Who am I?
For the longest time, I lived my life based on my perception of what others wanted me to be. While I was entrenched in this way of thinking, I didn’t even know I was doing this to myself.
I grew up in an incredibly dysfunctional family. I make no bones about this fact. You may or may not be aware that in those kinds of families everyone has a designated role to play. If you do not play your designated role, and play it perfectly, you are soon pushed back into place by any means necessary. If you choose at some point to get yourself healthy and discontinue the dysfunctional role-playing, more than likely you will have to leave the family or at least radically limit your exposure. There really is no way to sugarcoat that fact or make it more palatable. If you want more information on this, do a Google search for Roles in Dysfunctional Families or look into Family Systems Psychology.
Although there was an incredible amount of dysfunction going on inside the walls of our house, to the outside world all seemed relatively normal. “Normal” of course being a highly subjective term. Daddy went to work, daddy came home. Mamma cooked, cleaned and did the laundry. The kids did well in school. I participated in extracurricular activities as did my brother. Our house was nothing special but it was a decent little house in a nice quiet neighborhood. Everyone played their role. What happened inside those walls was quite a different story but to the outside world we blended in. Conservative. Christian. Middle-class.
I remember sitting on the church pew on Easter Sunday looking down at my little feet dangling, not touching the floor. Black patent leather Mary Jane shoes and white ruffled socks. White gloves on my hands and an Easter hat. I already knew my place in the world at that early age and I had already learned to lie. By lying I mean that I had been thoroughly indoctrinated in public social graces. Baptism by submersion in respectability. If asked how I was doing, my response was always, “I’m fine, thank you.” I never questioned the beliefs my family held or how they lived until I was much older
There came a time in my life when I began to question absolutely everything. It was about the time I realized that the dysfunctional things that went on behind the front door of our house when I was growing up did not go on behind the front doors of everyone’s homes. This questioning, of course, was all done silently inside my own head, never daring to believe it appropriate to voice my confusion or my rapidly forming contrary opinions about life and how it should be lived.
My internal questioning and silent appraisal of my life and my family of origin never stopped after that point in time. I am like a dog with a bone when I grab hold of something I want to figure out. Now I have a collection of answers that resonate true for me and with those answers, I have found a tenuous peace.
When I reached young adulthood, I registered with the political party that my family identified with. I attended the same Christian denomination that my family had been affiliated with. I thought about my actions and my behaviors in light of what would my family think (if they found out) of me doing this and that, or such and thus. I had always felt like a sort of misfit anyway, never really feeling a part of that family system for reasons I will discuss at a later time. My private thoughts about them and the life we led were even traitorous, so it is no wonder I was perceived as a little “different.” That feeling of not completely fitting in, I now know, was a blessing in disguise because it is what drove me further into wanting to comply with their agenda and eventually becoming so miserable with myself and my life that I no longer had a choice but to break away to find a better way of living, thinking and being in the world.
Compliance earns love………
The people of my origin taught me one irrevocable thing. Compliance earns love.
It’s a sad fact but it is true that in most dysfunctional families compliance does earn acceptance and the illusion of shaky undependable love. Look like we look, do what we do, say what we say, be as we are. That is the formula for total acceptance, love and belonging. This allows you to limp along until the fateful day you realize that you don’t like how they look and you don’t really want to do what they do and you certainly don’t want to be as they are. If you are like I was, the day eventually comes where you press the big red detonate button and actually say something out loud. God forbid! Clutch your pearls! Heads start to spin as if possessed by demons and others stare you down with looks that could kill you dead where you stand. Let the games begin! Release the hounds!
For those brave souls that decide to begin finding out who they really truly are, this is probably the most uncomfortable (to put it lightly) situation to be faced. Differentiation from one’s family of origin can be horribly painful. In some families this is met with outright hostility.
Don’t step across that line. Don’t go to that church. You better go to church! Don’t go over there. Don’t marry that person. Don’t go to that school. Don’t go into that profession. Don’t move there. Why do you want to associate with them?
Sometimes the questions never come. Everyone just stops talking. They ignore it. They ignore you. Everyone pretends that the mutant isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Until Thanksgiving or Christmas and you say something about a political opinion or difference in spirituality or really anything that doesn’t jive with the world as they know it and then the shit hits the fan.
It’s a very difficult and heartbreaking thing to choose to be your own person, to be different, when you know there will be a withdrawal of love for expressing those feelings and those differences. It is very, very difficult to have the guts to do what you have to do to be true to yourself. But it’s also very, very worth it to have the intestinal fortitude to be true to yourself.
