I tend to shy away from books that focus on helping a child to “overcome” being an introvert.
Although I think it’s important to help introverted children learn to effectively navigate our extrovert-dominated world, I don’t see introversion as a characteristic that needs to be “overcome,” and neither do psychologists. They see it as an enduring trait, not a “state.” –Mark Phillips, Introversion and the Invisible Adolescent
Me, too. Whenever someone in college would suggest a book about overcoming shyness, I wouldn’t bother looking at it. Why should I change the way I am to suit others? Just accept me the way I am!
In short, processing pathways in introverts are longer and more complex than the pathways found in extroverts, thus it takes them longer to process information, which causes a problem in our schools….Literally.
Extroverts, on the other hand, get their energy from people and are almost always bored by being alone. For an introvert, recharging alone is as regenerative and necessary as sleep.
I often think that introverts understand extroverts, in that we can see the way they play out loudly and clearly in the world. But extroverts sometimes see introverts as offensive or self-alienating and they cannot see why we would ‘want to be alone’.
But there is at least one neurobiological explanation for us wallflowers that our party-animal friends can’t argue with! Although it is not recent news, science has discovered by conducting brain scans that introverts process information differently than extroverts. Researchers at a couple different universities in the U.S. almost a decade ago examined healthy subjects by taking PET, or positron emission tomography scans of their brains while they were asked to ‘think freely’.
The PET scans, which generate hi-res activity areas based on where blood flows in the brain, showed that introverts have more activity than extroverts in the anterior (frontal) thalamus and the frontal lobes of the brain, areas which control making plans, remembering things and problem solving.
Extroverts had more going on in the temporal lobes, anterior cingulated gyrus, and posterior thalamus, three different parts of the brain which probably control the way we interpret sensory information such as when driving, watching or running.
Since introverts rely on the self for stimulation while extroverts rely more on outside sources for entertainment, this makes complete sense. –Mara Flannery, This is your brain on introversion
2. Introverts don’t converse as easily as extroverts do. It takes them longer to process what has been said to them and to formulate a suitable reply.
Johnson added, “The implication is that one personality trait — introversion or extroversion – isn’t right or wrong. These variations in brain activity suggest that a lot of our individual differences have an underlying biological cause.” —Introverts at the Front, Extroverts to the Rear
This is because introverts tend to sit expressionless as a friend pours out their deepest, darkest heart secrets. This leads people to conclude their introvert friend is a bad or uncaring listener.
But it’s not necessarily that the introvert isn’t listening – it’s that their brain is concentrating so hard on what you’re saying, they’re unconscious to the fact they haven’t nodded in understanding for the past ten minutes. –Sarah K, I DO Care, I’m Just an Introvert
The most important support you can offer to introverted teenagers is to accept them as they are and not try to force them to become extroverted.
Recent research shows the brain chemistry of introverts and extroverts is different, and even leads to the use of different neural pathways.
As parents and teachers begin to understand the brain biology differences between introverts and extroverts, they should be better able to resist the urge to change their introverts into extroverts or to discriminate against them for not behaving in more extroverted ways.
The brain processes information, memory, and decision-making along different pathways, mediated by two major brain chemicals – acetylcholine and dopamine. Each of these neurotransmitters starts a different process in the brain, resulting in different behaviors and different rewards for those behaviors.
Introverts rely much more on acetylcholine-mediated pathways, resulting in a longer circuit through the frontal lobes of the brain, a longer time in the planning and decision-making mode, and slower memory retrieval.
However, they have greater synthesis of information from different parts of the brain. The brain receives chemical boosts or “rewards” for thinking, pondering, focusing on a particular item for study, and concentrating. Laney refers to this process as the “put on the brakes” pathway.
Extroverts rely more on the dopamine-mediated pathway, which takes a shorter circuit through the mid-regions of the brain, making more connections in sections that “start and stop speaking, trigger interest in others, shift attention quickly . . . focus on the outside world, pleasure, and what’s new and exciting.”
Laney refers to this process as the “give it the gas” pathway. Dopamine pathways provide powerful rewards that can promote addiction.
Findings published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that extroverts had more blood flow to the back of the brain, while introverts had “higher blood flow to the frontal lobes – home to the system that inhibits behavior and promotes planning and thinking before acting.” –Catherine H. Knott, PhD, Intriguing and Intelligent: Three Ways to Nurture the Introverted Teenager
Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts and feelings in their heads. They are mulling—comparing old and new experiences. They often have an ongoing dialogue with themselves. Since this is such a familiar experience, they may not realize that other minds work in different ways.
Some introverts aren’t even aware that they think so much, or that they need time for ideas or solutions to “pop” into their heads. They need to reach back into long-term memory to locate information. This requires physical space to let their feelings and impressions bubble up.
During REM sleep or while dreaming, this pathway integrates daily experiences and stores them in long-term memory, where they are filed in may areas of the brain. Introverts are in a constant distilling process that requires lots of “innergy”….
Extroverts are alert for sensory and emotional input. When they get stimuli, they can answer quickly because the pathway is rapid and responsive. Their short-term memory is on the tip of their tongue, so while the introvert is still waiting for a word, the extrovert has spit out several.
Extroverts need more input to keep their feedback loop working. Their system alerts the sympathetic nervous system, which is designed to take action without too much thinking. It releases adrenaline, blood (oxygen) to muscles and glucose, thus flooding the body with energy.
The release of neurotransmitters from various organs enters the feedback loop, sending components back to the brain to make more dopamine. Dopamine and adrenaline release [hits of happiness] from the “feel good” center. No wonder extroverts don’t want to slow down.
…The dominance of the long acetylcholine pathway means introverts:
Hesitate before speaking
May start talking in the middle of a thought, which can confuse others
Have a good memory but take a long time to retrieve memories
Can forget things they know very well—might stumble around when explaining their job or temporarily forget a word they want to use
May think they told you something when they just have thought about it
Not offer ideas freely; may need to be asked their opinion
Are clearer about ideas, thoughts, and feelings after sleeping on them
May not be aware of their thoughts unless they write or talk about them
The dominance of the short dopamine pathway means that extroverts:
Shoot from the hip, and talk more than they listen
Have a good short-term memory that allows quick thinking
Do well on timed tests or under pressure
Feel invigorated by discussion, novelty, experiences
Make social chitchat easily and fluidly
…Introverts aren’t unsocial – they are just social in a different way. Introverts need fewer relationships, but they like more connection and intimacy.
