As I spoke about my emergence as a distinct professional individual in the introduction, a part of what I was describing concerned a developing understanding of the boundaries between people.
The starting point is relatively simple – a necessary self absorption to make sense of one’s own individuality, and to discover what is ‘true’ about oneself, and what externally ‘imposed’ within a family or student role. But the complications of reality – the external world – are unavoidable.
Everyone will have their own experiences that seem especially significant in retrospect, as they develop towards a professional helping career. No-one will look honestly at these formative experiences without some discomfort.
I was as a teenager a true innocent regarding sexual matters. I can remember being given a juicy and lingering kiss by a boy at my grammar school when I was about 12, but I had no idea what had happened other than finding it strangely pleasant. I can recall no consequences and no embarrassment, although since I have mentioned this to no-one before now, I must have realised at some level that what had happened was private.
On issues of gender – the boundaries between make and female – I do recall a sense of paradox, that whilst I wanted to be part of and comfortable with my father’s (male) world, I would tend to gravitate to the ‘safer’ environment with my mother and women.
Sexual matters were intensely private and rather shameful. This fed and maintained the innocence and must have delayed my learning in this area. Girlfriends were not possible with the scrutiny of parents, whose anxiety about the whole thing would be expressed in a rather cruel (unintentionally – similarly innocent!) teasing. I was for a while in love with a girl at a music camp when I was still a schoolboy, but was completely panicked by the experience when the reality of being with her happened. My first real girlfriend did not come until I was at university. She was bright and affectionate but I rapidly discovered, inspired great discomfort in me. I related this at the time to Paul Morel’s relationship with Miriam in D H Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’, and to some degree saw that my girlfriend was too much like my parents for any sexual attraction to be possible. (I then treated her gracelessly with all the unintentional rudeness of the embarrassed!)
Such is adolescent learning about boundaries with all their rigidity, embarrassment and unkindnesses! Not surprising that some teenagers prefer to remain with their same sex groups when these disturbing challenges to their sense of self can be kept at a distance.