I can honestly say when I began evaluating these things in my life, I had never even considered why I had chosen my political party and that was just a drop in my bucket of questions. I didn’t even know why they (my family) were members of that political party. Probably because their families had been members of that political party. My gosh. Why? Why don’t people think for themselves? Someone, somewhere, please tell me WHY?
I started tearing everything I had been taught to believe apart. Analyzing, questioning, reading, asking other people questions. Of course, as my luck has it, I could not authentically ascribe to much of my family’s firmly held beliefs and ideologies. Couldn’t do it. Still can’t. To put it more succinctly, I won’t. My conscience and education will not allow those things to continue any longer.
I know you want complete and total love and acceptance. We all do. But guess what? You’re not going to get it if it’s based on being exactly who somebody else wants you to be. Or, excuse me, you’re not going to get it from those who wish to control you if you are true to yourself and that self happens to be radically different from the status quo. That kind of love, in my humble opinion, isn’t really love anyway. Real love accepts you for who you genuinely are. Not for who it wants you to be.
As an experiment, think about absolutely everything around you. Everything in your life. No matter how seemingly small and inconsequential that thing appears to be. For instance, why are the rooms in your house painted the colors they are? Is it because that’s the color of the walls in your house where you grew up? Is it because someone you live with decided for you what color your walls should be? Maybe you don’t really give a flying fig what color the walls in your house are and that’s ok too.
What kind of house do you live in? Are you expected by someone else to live in that type of house or maybe it’s to give you an appearance you want to show to the world? That car you drive? Is it because your friends, father or your husband approves of Ford or Chevrolet or Mercedes?
Think of the church you attend. Have you ever questioned its’ doctrines? Are you allowed to question your church’s doctrines or beliefs? Have you ever visited other churches to see what they’re like? Have you ever studied other types of spirituality? Or are you afraid to do that because someone gave you the impression that if you did not believe what they told you to believe you would be excluded or shunned? This is a tough subject. A bitter pill to swallow. How far are you willing to go to get along? How much of your soul are you willing to sacrifice to fit in?
Some of us decide it’s just easier to shut our conscience off and close our hearts and minds. We decide to just go along to get along. Whether it’s with our parents or our spouses or our brothers and sisters. Even with our grown children. We never really discover who we truly are at a deep soul level in this world because we fear rejection by those who are important to us. We are afraid. We’re afraid they will think we are wrong. We’re afraid they will think we are bad. We’re afraid they will call us “lost.”
The truth of the matter is, if we don’t search our souls, hearts and our minds to discover who our authentic selves are crying out to be, we truly are lost. We are so lost that we are shut down and we feel hopeless. We feel discontented and depressed. And we may not even know this is why we feel at such a loss in our own lives.
You don’t have to be like anyone else. You don’t have to be like your parents or your siblings. You don’t have to be like the other people you know. You get to choose. Let me liberate you right here, right now! You can choose what your own life looks like! You already know down deep inside. You just have to get to a place where you can allow yourself to know.
Begin the journey……
Finding out who you truly are doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a very long journey. It’s a journey that I’ve been on for what feels like my entire life. There will be setbacks and radical life changes will happen which will force you to reevaluate again and again. If you’re not reevaluating, you’ve stopped growing. In order to begin this journey consider the things that you love. What brings you happiness? What are you interested in? Conversely, what makes you feel upset or uncomfortable? Consider those things, then read. If you don’t agree with the political party that you belong to at this point in time, research other political parties. If the religious organization or branch of spirituality that you currently practice doesn’t resonate truth in your soul, began a spiritual journey. Don’t be afraid to read books and talk to people who are in other places on their spiritual journey. Figure out what you believe. Then experience it.
What I am asking you to do is to free yourself from the long-held belief that in order to be lovable you must become the ideal of someone outside yourself. I am asking you to bravely began to consider finding your special place in this world. I am asking you to leave behind old ways of negative thinking. I am asking you to challenge yourself in ways that you have never challenged yourself before. I am asking you to learn to say, ” No, I don’t want to,” and to encourage you to stand in broad daylight and proudly proclaim, “I don’t like that!” I want to challenge you to make the sentence, “I don’t agree,” easy to roll across your teeth and past your lips.
I’m not encouraging you to become belligerent just to cause a stink. If you honestly, down in your heart agree with what everyone around you thinks and says and feels and does, then by all means carry on. What I am challenging you to do is to become uniquely you. To recognize that if you have that feeling down deep in your gut that this stuff just isn’t right and it just doesn’t feel good, to work up the courage to just say, “No. Not me. Not anymore.”
