Locus of Evaluation Part 2

In Locus of Evaluation Part 1 I wrote about how I believed my art teacher, Mr Yates, when he told me I wasn’t good enough to do art at ‘O’ Level (equivalent to GCSE), and my journey to becoming an artist in adulthood despite that. In this post I’m going to write about why I believed Mr Yates so readily, and it may (or may not) relate to your own story about locus of evaluation.

I grew up in a household where there were strict rules but they were often not clearly stated until I’d broken them. Then I would be punished, usually violently, and not allowed to express my feelings about that. If I did cry I would be told to stop or I’d be given something to cry for. You can see how confusing this was to a small child who needed safe, secure boundaries delivered with love and kindness.

In addition to this less than good enough parenting, I experienced Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). At it’s core CSA is about coercion and control. It’s yet another way of taking away any power the victim had and replacing it with the shame of the perpetrator. My father was one of the perpetrator’s who did this to me.

You might see that I had to perceive of myself as ‘bad’ and my parents as ‘good’ in order to survive being with them, while they abused their power. This meant that my locus of evaluation was outside myself – what they thought about what I did or said was more important than what I thought. Living with that every day ingrained in me a belief that adults were experts and their opinions had more value than mine.

This belief was added to by the evaluation system at school. As Carl Rogers says:

Evaluation is always a threat, always creates a need for defensiveness, always means that some portion of experience must be denied to awareness…

Carl Rogers (1998).

Schools in the United Kingdom have a long tradition of using external standards of judgement that each child should meet, regardless of ability and context. I was at secondary school in the 1980’s and neurodiversity wasn’t really catered for. Neither was the fact that I’d had no counselling or therapy for a highly unusual situation. My father killed himself in 1980 and we’d moved to live near my grandmother. I’d lost all my friends and had to make new ones in the wake of this massive change. Despite the massive emotional upheaval none of the adults around me thought I might need some emotional support so, of course, I was depressed.

It was hard to concentrate at school in any lesson I didn’t enjoy, like Maths, History and Geography (I don’t remember anything from Geography – I think I zoned out a lot during those lessons; perhaps the teacher was a trigger for me). Art, however, was a subject I loved. I remember chatting to my mates whilst drawing. Sometimes I’d sing or do character voices. I’m not sure Mr Yates appreciated the noise I made but it was part of the way I did art.

It makes sense that when Mr Yates stated that I wasn’t good enough to do art at ‘O’ Level that I believed him. The culmination of internalised abuses of power had formed an internal critical voice that depressed the fuck out of me. Mr Yates’ voice added to it and it was automatic to believe, rather than question him. I turned to words instead and wrote about how dreary life was over and over. That kind of journalling helped me stay depressed.

If judgments based on external standards are not being made then I can be more open to my experience, can recognize my own likings and dislikings, the nature of the materials and of my reaction to them, more sharply and more sensitively. I can begin to recognize the locus of evaluation within myself. Hence I am moving toward creativity.

Carl Rogers

This bleak story serves to highlight how we learn to believe others’ opinions over our own. And that’s why it’s so important to do the psychological work of bringing the locus of evaluation inside. I am in tune with my creativity now more than ever. I love listening to my inner creative urges and the feel of the materials as I use them to express something of myself. I wonder if I’d be this free in my mark making if Mr Yates had welcomed me into ‘O’ Level Art. What if I’d gone to Art School immediately after secondary school? Would I be struggling to let go of the rules and techniques I’d been taught? I don’t know what’s been lost and what’s been saved.

You don’t have to have experienced violent or sexual abuse to have your locus of evaluation outside of you. You may have been ignored, or manipulated emotionally. Basically, if your caregivers were less than loving, boundaried, and kind, it’s possible that you’re experiencing the affects in adulthood. Some people label this Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.