Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of things about being true to yourself and living your truth. These aren’t books or articles I’ve been seeking out, but things coming from e-lists I’m subscribed to, or from friends, passed on as a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought about through the years, because it is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time.
For a very long time in my life, I lived a lie. Oh, not that I lied all the time (though, there was a period of that too, a coping mechanism that outlived the reason it had existed), but that I kept trying to be what other people wanted of me. The parents wanted me to be the perfect daughter, straight A student, and not fat. The grandparents wanted something else. Jobs wanted entirely different things, even people at church wanted other things from me. For each place I was, I’d do my best to be what that specific circumstance demanded.
Now, there is a measure of this that is necessary. It’s not acceptable to give a power point presentation at church (unless you are guest speaking and decided to use a multi-media approach), just like it’s not usually acceptable to bake cupcakes in the workplace (unless you are in the specific food industry like working as a baker or chef).
But there was more to it than that for me. I was what Alcoholics Anonymous calls “co-dependant”. As a co-dependant, I wanted everybody to like me. So I did everything they asked for and was the person each individual wanted me to be. My boss needed a person he could call day and night to take on obscene amounts of extra work because co-workers didn’t cover their shifts? No problem! The husband (now an ex-husband, before my present husband) wanted me to be a maid and cook and baker and personal shopper and and and and? No problem! The culture as a whole wanted me to be skinny? Problem, but I was working on it!
The reason I was so accommodating to everybody was because I didn’t think I deserved better. I didn’t think I deserved respect for who I was. I was afraid if everybody just knew what I was really like, I’d end up divorced, friendless, with no job, lonely.
I finally started to learn that people who don’t like me, the real me, not the ‘me’ I become when I’m around them, aren’t worth my time or effort. If people can’t accept me for who I am, why am I trying to be in a relationship with them? And that thought is what finally opened my eyes to the fact that I was in a relationship with myself first. I had to learn to accept myself for who I am, who I really am. How could I ever expect others to like me for who I am if I didn’t like me for who I am.
It took me a long time to take off all the masks. I had to find out who I really was under the labels of Daughter, Granddaughter, A-student, Screwed up Teen, Wife, Good Employee, Mediocre Manager. I had to realize that none of those labels were me. I finally came to realize that I am a beautiful woman who has many talents and skills, who has a great capacity for love and forgiveness, and who has an inner core of strength.
Once I figured that out, I started to make decisions based on that knowledge. Because of this, I had some changes in my life. I ended up divorced from the first husband (not specifically for being true to myself, but the end result is what I feared all that time). I ended up leaving the job that was making me work so much (but I got other jobs afterwards). I learned to accept help and support from friends, who finally felt like it was a true friendship.
My ability to be me came as my self-esteem rose, and my self esteem rose as I made decisions based on being me. When I hated myself, I had to be whatever everybody else wanted or I feared I’d be alone. As I started to learn to like myself, I started to realize that I’m never alone, because I’m always here.
It was after I was able to see I deserved respect that I was able to meet up with a wonderful man who respects me. It was after I was able to say “no” consistently that my free time became my time. It was after I took a chance on my art that I had some small successes in that area (including being published in a few places and being offered opportunities in writing I never thought I’d have).
None of the successes I’ve achieved would ever have happened until I took the time to find out who I am. Until I developed my relationship with myself. Until I realized that I was a person who deserved respect, love, joy, happiness, and if the world wasn’t going to drop it all at my feet (which doesn’t happen very often outside of movies and fairy tales) I had to make the respect, love, joy and happiness my own self.
Earlier though, I said I struggle with this, and I still do. Old habits die hard, and a lifetime of being a chameleon isn’t easy to get rid of. People who know me tell me that I have a lot of personal integrity, that I stay true to my ideals even when it would be easier to change my ideals. But that comes from a moment by moment basis. Every time I’m tempted to take the easier route (read, be a chameleon just to get people to like me), I remind myself how much I fought to get here. I remind myself how much I gained by being true to myself. And I remind myself how much I stand to lose personally if I fall back into dysfunctional behaviors.
At the end of the day, when I’m alone with myself, knowing that I stayed true to who I am even while being a caretaker, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, a friend gives me a lot of satisfaction. Knowing that I continue to develop my most important relationship (with myself) which allows me to keep up all the other important relationships in my life make the struggle worthwhile.