I am not saying that compromise isn’t a healthy part of living peacefully with others. Compromise is essential in good relationships. As Dr. Phil has said on many occasions, “I’d rather be happy than be right.” If it’s something that doesn’t compromise your authenticity, it’s not worth battling over.
Will there be repercussions from radically becoming your authentic self? Yes. I’m sorry to have to say this but people will leave your life. Even if you can accept them remaining as they are, some will just not accept you changing. You will make them uncomfortable. You will make them begin to question themselves. They don’t want to do that. That’s why they’ve remained the same for so long. Never changing, never growing, never truly becoming anything other than what they were told to be. But, then again, they’re not as brave as you and I. We are rebels with a cause. We dig deep and we go hard. Go big or go home. Find something worth fighting for. Find something worth believing in. Find a cause. Find a challenge that makes your soul sing. I promise if you look you will then find new, exciting people who think in the new ways you think and feel how you feel. You are not alone.
One of the manipulative tools that people can use to keep you entrenched in the same ole’ way of being, is to try to make you believe that if you change, no one will love you, no one will want you, and you will be alone. This simply is not true. Once you began to look outside the realm of people who are exactly like you have always been, entirely new worlds of possibilities will open up before you. The red carpet of life will roll out and you will discover new people, new places and new things to see, do, investigate and become. Let me encourage you dear friends, to just take one step on the journey to becoming who you really were intended to be. One tiny step is all it takes to begin to completely change your life. Don’t be afraid. Don’t allow old conditioning to keep you locked in the prison of should, could and ought to.
Somewhere along the way did you lose yourself? If you realize you have lost your self, try to think back and discover when that happened. It’s possible that you may discover that you never truly established a unique “self”. Sadly, you may discover yourself to be a composite of those who came before you and those who now surround you. This may explain the nagging anxiety that you feel. This may explain the loneliness that shrouds you even when you’re in a crowd and what is lurking behind the smile that you have perfected..
The marriage that does not fulfill you may be the result of living someone else’s choices for you and someone else’s expectations for your life. The career that you hate? Maybe it was never what you truly wanted to do with your life but someone else’s opinion of what would be good for you. Do you live where you live because that’s where you feel the most at home or is it because if you chose to leave to follow your own heart and your own dreams, other people would be upset with you for abandoning them? Dare to ask yourself such questions. When you find the answers, be brave enough to sit with those realizations for a while in silence. Think, contemplate, pray if you so choose, ask more questions but don’t just do nothing.
Love or fear?………
I have come to believe that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear. Every decision you make is either made from a position of love or a position of fear. Every thought you think is either a thought of love or a thought of fear. What are you afraid of?
In my own life, I have grown weary of fear making my decisions for me. When my oldest son was around 12 or 13 years old, he said something very profound to me. We were having a conversation about something he wanted to do. I know I used the words, ” I’m afraid if you…” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Mom, you are afraid of everything.” I was stunned. I am usually extremely verbose with an opinion on just about everything. In this instance and at that moment, I had absolutely nothing to say. No reply whatsoever. No defense of myself. The reality that he had spoken to me shocked me into silence. After that incident I did a lot of self-analysis and I got a whole lot better. When I realized what I was doing to myself and to him, I changed for the better.
It was also around this same time that I married my best friend and the man who would assist me in becoming more fully myself than I had ever been. He was my soul mate in the sense of the word that it was not all candles and roses. He challenged me. He questioned me. He encouraged me to defend my beliefs and form new ones if I could not defend my old ones. He loved me and kept telling me he loved me even when I could not find a single thing to love about myself. Elizabeth Gilbert said, “A true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.” This man most certainly did all those things. He also became a dad to my oldest son, gave me three beautiful children and a home where I felt safe. Then tragedy struck my life once again.
He was driving home from work in another town one day and a man driving a truck, pulling a trailer with a small bulldozer on it crossed the center line, over corrected and flung the bulldozer into the front of his car. At 3:59 pm that day he called to tell me he was on his way home. At 4:25 pm, he was dead.
Once again terror struck my heart and fear sprung to life in my mind. After I had finally come to really accept that the world wasn’t always a dangerous and rejecting place, it demonstrated in one heinous act of cruelty that it was in fact a living hell to be only survived at its worst and tolerated at it’s best. My heart grew cold and my light went dark, returning me to a loathsome yet familiar place of fear. That was nine long years ago and I have turned the lights back on and redefined myself and my life yet again.