Since it takes a great deal of our energy to engage with other people, we are reluctant to need to spend too much energy on socializing. That’s why we don’t enjoy idle chitchat. We prefer meaty conversations, which nourish us and energize us.
Energy conservation is also why we are very interested in other people but sometimes prefer to observe others rather than join them.
Extroverts, being the majority, influence the entire cultural view of introversion. Extroverts’ verbal ease intimidates introverts, making it even easier for them to conclude that they shouldn’t speak.
Introverts can appear cautious or passive to extroverts. Extroverts are so used to speaking off the top of their heads that they may be distrustful of more reticent introverts.
When introverts speak with hesitation, extroverts may feel impatient: Just spit it out, they think. Why don’t you have more confidence in your own opinion? What are they trying to hide? Extroverts may experience an introvert as withholding information or ideas. —The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney
Today was a good day, good for healing from abuse. I work in the library at my son’s school for an hour each week. Today there were no books to shelve, so I was given the job of folding programs for the Christmas program tomorrow. Another volunteer worked with me, and we had a good chat.
Then afterwards, even on such a cold day as this, I found the two other parents in our “kaffeeklatch” talking outside, “Melissa” and “Brad.”
Brad has a daughter at this school, and Melissa has a son. Melissa lives in the complex down the block from mine, and whenever the weather is really bad, she drives my son to school. (Normally, he walks, and I don’t have a car.)
We like to either grab the one park bench, or stand some place while our kids play after school. We seem to be the only ones who do this, considering the jokes made by teachers who come by. Things like, When our kids leave that school, they’ll have to put a memorial plaque on the bench.
I don’t say much myself as the other ones chatter away, but sometimes Melissa will leave and Brad will stay, and we’ll talk for a while. But even if I don’t say much, I listen, and gather up all sorts of information which I store in my memory banks.
(Maybe that’s why I occasionally hear “I don’t know you that well” from people I know quite well.)
It’s little things like this that help in healing, as I feel less alone, more connected to the outside. It may not be a big deal to most people, but it is to people like me.
On the 1st, I noted in my diary the one-year anniversary of the physical relationship with Shawn, since it started on Leap Day, 1992.
Crystal Pepsi came out around this time, and I tried it. I believe it was much like Pepsi–but I didn’t like Pepsi. I drank it just to find out if it truly tasted the same, despite being clear. It soon disappeared from the market.
During one of my counseling sessions, I said Shawn always tried to change me, but I wouldn’t change unless I felt it necessary. The counselor called that a healthy attitude.
I now read Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, which I found in the Campus Shop. This book was a great help. I read it late at night, while Alternative Nation was on, the room was darkened, and my roommate slept without her hearing aid. Sometimes, the window was open.
This late-night setting and the book itself took me to a place where boy trouble and other problems didn’t matter. One character, Goldmund, made observations about life that I’d made myself, or agreed with. I kept seeing myself in Goldmund, a budding artist looking for himself. He wandered the German landscape, a metaphor for restlessness and wandering the landscape of life and self.
The book was set around the year of the Black Death, so Sting’s new video, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” was timely. (This video was set in medieval times.) Funny how I didn’t much care for the song when I first heard it on the radio, but after I saw that video, the song became one of my all-time favorites.
Goldmund’s passion sounded like mine: He loved to draw things, such as people’s heads, and make up animals, just as I liked to draw heads and make up alien languages. Like me, he thought love was more important than anything else.
The swarming fish on page 186, poking their heads up to eat a piece of bread, reminded me of the fish at Indiana Beach.
(Those fish would eat anything you tossed at them–even spit. This is Indiana Beach, though in those days it was just a little amusement park with short lines and cheap rides, no resort, no water park, no campgrounds, no Adventure Point. Though I see they still have some of the same rides, such as the Seadragon and the Galaxi.)
On page 195, his tendency to forget everything about the world while engrossed by his drawing and endless walking, reminded me of myself when I was deep into reading, writing, or thinking.
After one of these late-night readings, I wrote this poem:
The music of the night drifts through my window, The gentle wind and soft, earthy smells, the warmth and the insomniac birds’ songs. Each note carries a hint of oneness with everything. The song of the ages, the melting together of all experience, The one song all romantics hear.
We often found chalk drawings and messages on the sidewalks, advertising campus events or put there as pledge pranks.
Once, the Zetas made chalk outlines showing some pretty horrific things: heads removed, limbs removed, hands or feet removed. They were also pretty comical, since it was obviously a joke. One of these chalk drawings was of Paul and his dog Maizie.
The college now had a young social sciences teacher named Craig. One day, we found chalk protests written all over the sidewalks: “Save Craig!” The college had decided not to allow him back the next year.
I didn’t know Craig or the reasons for his dismissal, so I didn’t get involved. I heard rumors, but they weren’t confirmed for me until 2006:
Rachel knew a senior girl who got involved with Craig. He was single, she was about to graduate, and he was fresh out of graduate school (therefore, they were close in age), but the college refused to relent.
Darryl decided to leave the Zetas over problems he had with them. I don’t remember now what all they were, but he was upset that minors at parties would be given alcohol. There were probably other things as well.
It was a big surprise, and even my sorority friends were glad. A week or two before, he and Steve even came to Bible Study.
Shawn Rips Me Apart for NVLD Traits
On March 20, I wrote in a letter to a friend,
But it seems like, in the past couple weeks, [Shawn’s] mood has darkened and he’s even avoided me a few times and gotten upset at me for one thing or another. If we were going out, I’d say we were headed for a breakup. Instead, the friendship is threatened with breakup.
I do find it interesting that this happened after our physical relations had ceased.
On Tuesday (the 16th), when I was telling him the good news about me finding myself–through my time alone at night reading, writing and listening to music, and something he’d wanted me to do–he somehow turned the conversation to yet another list of my “faults.”
He seemed to have a gift for that, even though he didn’t seem to be such a good judge of character as he thought he was.
It was a long list, and I must say he later apologized for unloading all those things on me at once. He said these were the real reasons why he didn’t want to be my boyfriend, and that the reasons weren’t going to change to different things, like they had so often before.
The things were very much condemning of me as a person. It devastated me because I wanted to be a good person who cared for others, helped them, was considerate, was sweet and kind….
