"Thanks for being yourself." It sounds like an authentic, sincere compliment, doesn't it? Would it surprise you if I told you that these passive-aggressive words came from my own mother in response to a recent rare occasion where I asserted myself and set healthy boundaries?
It has taken me a lot of years--and a lot of personal and professional support--to learn that it's perfectly ok (and even acceptable!) to be myself. It's ok for me to assert myself and to set boundaries. You really do teach people how to treat you, and unfortunately, I have taught most people that I wanted to be treated like I was small and invisible for a very long time.
"The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting. We spend too much precious time and energy managing perception and creating carefully edited versions of ourselves to show to the world. There is a constant barrage of societal expectations that teach us that being imperfect is synonymous with being inadequate." ~Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (2007)
You see, I have always been too much for many of the people closest to me. Too passionate, too sensitive, too protective, too independent. And while I was always too much, I still never felt like I was enough. Not successful enough, not productive enough, not kind enough, not small and invisible enough. I had been shamed into believing that this was my identity. I thought it was just me, who I was . . . or wasn't. And then I started reading this phenomenal book about being enough. Brené Brown uses personal narratives and examples from her research to provide an understanding of shame and to guide her readers to a level of "shame resilience" they've likely never experienced or even knew existed. I know I didn't.
The month of May has been designated "Mental Health Awareness Month." What better time to discover "the courage to be real, the compassion we need to love ourselves and others, and the connection that gives true purpose and meaning to life" (Brown, 2007). I am slowly learning to challenge generations of harmful beliefs, including the false belief that vulnerabilities are weaknesses. I am gradually remembering who I was before I began aligning imperfection with inadequacy. I am beginning to embrace and even value authenticity, in others and in myself.
Another wise woman (who I'm fortunate enough to know personally) warns how this can require a great deal of strength, confidence, and resilience. She explains that "Gaining self-worth threatens the equilibrium of the system, and the system will fight it." If I had read the text "Thanks for being yourself" even just a few short months ago, I would have internalized its underlying message that being myself equates to being difficult and unworthy of love and respect. Instead, I used the strength I've gained to acknowledge that this message says more about the sender than it says about me as I quietly whispered to myself "You're welcome."
"When you change your role, there will be pushback by others to try to return you to your original role. This pushback is proof that you are changing your role in the system. Gaining self-worth threatens the equilibrium of the system, and the system will fight it." ~A wise, educated woman in my tribe
It's true. I had to start by letting go of the things that held me back. Do you see where the trees are in this photo? I'm not afraid of heights, but there I stood frozen in fear. What you don't see in this photo are the people securing the belay rope from the ground. I couldn't move forward until I let go of my pole, trusting these strangers to provide support and keep me safe.
Starting eating disorder recovery was a lot like my experience on the high ropes course. It was terrifying and unlike anything I'd ever done before. I had to let go of what felt safe and secure in order to move forward. I was sure I'd fall at first.. So I had to trust people that really hadn't earned my trust. Moving forward was the hardest and scariest decision I've ever made. But that view--that breathtaking, life-altering view--is one that only exists by living life in recovery. Everything else is simply survival.