I was introduced to an interesting blog today and the post was apt for this site “Do You Every Really Leave High School?” and it’s from the blog RealDelia: Finding Yourself in Adulthood,” written by an American-born journalist in London, Delia Lloyd. The post focuses on the anxiety dreams many of us continue to have about tests. In my 35 years as I performance psychologist I’ve heard so many dreams about test anxiety that I’ve lost count. When I was a young child–just around the time I started school — I started having a full-blown nightmare about taking tests. The dream all took place on an enormous sheet of lined paper, the older kind with the red margin running up and down the left side. The teacher– something of a Alice in Wonderland Red Queen type — was standing at the top line, looking very imperious and scary. I had to go up to the top line on the page and answer a question. My Jungian analyst friends would probably have a field day with this day, but suffice it to say, I found tests scary. Most people find tests scary, and that’s why they dream about them well into adult life.
Delia Lloyd offers this: “Whether it’s taking an important test or competing in a do-or-die football match or finally screwing up the courage to ask the girl you’ve had a crush on to Senior Prom, none of us ever fully escapes the clutches of high school.” Why is this so? Because when we’re in school (I would say even before high school), we’re open, vulnerable, and particularly susceptible to the negative effects of being judged or rejected. Our self-esteem is wound up in our actions and in how others respond to us. This is all badly reinforced by the high degree of competition and comparison that our schools promote and foster. I think that test anxiety dreams — and now I’ll put on my psychologist hat– point to underlying feelings of unworthiness that are particularly rife in our high school years when we realize we “are”– that existential moment in which we sense we actually exist and that we are this person. Worthiness is something everyone struggles with. I would say it’s one of the root of most psycho-emotional problems. As we grow we realize that worthiness doesn’t come from a test score, or from someone else’s opinion from us, but from a deeply personal, heart-felt sense that who we are, as we are, is OK. And that we have something to offer the world. So yes, when we have to take a test in later life, or we face a particularly challenging, test-like, situation, our unconscious sends up all those feelings and memories and anxieties that were so much a part of our lives at a very tender time in our growth. Consciousness is like a fishnet– you pull up one part of it and the rest comes with it. If you are feeling anxious about a present-day test, stop, take a good deep breath and feel your feet on the floor. Have the experience of where you are now. There used to be a cigarette commercial (Virignia Slims) with the tag line: “You’ve come a long way baby.” It’s true, you have. Thank you Delia Lloyd!