Do you remember the first time someone told you something that made you pull back? Something that made you conscious of a certain characteristic or behavior? Something that made you consciously make an effort to change it, to make it smaller, less noticeable to other people?
The things people said to you, that piled up, and changed who you were. Or, more accurately, made you change who you were.
I think I’ve spent most of my life hearing how hard of a child I was: I threw tantrums, wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t stay in a car seat. I then went to elementary school where I was reminded time and again that I had a temper-once earning myself the nickname “temper-girl.”
I was also called a “walking-talking dictionary” because I liked books, words, and wasn’t afraid to share that, and my knowledge with others.
I wasn’t popular, and was mocked for my interests, my personality traits. I was on the fringe of the “popular” groups: invited to sleepovers, birthday parties, but always feeling just a little out-of-the-loop.
I mean…I was probably a little bit of a know-it-all, and yup, definitely had a temper and didn’t back down from an argument.
In middle school, I shifted: I stopped trying in academics, skated by on my innate knowledge and intelligence. I didn’t study, I didn’t respond in class generally.
I stopped speaking my mind, unless it was with the approval of the group I was in-or…wanted to be in.
But still, I wasn’t quite right: I was too loud, according to my peers. I couldn’t whisper, so “stop trying.” On the other hand, I was too argumentative and disrespectful at home.
High school me continued to shrink, to cut off parts of me to fit into what I was supposed to be.
I continued to be a bitch, sassy, sarcastic to people who my friends didn’t like. I shut off people who my friends didn’t approve of, or like. I hid parts of myself to make myself seem to be who I was supposed to be.
I stopped letting my naturally curly hair curl, wearing it up or straight only, because I dated a guy who “recommended” I not wear it curly anymore.
I’m not saying I didn’t still have some things that were me: I still actively read, I just didn’t talk about it. I listed to emo and alternative when my friends, and boyfriends, listened to rap. But…not when they were around, usually.
My parents also continued to point out personality traits they saw: disrespectful, mouthy, crass, immature, lazy. Things, no, labels, I’ve carried into adulthood.
My whole self has been shaped by people telling me who I am. What I should be.
More importantly, my whole self-image has been shaped by what I’ve been told I shouldn’t be.
As an adult, I apologize way too much. Like, all the fucking time.
I’m uncomfortable around new people, because I’m afraid of how they’ll see me. I’ve told people that I know I’m “abrasive, loud, an oversharer: too much.”
Because that’s what I’ve been told.
I’ve been made to feel like I’m annoying, clingy.
Which in past relationships I absolutely have been: I’ll own that.
These things, the labels that I wore because they were handed to me, have shaped how I interact with the world.
I apologize for being vulnerable, for talking too much, too loudly. I feel that I can’t talk about myself without coming across as self-centered. I hide my intelligence behind teenage lingo, and “I mean, I guess, what do I know?” Or, “Ya, I’m bad at math, and science, ya know: English major! haha.” (I’m not that bad at math or science, I just don’t share.)
I shut out people who love me, because I don’t want to be needy or clingy.
I don’t share my thoughts, opinions, or feelings on certain subjects, because I don’t want to be seen as too temperamental, disrespectful, argumentative, or bitchy.
I have such a negative self-worth, because I don’t feel like there are likable things about me: so many of the things that make me, well me, have been criticized by someone I thought cared about me at some point in time.
And what hurts worse? Some of these people do genuinely care about me. It’s hard as hell to know that someone who loves you and wants you to be the best you is part of the reason you can’t be.
I want so badly for people to like me, to approve of me, to praise me. I need outside validation like I need the air I breathe: I want the people I love to be proud of me. Especially because I don’t feel that they are.
I’ve given up so much of myself for others approval: losing myself in the process. I quit caring about my own approval. Do I like who I became? No, not usually.
The people I admire the most are the ones who are entirely themselves: shamelessly wearing their personalities, no matter the size, their strengths, and societally conceived flaws like a badge of self-reassurance. “Sure I’m not perfect, but I’m me” they seem to say.
The ones who don’t need someone to tell them they’re doing the right thing. Who don’t care if anyone in their life approves of their choices, because they believe in themselves enough to not second guess it.
I think the challenging kid I was: independent, spirited, stubborn, got lost in the midst of expectations. And I think because of that, even now at 31, almost 32 years old, I feel that I don’t know who I am.
Or worse, I’m ashamed of who I think I am.
One of the hardest things I’m learning, is the awareness of these things. Learning I act and react certain ways because of things I was told. Learning that my responses to certain people, situations, whatever, are a direct consequence of what I perceive about myself due to the label’s other people placed on me. Or the expectations that were put on me.
The unlearning process is way fucking harder than the learning. The learning is ingrained: it starts so young. The unlearning is choosing to remember the hard moments, the unkind words, the feeling of rejection at the words that were said, the flaws that were pointed out, and rise above them. To actively choose to change how you respond to people and situations.
To choose to take up space. To be okay being loud, even if it’s too loud sometimes. To vocalize your opinions and thoughts even though not everyone is going to agree.
To be okay with the fact people aren’t going to like you; to be okay with the fact you’ll always be “too much” for someone.
I’m tired of shrinking myself. I’m tired of wearing the weight of others opinions of me, their preconceived notions of who I am, of who I’m supposed to be, of who they want me to be. It’s too fucking heavy, you guys.
So here’s to being really fucking uncomfortable. To actively changing my thought process. To stopping the constant apologies. To changing relationships, the voice in my head, and the way I interact with the world in general.