An Explanation of the Obsessive Behavior of a Teenager

Judith SedgemanAn Excerpt From the "Bullying" Session of Telesummit 2015

So when I'm talking to kids I generally don't mention the words Mind, Consciousness and Thought because it sounds too formal and academic to them. And I can just give you one brief example, maybe it would be helpful: that years ago when I was first in West Virginia, a friend of one of the people that worked with me was a health teacher in a high school and she asked me to come and talk to her classes because her friend had started coming to our courses and really liked the whole idea and thought it would help kids.

So I went to this class... I went to this day at the high school and the health teacher was telling me, "oh you know, the first four classes are really great – they're my good kids – and they'll really like what you have to say and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. But," she said, "the last period, fifth period, those are the emotionally troubled kids and they're my problem kids and they don't listen and they're really hard to teach and it's the end of the day and you don't have to stay for that." So of course I couldn't wait for that one! (laughing) because that was going to be the true test of whether I could reach these kids who really needed that help.

So she was right, the first four periods, everybody was... they were good little students – they came in and they listened and they got their note books out and they had questions and they were fine. And then the bell rang for the last period, and I noticed two things – one is, the teacher changed completely as soon as that bell rang. She got really tense and instead of just interacting with the kids as they walked into the room and being friendly, and you know, just a regular person, she started screaming as soon as the kids started coming in the room, "Take your seats! Take your seats! Take your seats!" And of course they didn't (laughing) and then she looked at me with this terrified expression and said, "I don't even know if I can get them to sit down. They don't like guest speakers." And I said, "Well I tell you what, how about you sit at the back of the room and just give me a shot and you know, if I can't get them to sit down, I'll leave, and if they sit down, I'll stay and talk to them."

So I just started walking around the room shaking each person's hand and introducing myself and as soon as I did that, they sat down. And so then I told them a little bit about what I do, and I said, "you know I work with people about trying to understand how to be at peace inside themselves and how to have a good feeling about life, even when there's trouble; and how to keep their optimism and keep looking forward to the future, and keep feeling, you know, comfortable in their own skin." And so they're kind of looking at me and then this kid in the back of the room raises his hand and he said, "So let me ask you something."

I said "sure," and he said, "Do you think I'm crazy?"

And I said, "Well, two things, one is, I don't know you so I have no thoughts about you at all."

But then I said, "Second of all I don't think anybody's crazy. I don't even think that's a real thing. Crazy is just a way we use our thinking sometimes that looks really bad to us and to other people. But, you know, it's not a deep down thing. It's a passing set of thoughts."

So he said, "Really? Well everybody else thinks I'm crazy."

And I said, "Well, do you think you're crazy?"

And he said, "Well, I'm beginning to worry."

So I said, "Why do you think people think that?"

Well, to make a long story short, it turned out that his grandmother had died. He came from a very troubled family and his grandmother was like the rock and the safe place in his life because she took care of him a lot and he could always go to her and she was always quiet and comfortable and loving, and she really provided him the sort of security that he was looking for as a child. And after she died, the family wouldn't let him see her. He didn't get to go to the funeral, he didn't get to see the body, because they were afraid of what might happen. They were afraid it would upset him. But then he was totally upset because he didn't know where she went or what that meant. He just was completely upset about it and didn't have anybody to talk to and so he started studying death, because he was trying to understand "Where is she? What happened? Why won't they let me see her? Why can't I be a part of whatever's going on? Why won't they talk to me about it?"

So he started reading poetry and going to movies that were kind of about death and he started getting interested in vampires and ghosts and all these things, and his family got really upset and worried about him because they thought he was obsessed with death.

(laughing) And so he's telling me this and it just looked so innocent to me, it just looked... you know, from the perspective of the Principles, he had a worrisome set of thoughts, then he couldn't deal with them and so he kept building on them, and adding to them, and the more he thought, the worse it looked. And the worse it looked, the more he thought. But of course he started looking very bizarre to other people because that's all he thought about and all he talked about and all he cared about.

So I said to him, "Well, would you mind if I asked you an unrelated question before we go any further?" These kids were all juniors in high school. And I said, "Have you had a girlfriend yet?"

He said, "Yeah well last year I had my first girlfriend."

And I said, "And how was that?"

He said, "Oh my God, I got in so much trouble. I wrote her name in my locker and I wrote her name in my textbooks and I was calling her all the time. And, you know, my father almost killed me because he had to buy new textbooks to replace these textbooks I'd defaced writing things about this girl all over my books. And then I had to repaint my locker. And my aunt kept telling me, "Stop calling her. She'll hate you. You just can't keep calling people." But he said, "I was just crazy about her."

And then I said, "And then what happened?"

And he said, "Well you know, the end of the year came and it was summer and she and her family went on vacation and I got a job, and now we're still friends but we're not boyfriend and girlfriend anymore."

So I said, "So you were crazy about her and now you just know her."

And he said, "Yeah" and then he got this look on his face and he said, "Oh I'm starting to see what you're saying."

And I said, "Yeah, death is your new girlfriend." And I said, "That's what kids do. They get all excited about something that they don't understand and if it's something like a love or a girlfriend or cars or washing machines, nobody cares, because it's ok to do that. But if you're obsessed about something that frightens people, they get upset about it. And then you start worrying that they're so upset but it's really not the topic, it's just the way people respond to it.

So he's so funny because he looked at me and he said, "So I'm not crazy."

And I said, "I don't think so."

And he said, "Well that's a big relief to me!"

(laughing) And it was so cute because he's just an innocent kid, you know, and he's doing what all kids do which is, they get onto a topic, and they can't stop thinking about it ‘til they either master it or get over it, and that's how people learn. And yet, when it's something that scares people, everybody gets all worked up about it, instead of just explaining to them, "hey it's ok, you'll think about it 'til you get to the bottom of it and then you'll be fine."

Judith A Sedgeman EdD

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  • published this page in Blog 2016-09-09 16:44:22 -0400