Fear of Being Different

Societies and cultures tend to highlight the negative aspects of being different as opposed to barely mentioning the positive ones. Could this be the reason why many women in the western society tend to wear the same clothes and accessories and carry the same handbags? A group of scientist studying this psychological and social phenomena came up with the following conclusion: “A person is like all humans in one aspect, like some humans in another, and like no other human in a third aspect;” but it is the latter, that scares us the most. Why is that?

As a professional in the fields and Psychology and Education; moreover, having worked for the last ten years with teenagers and adolescents especially with those who learn differently, I believe the real issue is not “being different”; it is the fear of being judged, criticized or rejected because of it.

Teenagers and adolescents’ main concern is to “fit in” and to have friends. These two issues often become their main measure of self-worth. Being singled out for any reason can be devastating at this point in time. Moreover, teens and adolescents begin to separate from their families and turn to friends for support, advise and even their sense of identity. The question “am I ok?” becomes their primary focus to the point that they are blinded by it. Where do I sit at lunch, who talks to me, what party do I get invited to is more important to a youngsters self-image than what parents have to say, simply because “my parents have to love me”. It is the perception of “fitting in” that can determine if a youngster’s self esteem “rockets sky high” or “crumbles down to the ground”. For those individuals who look and/or feel different than their peers, growing up can be extremely hard.

Teenagers and adolescents take at heart what society labels as “normal,” “perfect” and “well liked” and often measure themselves to those unrealistic standards. Those who see or feel different have an ever-ending battle to fight. The shy, the overweight, the not so popular, the physically or socially awkward and the learning disabled child suffer in silence, or develop defense mechanisms as ways to cope. Defense mechanisms mask the feelings of insecurity teenagers and adolescents feel.

They can even develop “attitudes or behaviors” that baffle parents and other adults. They pretend “they do not care” or even think they have no other option but to conform to what others are doing or saying even if it means behaving in inappropriate ways, for example, acting out in class, teasing or even bullying. Those youngsters that cannot cope or wish not to conform are at risk of develop eating disorders, experiment with alcohol, sex and/or drugs at an early age, or become depressed. 

Parents, teachers and adults, who interact with youth, play an important roll in their lives. To have a positive impact, we as adults need to first discover our own preconceived notions and fears about what it means to be different. Do we embrace people’s differences and our own with empathy, courage and confidence or we judge, discriminate, criticize or even reject them? Do we conform or hide behind what society dictates us? 

At DelCampo International School we aim to equip students to lead constructive and fulfilling lives while appreciating and respecting the differences in others. Tolerance is one of our core values as is care, service and responsibility towards the global community. At “The Academy” division, we not only embrace differences we see strength in them. Students who learn differently are given the opportunity to achieve the same high academic standards as those in other DelCampo academic divisions. We provide a safe environment where everyone is valued and respect. In addition, we provide the opportunity for every student to discover his or her talents, to thrive academically, emotionally and socially. Our main purpose, besides academics, is for students to learn to accept their “differences” and interact with others who share the same desire to be understood and accepted for who they are.