But he made me sound like an evil bitch who treats people like dirt. I felt like a terrible person, and thought I recognized those things in myself, but he gave me a hug of support as I tried to “change.”
He told me I should ask my friends for the specific examples he didn’t have time to give, and suggested things I should say. So you see I was in a receptive mood, willing to accept and change faults, wanting the truth and not people’s consoling words. He did this now, so he said, because I had an outlet in counseling.
So, after class when I went to see the counselor, I told her what he’d said. Her reaction made me begin to doubt him, but I still felt like a terrible person. I even tried to convince her that what he said was true.
She couldn’t see me being those things, but I still felt I had to see what my friends would say before I’d completely change my view. If I really was an evil witch, then I wanted to change it, not listen to people tell me I wasn’t really like that.
I talked to Pearl for three hours in the Phi-Delt room after my night class (Astronomy), and really began to doubt his impressions. She said maybe some things were based on misunderstandings.
He’d said other people had the same impressions but were afraid to depress me by telling me, even though they were still my friends; Pearl said maybe he misunderstood them, too.
I also spoke to Clarissa, who knew me better than anybody else on that campus, being my roommate for many months now–and even she disagreed, felt that he was being mean to me.
I asked, “Do you see anything wrong with the way I treat you?”
She said, shocked, “No!” I think she even cried a little. She couldn’t figure out why Shawn would say these things.
I tried talking to him on the phone the next day, to find out who I was supposed to talk to and what I did to make him think these things of me, but he accused me of badgering, and it turned into an argument.
So I stopped speaking to him. I just couldn’t stand speaking to him when I didn’t even know why he was friends with such an evil person as me, if he even was my friend in the first place.
He said he was, but the reason he gave wasn’t enough to reassure me: He just said, because I wanted him to be, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered trying to be one. So, I was such an evil witch that he wouldn’t have even been my friend in the first place if I didn’t want him to be?
And he couldn’t give me any concrete examples to make me understand what I did that was so evil, or give me any guidance on whom to talk to?
The one to speak to is the one I offended, not a whole bunch of people in a kind of Russian roulette to find them, that lets everybody on campus know what he said to me! How is it “badgering” to get some answers so I can understand what I’ve done and how I can change it?
Because I had no intention of behaving so evilly to anyone, and had no clue how I possibly could have come across that way, no guidance, no memory of evil intentions or behavior to work with. You can’t change if you don’t even know what you’ve done!
I needed the truth, I needed answers, I needed plain-speaking Rachel. I didn’t want to get mad at Shawn for simply telling the truth, if it was indeed the truth. If anyone would be blunt about my faults, she would be. Even when everyone else would sympathize me about something, she would say, “Well, it was pretty stupid for you to do that.”
So next, I went to her, not telling her who the person was. But she just widened her eyes at the list of faults and got upset, saying, “This person doesn’t really know you. They’re probably trying to hurt you for some reason.”
She and, later, Sharon did tell me what they personally thought were faults, but they were things done by normal people, not evil witch crap like what Shawn listed.
Sharon thought he was playing with my mind. Sharon said she could only answer for her own feelings, not for his; Pearl pointed out possible misunderstandings and how I could prevent them.
I figured these were the main people who would know, the ones I spent the most time with. They gave me enough things to work with already, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going to people I didn’t know as well and telling them what Shawn said.
Rachel said not to take the things to heart, that he just didn’t know me very well, but I still cried myself to sleep Wednesday night.
I loved him, both romantically and, most of all, as what I thought was my best friend. But this made me feel so upset and betrayed that I couldn’t talk to him. I didn’t want him to even come close enough to touch me.
My heart was broken again. I think I loved him far more than I ever had loved Peter.
It was an odd idea that I’d never encountered before, because even special memories begin to fade over time. In fact, if I hadn’t written these things down, these memoirs would be far less detailed, because I had forgotten so much!
His objection also came from his time in the mental hospital, though I won’t explain how; I had no such experience. He asked if I worried about anybody finding it; no, I did not. If they did, they’d realize I wasn’t as innocent as people thought, and I didn’t mind that.
After writing in my diary what happened between us Valentine’s Day and the following Monday, I wrote, as if I were addressing Shawn,
See, Shawn, I wrote both things down, finally. And if you’re going to be like this, I hope they’re the last ‘rendezvous’ I’ll ever have to write about concerning you.
Maybe math-brains just don’t understand the writer’s need to record even the most special memories–which we don’t want to fade….
Besides, these memories are all a part of me–so I’m not about to burn them or let them fade. I’d lose a part of myself that way….Let’s see what kind of a friend you really are, Shawn.
The things he accused me of, can also easily be explained with NVLD:
Perceptual cues serve in the same capacity as traffic signals; they govern the flow, give-and-take, and fluctuations in our conversations.
The child who cannot “read” these nonverbal cues is frequently determined to be ill-mannered, discourteous, curt, immature, lacking in respect for others, self-centered, and/or even defiant. This child is none of the above.
Like the color blind driver who cannot respond appropriately to traffic lights, this is a child who is utilizing all of the resources available to him in order to try and make sense of a world which is providing him with faulty cues and unreliable information. —Sue Thompson, Nonverbal Learning Disorders
One of his complaints over the past many months was having to wait a long time for me to answer a question. That would probably be the NVLD, Asperger’s, and/or introversion, all of which can cause this trait, which I had always had; I have to think of what I say before I say it.
There was the time he snapped at me and called me rude for not picking up his hints that it was time for me to go home–when I caught none of them, and only heard him continuously ask me, “So what else is up?”–making me feel obligated to come up with some answer, until I finally snapped back that I was going to bed now.
He was always criticizing my shyness and reserve, when to me this was all I had ever known, and it was just as impossible for me to change it, as it is for a horse to take on zebra stripes.
He was always criticizing my hair, when I wore it that way (plain and long) because I liked symmetry, hated the feel of bangs, hated short hair, loved long hair, and did not like perms or the other hairdos of the time. (Hair back then was still very much 80s-big hair.)
He criticized me for not wearing makeup, as if my own face were not pretty without it, when I did not like the time it took to put on makeup, and felt fake with it on. (This was coming out of the 80s, when makeup looked very artificial, unlike now when it’s more natural-looking.)
He criticized me for not dressing sexy, when I had always been so modest that even my mother told me I should show off my figure more. I was raised Nazarene; I did not like to show too much skin.
