i’ve let things and people who are not me define me. i’ve let it happen for a long time. i took other people’s expectations of me and made them my own. at least, i took on what i thought their expectations were. i didn’t practice listening to myself. i didn’t learn how to be who i am. i wasn’t even sure how to figure that out.
when we’re small, if we’re lucky, we’re whole. we haven’t been hit hard by life yet. we live in the moment; we don’t think about how we look or worry overmuch about what we say. we don’t care about what others think of us. when we are children, we embrace life and drink in the experiences we encounter without altering who we are because of it.
if we’re lucky, we continue to do so. we continue to listen to ourselves and we develop without twisting into the shape we believe life requires of us. if we’re lucky, we learn who we are, who we want to be, how we want to be, and where we fit without letting others direct the development of our inner self.
the self that we should be according to the voices around us: louder or quieter; more masculine or more feminine; smarter or less smart. the self that should be thinner, or prettier, or more muscular. it’s funny how so few voices tell us that we’re doing okay, that we’re fine as we are. it’s funny in a not very funny way how we let the critical voices come in and take over. we pay attention because we’re eager to please the random voices that point out all the ways in which we’re wrong. before too long, we don’t need them to remind us; we take on the voices as our own.
it’s not the instructions that relate to day to day functioning that are the problem. i probably could’ve studied more. i probably could’ve been nicer to my brothers. i probably could’ve asked for help. correcting actions is fine; it’s how we learn.
corrections that seek to change who we are, that imply we’re not good enough as is, those are the kind we need to be taught to avoid. we need to reject the inputs that tell us our fundamental makeup is flawed.
it’s easy to do, and hard to undo.
what a strange thing it is, to try and please everyone who isn’t us. how odd is it that we continue to seek external approval when it’s been proven to us over and over that what’s outside ourselves can’t give us what we need? it can’t make us whole. it can’t make us happy.
it’s much better to let go of our desire to accommodate the wishes of everyone else. it’s so much better to develop according to our own wishes and beliefs and hopes and dreams.
it’s a hard thing to do. the voices and ideas that we pick up sink deep; the roots wind about and intertwine everywhere. pulling them out leaves a hell of a hole. the critical voices are more weed than flower; as with weeds, you need to remove it all or the belief you thought you extracted will simply grow back.
you can’t get force the ideas out though it’s tempting to try. you can’t avoid them away. you can’t eat enough, drink enough, use enough, or buy enough to vanquish them. you have to get to know them. you have to understand them, map them, and feel them in your bones. familiarity gives you the information you need to address the idea, and to reject it. knowing the shape of a belief lets you come up with a replacement one to fill the hole.
it’s not enough to argue with the thought in an “am not, are too” fashion. substitution is required. replace one thought with a better one. in the early days, it’s challenging to believe the new one, especially when you’ve spent a lifetime accepting the contrary but repetition helps.
i have a persistent thought, one that says if i’m not thin and perfect, i’m unacceptable. i picked it up a long time ago and it’s drilled into my makeup. it’s as much a part of me as my skin. i don’t believe it of others, though, and that logical inconsistency helped me to realize the belief is not based on anything valid. it’s not true. the idea that i am not good enough as-is is a longstanding one, but it’s external and ultimately, not mine. i don’t want to carry it anymore.
overcoming the beliefs we’ve picked up is both hard and necessary. it’s not possible to be happy, or content, or satisfied, or joyous if we believe, deep down, that we’re wrong and not worth it.
“i think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. now mind you, when a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. but you can overcome that. the real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.” (maya angelou)