To a large degree I have redefined myself on my own terms. I struggle with loss of love and at times not truly believing I will ever have that kind of love again. On good days I am content with my lot in life and on bad ones I simply have nothing to say and I try not to even think. I am in no way the woman I was 9 years ago on the day he left me. Left us. I have had to fight harder than I’ve ever fought in my life. Digging always deeper in my spiritual journey. I’ve cried more in these last nine years than in the entirety of my life. I’ve also felt more alone.
I discovered it really is true that you can’t miss something you’ve never had. Before I met my husband I did not know what complete acceptance and unflinching love felt like. I didn’t have a clue what it felt like to receive such a magical gift. I surely didn’t know how to give it to someone else in a romantic relationship because I had never had the opportunity to dig deep enough with someone else to learn the skills it takes to live that journey. I had certainly never seen that kind of love in my family of origin and I had no close friends who claimed to have it in their relationships. I genuinely had that kind of love with this man.
We were not perfect. We argued and we were both opinionated. He was an athlete and I a musician. He was a logical, rational mathematician and I a right-brained therapist. He believed in cold hard facts and I believed truth was relative. We were opposites. What we had in common was that we admired the uniqueness of each other and appreciated the fact that together we could do anything. He had the good stuff I didn’t and I had the good stuff that he didn’t. Together we had it all.
I said previously that I am not the woman who I was 9 years ago when he was killed. Before he entered my life, I had been a single mother of one child. After he left, I was a single mother to four children. Previous to him, I was a hard driven career oriented woman who worked countless hours because I genuinely loved the work and felt it was a calling rather than a paycheck. After him, I was a stay at home mother to a one-year old, two-year old, a seven-year old and a son in college. My life was radically changed forever.
I had to ask myself the question once again. Who am I? Who the hell am I now? I didn’t know the answer then. Sometimes I still don’t know the answer as I struggle to redefine and rediscover myself one day at a time. It is a never-ending process but I have made leaps and bounds. I do know what I authentically like and don’t like. I usually know what I need and don’t need in my life. I will not lie and tell you there are not pockets of fear in my life. There are. My fears primarily circle the drain around any type of romantic attachment and losing people who are dear to me. I have learned some things about myself in this part of my life also.
Come out of the darkness…….
I have learned that just because I love someone, it does not automatically mean they will die or someone will kill them. That became an irrational fear of mine and it was with me for quite some time. I have accepted that loss will come no matter how hard I kick against it or how loudly I scream trying to frighten it away. There is no escaping the fact that if two people love each other dearly and make a lifetime commitment, one of them will die first unless a freak accident takes them both at the same time. Someone will die first. If this fear raises its ugly head at me, I will fight it. It will not stop me from living a happy, joyous life in this regard, if and when the possibility of love is presented to me again. I simply will not allow fear to make my decisions. I know now that loving is a risk worth taking.
I have realized that since I had been, in the past, loved so completely, despite all my self-perceived flaws and eccentricities, that someone else can love me that way too. I am absolutely worth loving and deserving of being loved, respected and honored for who I uniquely am.
I realized that I was placing myself in relationships that I subconsciously knew were destined for failure, in order to shield myself from suffering the pain I would feel if I actually found genuine love again and at some point lost it. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition and be brave enough to exit associations that I know are not a good match for me, or for them as a matter of fact. I now trust that I do know what is best for me and my life and I don’t allow anyone to convince me otherwise.
I realized that I have intentionally pushed away emotionally sound people who would have loved me and wanted to love me. I pushed them away because of the irrational fears of losing them and that the loss would be beyond what I could psychologically and emotionally stand. I pushed them away because I felt an unworthiness. I felt in some way tainted by my life situations. I have learned that these are ludicrous and self-defeating thought patterns and behaviors and I choose to make the effort to defeat those demons repeatedly until they give up and go away forever. I’ll take the chance on eventually suffering loss if taking that risk brings me solid, unwavering love in my life. If it happens again, I will live again. Just like I lived this time and will continue to live until it’s my turn to leave this planet.
I have learned. I have survived. I have grown. I am not finished yet.
If I can do this, you can do this. I promise. I swear to you that you can. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired or if you are absolutely fed up with living a life you never wanted, much less dreamed of living, you can change that. You can change your life literally by first changing your perception of your life,
You must take the first step. Reach out to someone. I can direct you to books to read. We can have discussions and look for answers together. Make comments in the comment section and let’s start a dialogue. Hopefully, the comment section will work correctly. We can create a community of people who are all looking for answers and finding them together. Even if they may not be the same answers for everyone.
I hope at the least, I have encouraged you to ask yourself if you are living your life authentically. I hope you begin today with the simple question….
Who am I?
I know when you start to find out the answer to that question, you and a whole lot of other people are going to like the new you. I know I will.