Miss Lydia strikes again! I feel like I’m writing for a daytime drama.
Grace came home yesterday, groaned, put her backpack on the couch, and proclaimed, “You won’t believe what happened today. Miss Lydia took it too far today, Mom. I’ve had enough!”
Grace comes home daily with a Miss Lydia story. This woman is always up to something questionable so I usually listen and empathize. What can I say? No matter where you go there will always be that person who seems to derive joy from making everyone else miserable be it through sexual harassment, bigotry, or just plain ol’ stupidity. Seriously, sometimes people are just dumb and have no interest in learning a better way. It’s better to learn how to deal with these folks at an early age rather than feel surprised later on that the world is full of people whom you would never want to take out for a beer. Most of us can deal with that.
But Miss Lydia is different. This gal isn’t stupid. I thought that she was for a while. I think she’s a different sort of person altogether.
Yesterday, the staff at Grace’s school was having a development day so Miss Lydia was in charge of Grace’s class. I don’t think anyone really enjoys Lydia’s affect. She’s on the loud and obnoxious side, but that can work with a group of loud teens. During the day, another teacher came into the classroom to teach “the brain class” in which the class learns about neuroplasticity. This is one of Grace’s favorite classes. She admitted to me yesterday that she does get very excited in this class and does speak out of turn. I find myself thinking of Arnold Horshack and his, “Ooooh-ooooh-ooooooh!” from “Welcome Back, Kotter”. This is not that unusual, however, in terms of classroom management. This is really not that unusual for a classroom of eight kids with mental health issues either. Impulse control, anyone? I would think that one would be rather excited, however, to see a group of kids getting excited about neuroplasticity.
Well, Miss Lydia had a different agenda. She decided to sit in the back of the class and keep tally marks next to each student’s name for every time they spoke without raising their hand. She then went to Grace during class, showed her the ongoing list, and said, “In just six minutes, look at how many times! Just look…” Grace wasn’t sure what the tally marks were for. Initially, she thought that it might be good because, in her school when teachers keep track of something, it’s always good. She then overheard Miss Lydia mocking her as she showed the tally marks to other staff listening in on the class: “Just look at this! In six minutes! In just six minutes…”
Grace shared that she began to feel weird as if something were very wrong. Miss Lydia was smiling, but her tone was mean. After the class was over, Miss Lydia decided to give a statistics lesson using the tallies she spent the previous class accruing.
“Let’s take a look at all these marks I’ve got on this list, class! Let’s do some averaging. Which student spoke out of turn the most? Let’s do an average, shall we? How many times per minute did that student blurt? Who failed to raise their hand the most? Who did it the least?”
And on and on she went, shaming the class. She covered the names of the students, but, since she had shown Grace the list in its entirety previously, Grace knew that she was on the top of Miss Lydia’s Naughty List. She knew that she was the student to speak without raising her hand the most. She knew that Miss Lydia was most likely singling her out. Grace said that she felt sick. She also said that no one in class said a word. They just sat there in silence while Miss Lydia smiled treacly as she taught on averages using their misbehavior.
That’s not the worst of it. Here’s my favorite part. After Miss Lydia was finished teaching her special brand of statistics, Grace struggled to emotionally regulate. After all, this is the teacher that locked her in an elevator a few months ago to bully her. She started crying in class. True to form, Miss Lydia approached Grace and said, “Oh my, what’s wrong? You seem upset. Is something bothering you? Were you upset by my tallying? Do you need me to walk you over to talk to someone? Do you need my help, Grace?”
This is textbook perpetrator behavior. Miss Lydia isn’t a nice teacher trying to teach manners. She’s a gaslighter. This woman is predatory! She’s found her niche among a vulnerable population and is choosing to exploit them by manipulating their perceptions. First, she hurts them through humiliation and shaming. Then, when they exhibit an emotional response appropriate to the hurt inflicted, she engages in denial and withholding by pretending not to understand her part in bringing about the circumstance. The next step that she will probably take is countering in which she will call into question the memory and credibility of the victims of her actions. This sort of “classroom management” is actually exceedingly common in classrooms across the world, but it’s forbidden in Grace’s school. Her school adheres to the Nurtured Heart approach. Manipulating perceptions to force behavioral compliance might be a favored classroom management tool, but it won’t work in this population of students because their perceptions are already altered. They are already vulnerable. This is why what Miss Lydia did is so egregious. And doing it with a smile? That just makes her look sadistic.