He criticized me for not wearing jeans, when I found jeans to be too rough against my skin, and could not stand that (an NVLD thing, with hypersensitivity to clothes). I also did not binding, constricting or tight clothes because of how they feel against my skin, so I could not dress “sexy” in the way he would like.
And because I was not just like all the other girls, did not look like the other girls, did not dress like the other girls, did not act like the other girls, I was somehow not attractive to him, this person who could not look beyond the surface and see my natural beauty and uniqueness–but would use my body whenever it suited him.
He could not appreciate me for me, a creative, sweet, smart, loving, caring, loyal person, with a different perspective on life, who would spend my summer drawing genies and reading books and writing about desert islands, rather than reading romance novels, hanging out at the beach, working on my tan, or partying.
He could not appreciate that I would not be the kind of girl to take all his money, or be jealous of his female friends, or spend all my time at the beauty parlor/spa, or yell and scream at him and blame it on PMS.
He could not appreciate that I could spend my summers happily translating German rather than running around on him, that I would be a cheap date happy with fast food and a movie rather than some expensive restaurant.
He could not appreciate that I had faith just as he did, that my mind was full of wonder and questions about that faith, that I would study theology for fun. Instead he said he couldn’t love me because I believed in ESP (even my pastor believed in ESP) and was too “tolerant.” He wanted me to be like all the other girls rather than like myself.
And now he was making me into a horrible, selfish, self-centered, spoiled brat as well. All I knew was that I tried to be good, tried to be nice, tried to think of other people, left the biggest piece of cake for the next person, just went on my merry way thinking I was harming no one, only to get accused of all these horrible things by Shawn.
I knew that I tried to let him take the lead in our relationship because of his ambivalence, out of respect for him, but then he would come over or ask me over and want me to get physical with him, so I would give in to all sorts of things he wanted me to do, to please him.
Then he would accuse me of starting things and get angry with me and tear me down, treating me like some kind of evil seductress.
It felt like what he thought was me, was actually some other person, not me at all, no matter how much I tried to protest his unfair opinions and analyses. And it was both baffling and heartbreaking.
So if his opinions of me were totally unfair and showed a lack of knowledge of who I really was, then the thing keeping him from dating me beyond a “friends with benefits” relationship, falls down flat.
I think Shawn, for all the times I thought we had talked about ourselves and connected, closed his mind to the kind of person I really was. He rejected me for things he said I did, but which I didn’t do at all. He was prejudiced against me for something I was not.
The biggest question is why he would do this: Was he afraid of falling for me and then having to leave me as he did his ex-girlfriend? Was it because of his brother’s illness?
In October, I decided to join the Phi-Delt sorority, which some of my friends belonged to. I can’t go into great detail because I was told to keep certain things secret. But I can mention things of more general knowledge, which “outsiders” were involved in, or which everybody knew about anyway.
My pledge folder, which held a pledge diary, was easy to spot because of the Greek letters on the blue cover, and the sci-fi pictures: The “Don’t Panic” creature from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Vulcan hand signal, the Star Fleet symbol, one of the Doctor Who logos, and a picture of the head of the androgynous diplomat from Alpha Centauri on one episode of Doctor Who:
(By the way, no, I am not a science fiction fanatic; I just happen to like sci-fi.) On the back is a drawing of me on a desert island. I colored my folder because of a note from one of the actives: “Please color me!”
My fellow pledges were Rachel, Dori (the one who was in InterVarsity for a while), and Tammy.
Rachel’s reason for pledging: “It looks good on a resume.” My reason for pledging: The sorority seemed like fun, and Pearl and Sharon were in it, along with other people I knew, such as my suitemate Mary.
Latosha once found me in the stairwell in the Campus Center, and we talked about pledging. She said,
“I heard you were pledging. It surprised me. At first I wondered if you were doing it because Peter’s a Zeta and the Zetas are the Phi-Delts’ ‘little brothers.'” I forget how, but she concluded that no, that wasn’t it. Which it wasn’t: The sorority sounded like fun, and some of my best friends were in it. I was also getting friendly peer pressure from my Phi-Delt friends.
At an open house for potential pledges on Monday, October 5 at 8pm, the actives said they wouldn’t make the pledges drink alcohol like the Pi-Kapps and frats might. During pledging, the pledge master, Wendy, said, “We’d never make you pledges do something we wouldn’t want to do ourselves.” However, her tolerance of being hazed must have been much higher than mine.
The Pi-Kapp room was right next to the Phi-Delt room in the Krueger basement. Jennifer said, “When I pledged last spring, one night we came here to our room and saw a bag of manure outside the Pi-Kapp room. We were so glad to not be pledging the Pi-Kapps!”
The Pi-Kapps were the enemy, and they partied too hard. They made their pledges drink alcohol. You wouldn’t want to be a Pi-Kapp.
The Phi-Delt room was prettily furnished with comfortable furniture, Greek letters, and various mementoes. I don’t think there were paddles; at least, I don’t remember any. Our InterVarsity group occasionally met there, and at least once I had a private conversation with Pearl there.
We drew names for pledge sisters. I got Jennifer. Rachel got Joanna. A pledge sister was an active who mentored a pledge.
Among the pledges, it was universally agreed that even while so many of the other actives had seemed to turn mean, Joanna was the one who was still nice. No matter what, no matter how the other actives treated us, she was always sweet and treated us more like equals.
Some of the actives were always nice, but several turned mean later on. Jennifer, as my pledge sister, also seemed nice. Wendy sometimes got disgusted with us, even though she was pledge master.
We could never be sure if the anger from the actives was real or just feigned because they were “supposed” to be mean to us during pledging. I believe that at first, I thought it was all just a joke, that none of them were really mad at us.
Near the end, however, there were times they did seem truly mad at us. I grew to dislike many of them–and what kind of beginning is that for a sisterhood?
Once, when the actives were gathered together for something at Dori’s house, she was scared that her brother and mother, who were there, would think the sorority girls were all b**ches.
She didn’t like the way they had acted there, whether it was in fun or not. I wish I could say that Pearl and Sharon never joined in, but I do seem to remember being mad at them as well for a while, though I still hung out with them.
I seem to remember Pearl or Sharon saying once that there were people in the sorority that year who made it into something they didn’t like, and that when they graduated, it changed character into something better. I believe Sharon was glad to be president one year because she truly could make a difference.
