When School Feels Like a Warzone

By Wendy J Olson, Healing Coach + Founder + Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption

All month long, we’re talking about adverse childhood experiences and how they later affect us in our adult lives. We call this campaign “Evolve” because as we learn together, we can grow, heal, and eventually thrive.Get involved by joining us on our Instagram page, @gritplusgumption and/or donating using the link at the bottom.

Despite the obvious reasons for why school may feel like a war zone in today’s society, stop the bleed and active shooter drills, it may feel like that for a different reason.

I was in the 8th grade and had a tight group of friends. There were six of us girls, myself included. We had paired up from time to time, but spent most lunches and other time all together. We’d spend the night at one another’s houses and have sleepovers. Some of our parents knew each other. Some didn’t. But we were always together. For some reason, we thought it was a good idea to consistently be mad at one of the girls in our friend group. If she pissed off another girl, the other four of us pledged our hatred for the sixth. 

It was all fun and games until it was your turn.

I sat behind my best friend in English class. I asked her about the book assignment and she ignored me. I asked again, same response. It was then that I realized I was the one on the outs. She was upset over something I randomly said to impress the other girls. I didn’t mean it and it was stupid, but she was hurt and rightly so. I was the one everyone was mad at. I was on the outside.

Months went by and I would eventually have to find a new friend group to sit with at lunch. I hitched my wagon to two girls who’d been BFFs since birth. They took me in and taught me to love Aerosmith. 

Eventually the other friend group welcomed me back in, but it never felt the same afterward. We’d all go our separate ways in high school. But those middle school years were daunting. Wandering around, lonely and lost. Maybe you can relate.

When home doesn’t feel safe and family doesn’t feel like a real one, school tends to be your only refuge. And then when that gets taken from you, you feel like you have nowhere to go. I’m still friends with several of the girls from that friend group today, but those middle school years, (and even those high school years) were tough. Add in the fact that kids have to worry about literally SURVIVING a school day, and that war zone feeling becomes a daily reality.

What We’re Doing About It:

In our childhood narrative portions of Story Work, we can always find where someone named us something that we weren’t. Maybe we were labeled as shy, loud, blunt, unruly, troublemaker, gossip. We attempt to unravel those names and un-name ourselves from the names we’ve been given. We also attempt to bless the names we’ve been called and realize that while someone meant them for evil, we can see those things as good. I myself am loud. But that’s also because I spent years being silenced at home. I was also a trouble-seeker. But that’s because I lacked attention and was seeking it anywhere I could find it. 

We pull at threads in stories until they unravel and we see what is actually underneath. 

And then we do it again.

At the end of each retreat, we take time to bless each other and give new names to the ones in our care. We aim to send our clients out empowered, confident in who God made them to be.

Red Flags

How can you tell if school feels like a war zone, despite the obvious reasons?

  1. You used to enjoy going to school and looked forward to it. Now you don’t, and you may not even know why.
  2. You dread seeing the people at school and you dread them seeing you.
  3. You hide behind your clothing choices, and may have even changed things about yourself to hide or fit in better.
  4. You feel like you don’t belong anywhere within your school. You feel like an outsider.
  5. Your body feels tense when you walk into school. You have trouble sleeping on a school night or you sleep too much, hoping to avoid the day altogether. 

Again, it’s important to listen to your body for tell-tale signs of how you truly feel about something. Beyond everything else, always trust your gut. And learn how.

Green Flags

How can you tell if school is a safe space for you?

  1. You look forward to going to school, even when things are hard.
  2. It feels like you safe space by the way your body feels upon arrival. You have a good group of friends, big or small, and you have at least one teacher or administrator that knows you well and treats you with respect.
  3. You have a favorite subject. It may not be your easiest subject, but you love it anyway.
  4. Given the choice, you’d choose to go to school. Maybe not every day, but most days. We all deserve a mental health or (fake) sick day here and there.
  5. Your teachers and the staff at your school treat you with respect, bless your curiosity, and welcome your input and new ideas. They affirm you and you feel loved and seen by them.

In a perfect world, all schools would treat their students like the precious, amazing human beings they are. Sometimes this only exists on the Disney Channel. But maybe we can make more places like this a reality. Kids need a place to feel safe in this world.

If you found this information helpful to your own healing journey, please consider donating to Grit Plus Gumption and supporting another woman’s healing journey as well. Use this link to make your tax-deductible donation. We thank you for your support!

Wendy J Olson is the Founder and Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption Farmstead, a 501c3 nonprofit. She also works as a healing coach, facilitating the Allender Center modality of Story Work, (Narrative Focused Trauma Care. ) She walks with women through their stories of past hurts and traumas, guiding them to freedom and healing.

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