Gaslighting is actually very common. It’s seldom discussed, but we’ve all experienced it. Think about this scenario:
“Jenny, your hair looks so bad! ::friends hanging around begin snickering:: What did you do to it? Did your mom cut it for you? Ohmigod…”
“That’s a really awful thing to say, Kayla.”
“What? I was only kidding. Gawd…you totally can’t take a joke. You are so uptight. ::friends hanging around nodding in agreement and rolling their eyes::”
This is gaslighting. The message here is: “What I said wasn’t the problem. There wasn’t a problem until you pointed it out, therefore, YOU are the problem.” This kind of gaslighting is called blocking and diverting. A person changes the conversation by blocking (I was only kidding!) and then diverting to control the conversation in order to undermine the victim’s perception and credibility ( You can’t take a joke!). In my experience, this is the most common form of gaslighting. The best way to deal with it is like this:
“We can talk about my being uptight and ill-humored in a moment, but right now we need to talk about what you just said.”
The other types of gaslighting behavior are:
- Trivializing: this technique involves making the victim believe his or her thoughts or needs aren’t important. ( “How can we move on as a family if we aren’t talking to each other?” ”Oh, I have some problems controlling my anger, I guess, but you just need to get over everything and forgive. Good people forgive.” ”So what that I’ve ignored you for five years? I’m talking to you now. Let’s just let the past go…” )
- Abusive “forgetting” and “denial” can also be forms of gaslighting: This is an interesting gaslighting technique. A person can deny or “not recall” any behavior they choose citing that they don’t remember. ( “I never said that.” “I don’t remember doing that.” ”I don’t remember your wedding going like that. I remember it going wonderfully! How could you possibly be angry with me for something I don’t even remember!” It’s from this point that an abuser will often move directly into countering which calls into question the victim’s capacity to remember events and information correctly–“I wonder if perhaps you are even capable of remembering things properly. I mean, I remember enjoying myself. Maybe you’re just a bitter person.” “You do have that mental illness thing. Maybe you don’t even remember anything right.”)
- Countering: this technique involves an abuser vehemently calling into question a victim’s memory in spite of the victim having remembered things correctly. ( “You have a child’s memory. I’m an adult. That’s not what happened.” “You don’t remember it correctly.” “You were mentally unstable due to being bullied. I’m certain you don’t really remember how things really were.” )
- Withholding: a gaslighting technique where the abuser feigns a lack of understanding, refuses to listen, and declines sharing his emotions. (“I don’t know what you’re talking about. That was never said to me. I don’t have to sit here and listen to this!” “You’re just trying to make me feel guilty!”)
Healthy people do not engage in gaslighting. This is manipulation at its finest, and it’s malignant. If you’re being gaslighted, then you will feel crazy; or, you’ll feel like something is wrong with you. You’ll feel a need to have your reality checked constantly. You’ll find yourself asking, “Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I really am the problem.”
I have no time for this kind of behavior. I have a lot of room for people in my life who make honest mistakes, fail, get up, and try again. But this? Nope. Perps need not apply so I contacted Grace’s classroom teacher about Miss Lydia’s field trip yesterday. I’m sorry. I don’t recall signing a permission slip for a field trip visiting Crazymaking Land! I was told this morning that the administration would “handle it”. I have no idea what that means.
I’m just trying to establish a paper trail as well as teach my girls that certain behaviors are to be expected in life. Others?
I received an email from the head of Grace’s program that Miss Lydia will be moved out of Grace’s program. She will be moved to another floor. Good-bye, Miss Lydia! Grace feels better already.