Later on, I asked Pearl if most of the meanness was just a facade, the punishments we were given just jokes and not real punishments, and she said that they were–except for sometimes.
One particular example was when the pledge class couldn’t go through a recital of the Greek alphabet in unison without laughing or smiling. We thought it was funny to be reciting this stuff.
We thought it was all light-hearted, just a fun tradition of using Greek letters, and our standing there reciting the letters seemed like more of this light-hearted fun–and a bit ridiculous. But they got mad at us and made us keep reciting it until we said it more seriously.
At the time, I believe I thought their anger was just a facade, that they probably thought it just as funny and perhaps had even recited the alphabet in the same way when they were pledges.
But Pearl later said they truly were mad about this, since the Greek alphabet was really important to them, like the rest of the sorority traditions. I still couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Important or not, couldn’t they at least have some fun with it?
The final walk, the one I wrote about which took us out in the cold, was a real punishment, I believe. They talked as if there would have been such a walk anyway, and they did have two of their own walking with us, but it still seemed to go far and beyond what any walk should have been.
Now that I’ve given you an overview of what pledging was like, kind of like the first chapter of Genesis gives you an overview and then a chapter or two later you get more detail about the Creation story, now for more detail about pledging.
Once, the actives told the pledges to go into Grossheusch and probably Muehlmeier to collect guys’ underwear. Of course I shirked from this, being a conservative Christian. The actives half-jokingly accused me of a lack of unity. (“Unity” was bandied around a lot. The actives encouraged us pledges to develop it among ourselves.) However, this qualifies as hazing.
We knocked on Timothy’s door–Timothy, the guy who almost moved in with my suitemate Tom the year before. When one of us asked for a pair of underwear, he whipped off his pants and underwear and gave us his briefs. I must have averted my eyes, since I don’t remember a “visual.” This shocked all of us, but we laughed about it afterwards. I hope the underwear had no skid marks.
Early on in the pledge month, as we pledges went out on some odd quest, I said I had finally found the college antics I had always expected in college. On TV and in movies, people would steal the other team’s mascot. On Ozzie and Harriet, one of the Nelson boys and his college friends did an elaborate prank.
I had expected to see these things happening in college all the time, and had been a bit disappointed to not see any. But in the sorority, we were doing so many crazy things that it seemed I had finally found what I had craved.
I liked the thought of the Zetas being our little brothers once we became actives. I liked this special bond with them. And no, it wasn’t because of Peter: it was because of Darryl, Steve, Marc, and maybe a few others I knew or knew of who seemed cool.
I was still shy and hated to raise my voice, was uncomfortable saying hi to people I barely knew (this was also a product of my big-city upbringing, where people didn’t usually talk to strangers on the street but allowed them some privacy by not looking at them), and was scared of the actives and their power to punish me with unpleasant errands or (so we were told at some point) blackball me into not joining the group, so of course I didn’t say hi to the actives I didn’t know very well, when I passed them on the sidewalk.
To a shy person such as me, social situations are divided into those with “power” and those without. The ones with the “power” to take charge and say hi and things like that are the ones who are comfortable in the situation, who are older or have been in a group or organization longer than you have, or the ones who own the place you’re in. The ones without the “power” are the newcomers.
I perceived the actives as having the power and me, as a pledge, as not having the power, so I expected that if anyone were to say hi first, it would of course be them.
To my surprise, Jennifer told me that the actives were offended because I wouldn’t say hi to them! (Why didn’t they ever say it to me first, then, if it was so important to them?) But even if I tried, my voice would probably have been so low that they wouldn’t have heard me anyway.
When the frats said they were service organizations, we saw that as a joke. Everybody knew the frats spent most of their time partying and hanging out. It seemed that the service they did do was to make sure they got in their obligatory service and didn’t lose their right to be a fraternity on the Roanoke campus.
When we had to do chores for the actives, Sharon asked some of us to wash her dishes. She felt bad, however, because these dishes had been sitting around for some time and were moldy. I don’t remember what happened to those dishes. I hope she threw them out instead.
Once, when the actives took the pledges down to the lake and island, I was blindfolded and Pearl was driving around in her scooter. Something happened on the mud or on the bridge that made her temporarily lose control, and next thing I knew, she was crying out in shock and dismay and a bit of amusement as the scooter banged against my heels.
I wasn’t hurt at all, and she soon got the situation under control. But after that we joked about Pearl running me over with her scooter.
On October 12, I joked around with Pearl. I made a low bow and said, “Greetings, active,” after class. I gestured her inside when I opened the Krueger door. I put my palms together like my genie Zara, and said I’d wait in line so she’d have someone to stand by.
She thought it was funny, and told the others as I went in line. Then Rachel started calling me a brownnoser. It was fun. Behind it all was an ever-present, “NOT!”
I wasn’t brownnosing; I was just having fun. Then I drew a picture on Pearl’s board of Zara coming out of her water jar and saying, “Your wish is my command, mistress!”
The next day, I found several notes about it, ranging from, “Bebe hasn’t got enough brown on her nose for everybody. We’ll have to fix that” by Sharon, to “Nice picture, but it should say MASTER SIR (followed by ‘In your dreams, man cub’).”
On October 14, I got kidnapped by the actives: Jennifer told me to come to the Phi-Delt room at 8:15 to interview her before the meeting. When I arrived, I saw actives whispering together by the room, and began to worry. When I got down the hall, two of them grabbed my arms and said, “You’re being kidnapped.” They took me out to a car, and stuffed me in the back with another active and Jennifer. It was fun.
They took me to one active’s family home, ordered pizza, and played the Grease soundtrack. Somebody passed around playing cards with pictures of Chippendale dancers. I don’t believe I sat there in judgment, but I didn’t join in as the others goggled at the cards, because it was against my religion. One of the girls picked out a dark-haired guy with glasses and blue-green eyes and said, “Here’s one you might like.”
When explaining what pledges could do while kidnapped, the actives included homework, just as naturally as if it happened all the time. Yet when I said I wanted to do homework, they acted like I was strange, and said, “NOBODY ever does homework on kidnaps!” But I was a student first, pledge second, and I had a lot of homework to do. My teachers would not have accepted the excuse that I was at a sorority party.
They were supposed to kidnap at least one pledge, and we were supposed to kidnap at least one active. Since I’d already been kidnapped, I couldn’t be kidnapped again, so I was safe after this.
