Learning to be yourself
Given that we didn't choose the contexts we grew up in, it's no wonder so many of us feel challenged at 'being ourselves'. l mean, of course we learned to cope, to manage, to pretend and to deflect the complicated dynamics we called family and home. Most of us internalized the narratives early on, of course we did, we are wired to do so, to be accepted, to belong, to survive. Some of us
even found that the outside narratives aligned with our own internal ones, fortunate ones indeed, but in my experience these are the few and far between. Most of us struggled with the confusion and insecurities created by a world we didn't understand, the incongruence, contradictions, the inconsistent messages and the duplicitous actions, while some of us had to make sense of the pain created by violence of all types. Within these realities, it is very difficult to get a clear sense of 'who' we are. Most of our internal resources were spent on reading the cues that signaled acceptance however temporary and most importantly that alerted us to potential danger close by.
It is no wonder we feel a sense of loss, confusion at being able to define and be who we are. Of course who 'we are' is not fixed, it is constantly evolving, morphing, changing to best accommodate and utilize our environments towards our survival. But for those of us, that had to hide and bury parts of us (in order to be accepted, be valued, loved, survive), we learned early on that it was shameful to be us, 'being ourselves' often felt risky.
To make matters more complicated, if being ourselves contradicted with the dominant family culture, and this was something that couldn't be mediated, we often faced shame, guilt and in some cases ridicule and rejection. If our pace, skill level, communication or learning style, our looks or any other measure of ourselves that could be judged and valued was not accepted we often internalized that negative value as an absolute, as if it was our own. Other people's opinions of ourselves became the standard reference for our own idea of ourselves. Within this narrow and often toxic definition of ourselves, we learned to distrust our inner realities, we learned to carry on the judgement we faced so early on.
The lack of self trust that we developed, the self loathing that rationalized our failures and tried to protect us from feeling disappointed and rejected became the familiar sense of who we are, even today. Such a shame that an environment we never chose could not provide the context for our own discovery, acceptance and evolution of who we were, instead it often distorted and pathologized our very existence, instilling obstacles to our own sense of self, our own acceptance of ourselves.
The good news is that, no matter how difficult and thorough the limitations put in place in our upbringing, no matter how deeply cut off we had to be from 'our selves', the longing to find 'our selves' grows stronger, and often finds ways to surface and guide us again and again. Once we begin the process of uncoupling from these restrictive and short sighted beliefs of ourselves, we begin the most important journey that will last the rest of our life. It isn't easy obviously, so much of us learned to adapt, cope, work around the internalized views others had of us that changing the slightest piece sets of waves of fear that often shut the process down. Change comes when we begin to allow the fear be, when we create space for the sadness and the loneliness that came from silencing the parts of us that carried the shame. We begin to learn to be ourselves one interaction at a time, one insight at a time, one experience at a time.
Next time you notice feeling insecure about where you stand, how you feel or how to 'be yourself', I invite you to notice the parts of you that are working hard at keeping you safe from experiencing the uncomfortable feelings, acknowledge the difficulty of being in the moment and resist the urge to judge or negatively evaluate yourself. Slow down, breathe deeply, keep breathing, notice the heart beating, the jaw tightening, the jittery feelings and keep breathing, judge nothing. Each time you notice these automatic fear based responses to uncertainty and you meet them with acceptance and compassion you are training your mind/body to react differently in the face of fear, you are training yourself how to feel safe enough to be yourself. The more you do this each time you feel that familiar insecurity of not knowing how to be yourself, the more space is created to hear your own voice and the more you learn how to be yourself.