As a kid I couldn’t read. It was almost for sure because of my eyes, but back then they thought I had a soft brain or something. So I was placed into a “special” reading program called ITA. It’s a phonetic spelling system with its own alphabet. It taught me to spell like an idiot.

The ITA, Initial Teaching Alphabet

In third grade, I was transitioned back into regular reading classes with a new alphabet, new spelling rules and the same eyes. I was like a mobile home in the path of a tornado, and I fell to pieces. To make matters worse, I had the meanest third grade teacher in the history of third grade teachers. I’m not even joking, either. She was really mean.

Side story about the mean teacher: You don’t have to take my word for it. About a month ago while having lunch in New Smyrna Beach, FL, I bumped into another woman who taught at my grade school (my grade school was in Michigan). She knew The Meanest Third Grade Teacher in History, whom I’ll call Mrs. X. When I mentioned who had taught my third grade class, this other teacher said “Mrs. X was a bitter, bitter woman.” I would probably use a different ‘B’ word… but we can go with bitter.

I want to walk away from the computer and go nap just thinking about third grade. In school, I would cry if I had to read out loud in class. Making me super popular on the playground, as you can imagine.  During that year, I think I cried every weekday morning. There was a LOT of crying. And Sunday nights, oh, Sunday nights were the worst! I would have THE WORST case of dread. I would try to fake being sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school.

Third grade is when I developed my excellent avoidance skills. I wanted to stay away from the awful experience of feeling stupid because I couldn’t read. I wanted stay away from the scary, mean teacher who would yell, “SOUND IT OUT” while I stood at my desk trying to read out loud in front of the class…. and crying instead (read: prepare to be killed at recess).

I started to want to stay away from any experience of feeling stupid. Always!  A fine example of classical conditioning that I carried into my adult life.

I was my own Little Albert experiment. The Little Albert experiment was a famous psychology experiment that took Ivan Pavlov’s (think Pavlov’s dogs) experiment one-step further to show that emotional reactions could be classically conditioned in people. In other words, behaviorist John B. Watson proved you could condition a kid (Albert in this case) to be scared shitless — teaching him to scramble like a cockroach under the shadow of a newspaper even at the suggestion of a threat.

LUCKILY we can be conditioned anew!

I will always have some flinch in me. Like yesterday for example, a woman on Facebook made a remark about a spelling error I had made. I flinched. In other words, I had a reaction, which is a feeling or a thought in response to a particular situation. I will always have RE-ACTIONS to outside stimuli. What matters most though is not the reaction, but what comes next. What will my next thought or feeling be? In AA they say, “You’re not responsible for your first thought, but you are responsible for every thought that follows it.”

I’m not responsible for the re-action – the flinch. I am responsible for what I choose to do next. I’m responsible to choose. I choose what comes next.

You choose what comes next for you after you have a flinch – that’s the truth! Your own version of the mean Mrs. X does not get to choose for you unless you let her. What freedom!

Do you have a Little Albert Story?

Note: information about Little Albert was heavily pilfered from HERE