The other pledges finally found me after calling up a lot of S– numbers to find me. They said I was the most popular person in S– that night.
Our punishment for me being kidnapped, was to bum pennies from people on the afternoon of the 18th. People were pretty nice, but a few of them gave us funny looks. On the 21st, we had to get 50 people (preferably guys) to sign a roll of toilet paper, without ripping it. We got at least 51 in half an hour.
On the night of the 18th, we went on a scavenger hunt dressed in bathrobes. Dori wore a shower cap, Tammy wore a Burger King crown, someone had Pearl’s Spike, and I had a soft, cuddly Garfield. We got funny looks from people.
The worker in a gas station, our first spot, gave us such weird looks that I showed her the sorority button on my robe as we left. Rachel told everyone we were sleepwalking. A guy employee in Hardee’s, obviously in on it, laughed his head off.
In another place (the wrong one), there were a bunch of guys a little older than us. Dori told them, maybe to a comment that we looked good, that it was the latest style. She also told the guy in Hardee’s that it was a winter version of a bathing suit contest.
We were supposed to tell people we wanted to be dressed like that. At a small Dairy Queen (another wrong place), some girls there, probably our age or younger, saw us, and one said something like, “I don’t know. They probably don’t dress like that all the time. I hope not!”
I believe all the Greek organizations would send pledges on night walks. This was no secret; I heard stories about such things even when not pledging.
We’d be driven out somewhere, then have to make our way back without letting the actives see us, because they said they’d take us out even farther if they did. We were told to dress warmly for these walks, and if we had to change, would be given a chance to run back to our rooms and do so.
It was fun at first, all this wandering around in corn fields and by the side of the road, trying to find our way back in the dark and without being seen by any passing cars. We all loved it.
I said it reminded me of the End Times (when interpreted literally), with Christians wandering around during the Tribulation without being seen by the authorities who would kill them. It wasn’t terribly cold yet, though it was fall and starting to get cold, and we were (except for the last time) taken only a short distance away and could find our way back pretty quickly.
On the 25th, I wrote in my pledge diary, “Starting to get stressed out.”
On the 26th, we did a carnival of some kind; the actives changed the meeting time on us, which inconvenienced the pledges. Rachel and Tammy were ticked about everything.
That night, I learned that I was not the only one thinking of quitting: Tammy had the same thoughts. Sometimes it just seemed like too much to do, with everything else. The actives were also ticked with us, and sent us on a walk with a piece of toilet paper that was not to be torn or wrinkled. But by Grossheusch, we saw a huge, white shape, probably an owl, fly from a tree.
On the 27th was a Trust Walk, a kind of obstacle course, with our pledge sisters. You were supposed to wear a blindfold and do whatever your pledge sister led you to do, showing your trust in her.
This was supposed to be a secret thing that Memadmin considered hazing; once or twice, there was a bustle because they saw Memadmin’s car (so they said). They said that Memadmin hated the Greek organizations and wanted them gone, and would find any excuse she could to get rid of them.
The Trust Walk was by the suites, probably in the courtyard or maybe in the yard behind Hofer. I think it was at night. It was snowing and cold.
Jennifer took me to a stairway in the suites and had me crawl up and down and go under things which I couldn’t see, with me, all the while, trusting that she was leading me in the right direction and wouldn’t let any harm come to me. We didn’t know where we were at the time, or that there really wasn’t a low fence above our heads.
On the 28th, we unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap Sharon. We hid in the darkened RA supply room for this. There had been tales that it was haunted by a spirit of suicide, and that it had been made into an RA room because at least two girls who’d lived there had committed suicide.
But no ghosts bothered us that night. I took off work and Rachel skipped her late French class, which was, I think, with Ruth.
Hell Week was aptly named: it was the week of testing, after or during which you would be initiated. You had to follow so many rules it was hard to remember them all. The Phi-Delts had to be dressed up every day, for one. I won’t go into everything I remember because I’m not sure how much of it is secret.
Our punishments were carrying around various items, which I also won’t name, though everybody in the school would have seen them. These items were always in danger of being stolen by frat pledges. The Phi-Delt actives called it “Help Week,” but everyone else called it Hell Week. I’ve mentioned elsewhere some of the things other pledges had to do.
On the 31st, I spent all day cleaning my room and ironing. Though no one ever actually checked my room, the word was that we had to have even our underwear ironed for Hell Week and that the actives could come check our rooms at any time.
The first day of Hell Week was Sunday, November 1. I got to hold Baby Omega, a hard-boiled egg in a miniature baby basket, decorated to look like it had a face and was a baby in a basket. It was cute.
Though we were supposed to ignore “evils” (males) as if they didn’t even exist during Hell Week (which I believe the actives said we were excellent at), we were allowed to talk to men if it was for or in a class or if it was a teacher or if we were at church. So when I went to church on day one of Hell Week, it was a relief to be able to talk to the men and boy there. I told them about the “evils” stuff, and they laughed.
I expected Hell Week to be a bit of a trial, but until I got involved in pledging, I didn’t realize just how taxing it could be. I couldn’t memorize all the rules they gave us (I think there were several pages of them), and often forgot them. (I bet NVLD had something to do with this.)
I had no idea I was supposed to greet all the actives before sitting down at meals, for example, until they got mad and told me I had to do it. Rachel later said it was pretty stupid not to, but it wasn’t stupidity, it was ignorance.
Then we also had to get up and wear a dress for 7am breakfast, which was really hard to do after they kept us up late into the night. Then they didn’t let us take naps during the day to make up for this.
In the evenings at the meetings, they would give us our points and I would find pages filled with various things I had done “wrong” and the points taken away from me. I felt I could do nothing right.
I was punished far more than anybody else: Some of the point amounts taken away were so large that it seemed ridiculous, probably going into the tens or even hundreds. My points were going into the negatives! It was impossible to make them up now.
Then I’d be made to carry Sally, this big rag doll, which I believe was supposed to be a “punishment,” what the person with the least points would carry. Carrying around Baby Omega wasn’t so bad; this was for the midrange of points.
But soon into Hell Week, I never got to carry her; I only got Sally. I always had the least number of points of anyone. I wanted to cry.
