Updated: Dec 9, 2019
It is an unfortunate truth that when you grow up in an atmosphere where you are regularly criticized, belittled and ignored, you learn to doubt yourself and your self worth. Although I experienced bullying in school, my home was where I felt the least safe and accepted. I discovered at an early age that it was safer to keep my thoughts, feelings and opinions to myself, rather than face judgment, shame and the inevitable punishment that ensued. I tried valiantly to be a good girl, but it seemed that love and acceptance were always just beyond my grasp. I became a people-pleaser and learned to ignore my inner voice and place others' needs ahead of my own, often to my own detriment.
I also learned that lying was a 'safer option' than telling the truth and facing the consequences. I turned inward and became lonely and isolated from others. Food became my comfort, and lying; my safety net. It took me years to overcome the latter, and food, well, it is still an issue for me to this day. As for friendships, they were rare and, for the most part; superficial. I was desperately afraid to reveal the 'real me' and risk facing the all-too-familiar feelings of rejection.
I carried these unhealthy dynamics right into adulthood. I recall a counselor telling me that emotionally, I was like a twelve-year-old girl trapped inside a woman's body. And I was still very lonely, even while involved in relationships or surrounded by friends or family. I kept people at an emotional distance by plastering on a fake smile while, inwardly, feeling like a train wreck.
I wish I could go back in time and console 'that lost, little girl' and let her know that she was okay. Better than okay; she was amazing. I'd like to tell her that her thoughts, feelings and opinions had value. That she had value. Perhaps I could have saved her from falling into toxic relationships and years of heartache. When something felt wrong to her, perhaps she would have had the confidence to speak up and insist on better treatment. Maybe she would have understood that she had every right to be heard and acknowledged. What a gift I could have given her, or rather, my younger self.
I recall the day I had finally mustered up the courage to end a relationship with a man who was not right for me. To my surprise, he began to cry and begged me for another chance. This was the first time I had ever seen him display emotion. My learned behaviour kicked in; that of putting others' needs ahead of my own, and I heard myself agreeing to give the relationship another go. I continually pushed my feelings aside for the sake of trying to make the relationship work. After all, maybe I was the problem? What if I was a better person? And, just like before, my thoughts and feelings were ignored. But that was 'normal', right? My inner voice said, "It has to be better than this," but I had learned, over the years, to shut it out. I had slipped into a deep depression which then evolved into clinical depression. Suicidal thoughts were a daily occurrence, unbeknownst to those around me.
But, thankfully, all that is ancient history. There is so much to celebrate in my life today and, for that, I am incredibly grateful. Although there are still pieces of that insecure girl inside of me, and I am certainly far from perfect, I have healed tremendously and am, for the most part, a happy, well-adjusted woman who likes the person she has become. I am no longer in an unhappy relationship, but one in which I am deeply loved, valued and respected - just for who I am - as I am. This is my 'new normal'. And even more importantly, I have a healthier respect for myself. I am no longer a 'victim'. And, at this stage of my life, I am blessed with many wonderful, authentic friendships with people who also love me for who I really am. Now, my wish is that others might benefit from my own journey to wholeness, knowing that there is hope on the 'other side'. The road to wholeness is not as easy one and it takes time, but I am living proof that it is indeed possible. Do I still get down? Of course. Do I get discouraged? Certainly. But my coping skills have improved significantly; partly because of the counseling I received; partly because I am no longer in a toxic relationship and partly because I have learned to forgive myself and others.
If I could go back in time, I would say to my younger self, "You deserve the best life has to offer and to be loved unconditionally. Listen to your inner voice because it usually tells you what you need to hear. You are important, amazing, and you have nothing to prove to anyone. Believe in yourself and don't be afraid to speak up and ask for what you need. You are worth it. And never settle for any man who thinks otherwise." I believe that when we value ourselves, we also attract people who will do the same.
We all have our journeys and life lessons to go through. Some are tougher than others. When we look at someone, we rarely see the turmoil going on inside them. Perhaps, if we did, we would be a whole lot kinder and a lot less judgmental. Instead of making assumptions, let's try and ask ourselves, "What has this person gone through and what are they going through now?" We may never know the answers to those questions, but it could make a difference in how we treat them. Regardless of our backgrounds, race, colour, religion, class, gender, age, sexual orientation... we are all just human beings who want to be accepted and loved for who we are. We don't have to agree with people to respect and value them.
May you love yourself as deeply and passionately as God does. And believe that there is hope and a purpose for your life.