I found myself utterly alone in the chaos of my mind and somehow, I did not mind that company. I was not socially inept, on the contrary, I was known to be an extroverted child and had no problems communicating my thoughts to other people around me. I slowly perfected the art of utilizing my words and body language to charm people into finding my company pleasant and even preferred. Each person I met was a new puzzle for me to solve. One might call this behavior ‘manipulative’ but I do not agree with the negative connotations attached to this term. I never meant or did any harm to anyone I associated with, I was simply curious about how they processed information and how congruent their cognitions were to their behaviors. I needed that information to morph my personality into something they found compatible with theirs. It was a defense mechanism I developed due to my past trauma. It made me receptive to other people’s emotions. Consequently, my behavior altered to draw out their vulnerability so they could verbally unload their thoughts to me and stabilize their mental state. I believed the less emotionally charged someone is, the less likely I would be a victim of an outburst from their overwhelmed state. Because of this people-pleasing behavior, I came to be known as the ‘therapist’ friend. It was not a position I would say I enjoyed because providing solutions has never been interesting to me. But it did make me privy to personal anecdotes of other people’s lives, and it was valuable information when used to update the mental profiles I had created for these people over the time I came to know them. Impression management at its finest. I was around 14 years old with access to the internet when I learned that profiling people is an actual existing profession! I was enthralled by the possibility of doing something I loved for a living.
After high school, I started pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and I have never been happier and more mentally stimulated than I have ever been in years. My mental awareness grew as I learned more about the human psyche. I even managed to finally connect phenomena that had already come to my awareness, to the existing terminologies used to describe them. I even got to explore my own identity and navigate the turbulent memories of my past and how they connect to my current behavior. I got to embrace my neurodivergence and how to heal myself from invisible wounds still so fresh in my mind. The journey has not ended yet but so far it has made me bloom into a more intellectually aware adult that has accepted her peculiarity as a gift and not a curse.
Zainab is from Pakistan, studying at the University of London. She is currently pursuing a BSc in Psychology. We wish her well in her unique journey – Editor, Psychology Quarterly magazine.