The thought of a whole week of this stuff made me only wish for the end of it–and wasn’t pledging supposed to be fun? I also wondered how I could stand going through a Hell Week every semester until graduation, since even as an active I would have to deal with them: getting up for breakfast, going to meetings, that sort of thing.
We pledges often complained that the actives themselves showed a lack of unity by not always showing up for meals or meetings during Hell Week like they were supposed to, and often backbiting each other.
We were supposed to yell greetings (such as “Hello Miss —“) to the actives even if they were halfway across the campus and we saw them.
I felt physically unable to yell. There had been various times throughout my life, including when Emily would yell greetings to me, when I had tried to yell and ended up barely speaking above my normal voice. I had never even been able to scream, except maybe on a roller coaster (and even then I don’t think I was very loud). To this day, it’s hard for me to get my voice that loud.
I believe that, during Hell Week, I made myself look neither to the right nor to the left as I walked along the sidewalks, in hopes I wouldn’t see an active and have to yell at her.
I didn’t wear a dress in Food Service, though I was supposed to wear one the rest of the time, because that was hardly the place to wear nice clothes like that. You’d sweat in them (it was very steamy back there) and possibly get ketchup or the weird Food Service smell on them.
When I was expressing my worries once, Rachel said the actives probably wouldn’t make me wear a dress to work because “they know it’s a suck job” or “sucky job” or “sh-ty job.”
Since I also hadn’t heard any rules stating that pledges could carry each others’ doll or egg or whatever, I had no clue that I could give Sally to one of my pledge sisters to watch while I was working. So where else could I put her but in the coat room? For what happened next, see a letter which I have copied below.
It may have been during Hell Week when Dori dropped out. I believe Tammy dropped out a bit before that, saying she came into the sorority to meet people but I believe she said either she had no time or didn’t like the pledging stuff that was going on.
I didn’t know about it until somebody told me about it the next day, and I believe Dori was talking to us about it on the little lawn outside the front door of Old Main.
It seems like there were three of us during the first day or two of Hell Week, but soon there were only two. I believe she told us she didn’t like feeling like she had to be friends with the Phi-Delts just because they were Phi-Delts, and may have said that this was especially because of how they were treating us.
The last walk, the one which I considered to be hazing and a true punishment, along with an unfair and dangerous one because of the possibility of frostbite, was on the second day of Hell Week, Monday, November 2. I wrote about it in the letter copied below.
We were sent on this walk because we couldn’t find anything during an on-campus scavenger hunt. Pledge “unity” had turned into an us against them attitude, since the way the actives treated us had made this necessary. (One compliment they did have for us was that we were very unified.)
Rachel and I had a talk during the walk about both quitting. I was so angry with the actives that I began thinking seriously about it, and I may have made up my mind before the walk was even over.
I keep thinking I made it halfway through Hell Week; maybe I quit on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. It was said that we would have only had to go through part of Hell Week, and that the night of the day I quit (and then Rachel quit) would have been the night we got initiated. The word was that they were already getting ready for it.
Here is a clipping of my e-mail to Mike (Wendy’s brother) in late 1999:
Did you know I was part of the Ill-Fated Pledge Class of 1992?
“The Ill-Fated Pledge Class” was the Phi-Delt name for it.
For about a month I actually thought I’d like to be a Phi-Delt, me, the loner. One person wondered if it was because my ex was a Zeta, but no, it was because I had friends in it and it sounded fun.
But as pledging went on, it just didn’t seem as much fun anymore. Actives being mean may have been playacting, but it still was annoying, and I didn’t see any sense in it.
And we never could understand why we should take the Greek alphabet recitals so seriously. It was just so funny to stand up there reciting it in unison for the actives. But when we giggled we ended up getting demerits.
These demerits were made up by carrying out punishments which the actives gave us, such as bumming pennies or going on a walk.
Then there was the time I was forced to leave Sally in the coat room by the kitchen…I didn’t know of anything else to do with her, since I worked in Food Service and couldn’t have her with me, so they [somehow found her and] stuck her in the Phi-Delt room and made it look like she’d gone and gotten drunk because of me not watching over her…She was just a doll!
Then there was Hell Week… All those rules I could never memorize, constantly breaking ones I wasn’t aware of because of that, trying to get my homework done, trying to survive on little sleep and not being allowed to nap, actives acting meaner, then finally the actives get really upset with us (there were only two of us left by this time) and send us out on a walk in the frigid cold, so far out we have no clue where we are…
We had our pledge sisters with us, but they didn’t know any better than we did where we were. We walked for hours trying to find the campus in the cold and dark, and by the time we got back, it was already 1:30 (on a school night), my feet had gone from chilled to [hurting to] numb (possibly frostbitten), Rachel and I had discussed dropping out (while the actives were out of hearing range), and I was mad.
There’s no way I’d ever want to go through that again. It was that night or the next that I decided to drop out, and Rachel soon followed, after going through breakfast in the morning.
She told them I’d dropped out and then told me they were a bit ticked I hadn’t gone there myself to tell them, but after the late nights they’d been giving us, there was no way I wanted to dress up and go to breakfast at 7 in the morning.
A couple years later, I was mystified to hear that Rachel would have liked to try joining again. Why, after all that?
I also talked with Rachel in her room before or after quitting, and she read a letter she had written about the Phi-Delts. I remember something about a tree being used as an image, and her showing disgust about how the actives had treated the pledges and the actives’ lack of unity. Then she asked me if I thought it was a good letter, and I did.
But one thing I don’t believe I knew at the time was that it was a letter, and not just a poem or essay she had written to make herself feel better, and that she planned to actually give it to the Phi-Delts.
The ironic thing about it was, Pearl later told me that the letter about their lack of unity had so distressed the Phi-Delts and given them such a common cause that they ended up more unified.
Jennifer soon pulled me aside, probably after Sophomore Honors and probably into a deserted hallway in Verhulst, the music building, and talked to me. She was worried that I was mad at the Phi-Delts and felt the way Rachel did about them.
At that time, I felt I could truthfully say I wasn’t mad at the Phi-Delts. (I was mad at some of them, but, I guess, not all of them as a whole.) Perhaps she had tried to explain the actions of the Phi-Delts and put them in a nicer light, which would explain my change of heart.
Of course, I hadn’t yet read a letter Rachel would send to the campus newspaper in April. Jennifer told me about the letter Rachel had dropped off in the Phi-Delt room–she just went down there while they were there and dropped it off–and I told her I hadn’t been aware she would actually show it to the Phi-Delts. I’d thought it was an angry letter which you write but don’t send.
She asked me not to talk to others about the secret pledging things we did, since part of the fun of being in a sorority is having these secrets.
Of course, things like walks and pledges avoiding evils and all that are common knowledge (all the Greek organizations seemed to do that), so I don’t feel bad about talking about those things.
As for any secrets I may have revealed here, well, for one thing I’ve been told they changed their pledging because Rachel revealed so much of it in her letter in April. The things I’ve written here were, most of them, done in front of people outside the organization, either students or people in the surrounding towns.
Jennifer told me to keep my pledge diary so that, if I ever decided I wanted to pledge again, I could read it and remember why I dropped out in the first place, leading me to never make that mistake of pledging again.
I did, however, have to let her remove things from it, things that pertained to the actives which they didn’t want people outside the organization to have. This included the actives’ schedules, mottos and such which we were to memorize, and the interviews I had done with the actives.
Cindy got really mad at Pearl and Sharon over how they treated pledges, and noticed, the day after I quit, that I sat by the non-trad in Sophomore Honors instead of by them.
I did this because, yes, I was still hurting and fuming over the whole thing. I did soon start sitting with them again and forgave them, and it all seemed forgotten–though, possibly, not by Cindy.
After that, and after a Zeta party which I describe in the November 1992 chapter, I did not like fraternities or sororities. I was told that the Phi-Delts changed a lot of things because of the “Ill-Fated Pledge Class,” and because of scathing letters Rachel wrote to the Phi-Delts and the school newspaper, and that I should pledge again, but I refused.
Though I didn’t think Rachel’s letter was appropriate, and she later regretted it, it spoke of things I was not aware of before, things which made it sound like some actives did not want me in the sorority for some mysterious reason.
We were told that we were the most unified pledge class; however, we were unified against the actives. I don’t see how hazing causes unity in a fraternity or sorority.
To my shock, senior year, Rachel said she wanted to pledge again, but couldn’t now. She even regretted dropping out. How could this be, after the things we’d said to each other the night before dropping out?
Not all the actives seemed to join in the hazing. Some were really sweet. I think my friends and our pledge sisters stayed out of the worst of it, but it was still hard to deal with being reprimanded or punished by a group that included close friends.
I soon forgave my friends, but there never was any sort of relationship between me and my Phi-Delt suitemate, Mary. I also had trouble with the pledge master Wendy.
That semester, only the Phi-Delts and the Zetas could have pledges, for some reason I’ve forgotten. All the Zeta pledges also dropped out one by one, until neither the Phi-Delts nor the Zetas had pledges left.
On April 30, a letter to the editor by Rachel hit the school newspaper. It filled the last page with complaints about the Phi-Delts.
The Phi-Delts were very upset, and also changed many of their practices to be less harsh, and because the letter gave away pledging secrets (one reason why I included the details I did in my account: they were no longer secrets anyway).
I won’t describe all of what she said, just how it affected me and my own account, since I don’t think there’s much point in rehashing all of her complaints.
She spoke of “psychological abuse,” such as being “ridiculed and degraded” with laughs, heckles, snide remarks and crudeness for not finishing the scavenger hunt on time. She spoke of “mental abuse, belittlement,” “cruelty.”
I noted a few references to me, though I was not named: forcing even a “rather conservative” pledge to ask guys for condoms and underwear (I felt humiliated by this task and not having the option to sit it out), and “the only other [remaining] pledge” on the Trust Walk.
This part particularly bothered me, because I now discovered new reasons to feel paranoid, things I did not know before, and could have happily spent the rest of my life not knowing: Rachel was told to climb a stairway on her hands and knees, but walk back down; I was “forced to crawl” up and down. The actives had also gathered an audience to watch us.
Another example of hazing is the point system the actives put us under. Rarely did the other pledge receive a positive total of points at the end of the day.
It made me want to cry.
In fact, it was said that the actives would discuss in their meetings reasons they could take points away from this pledge the next time they saw her. (All this, and more, because they did not want her to be a successful pledge. Several members were quoted as having said, ‘I hope she quits.’)
WHAT? WHY? Why on earth did they have it in for me? What could I have possibly done to make them want me to quit? Me, who never wanted to offend anyone, who barely even knew any of them, and was usually called sweet, quiet, innocent, nice, kind, caring? I could not recall ever doing anything to hurt these people!
I don’t know why they didn’t like me. I try to be nice to people. Here I was feeling a rejection I hadn’t felt in some time, and remembering that I’d felt like crying when things were going on.
It was especially bad because of what was going on with Shawn at that time, which already depressed me and did horrible things to my self-esteem. I was glad to realize that it probably wasn’t the whole group doing this, just maybe a few people who didn’t know me all that well, that my friends there would never have done such a thing as those few people did.
This also reassured me that I made the right decision in quitting, because, as I jotted in the margin, this was “subtle, but classical, sorority snobbery”–and I wanted no part of an organization that behaved this way. It was middle school all over again! She wrote,
Is it really so difficult to tell someone when you don’t feel that person is ‘Greek material,’ especially if you pressure her into joining in the first place?
She spoke of backstabbing, gossip, complaining instead of changing, harassment, “criticize in the cruelest of ways,” “degrade to compensate for lack of self-esteem, belittle, or abuse others for their own pleasure.”
It confirmed that what I felt was abuse, really was, that I was not the only one feeling abused. Even Cindy had been upset at them.
Losing hundreds of points for stupid reasons and having to carry Sally, that humiliated me. And isn’t humiliation one of the determining factors for if something is hazing?
And if it was all just mind games, something they didn’t really mean and something they claimed to have gone through themselves that only brought them closer together in the end–why would I want to be with a group of people who treated people that way as a joke?
The fact that they didn’t apologize for the things they did need to answer for, or even try to explain them as misunderstandings or rumors, concerned me and made me even more glad I quit before I was initiated.
As I told Clarissa, the letter actually embarrassed me because Rachel would refer to the only remaining pledge besides her–and anyone who paid attention would know that was me.
This is a time when I probably most wanted to speak to Shawn, but he was gone home. Though I’m not sure why I’d want to, after the psychological abuse he himself put me through, but I still suffered from Stockholm Syndrome.
Rachel later felt sorry for sending this letter to the editor, and even considered pledging again. That surprised me.