Growing up I always wanted to fit in, I got so good at adapting to situations that it was all I did and I felt like the real me was lost. I was shy so would put on a confident mask in social situations, when I was invited to a party or go to a wedding or social function. I’d put on my ‘get it done’ mask for going to work, I remember saying to myself again and again, ‘ I just have to get through the day, tomorrow will be better’. I’d put on my mask around my partner the ‘I’m handling it’, ‘I love you’, ‘I’m worthy of this relationship’ mask.
Around my family I’d put on the ‘My life is fine’, ‘I’m happy’ mask. And when I was all alone the feeling would creep up on me that I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t happy, my life wasn’t how I thought it would be, I was alone and sad and lost. I felt like I’d lost myself that I was so good at fitting in that I didn’t know who I was.
Part of me felt like it was easier to just fit in and adapt, while the other part of me knew there must be a better way. That perhaps I could be happy, be me and be accepted for all that I am. But how? How could I show who I really was if everyone was used to this fake, masked version of me. I didn’t feel strong enough to show people that I wasn’t the strong person who had her life together. My partner, family, friends, work colleagues all rely on me to be the strong one, what if they learned that I wasn’t? What would happen if I showed them who I really was?
How Did I Get Here?
I was driving to work one day and a Talking Heads Song started playing on the radio, as I sang along to the song I sang the line ‘How Did I Get Here?’ and tears started streaming down my face, I pulled the car over and cried. How did I get here? How did I start to accept that the masks were me? How can I develop the internal strength and resilience to show up and be me?
I started to think back to how I got here. As a child I remember my parents telling me to grow up, be a good example for my younger brother, be a good girl, and then when I went to school I was encouraged to do the same. To fit in, get along with others, make friends, do as I’m told. Rather than resent this and blame my parents or school I recognised that they did the best they could at the time. I’d read an article on taking responsibility for myself and my thoughts and actions and started to wonder how I could take responsibility for what had happened to me, what I had done before I really learned how to choose?
Morris Massey developed the stages of growth, 0-7yrs old is one of the imprint periods – this is when we are a sponge. You might notice children can ask a lot of questions during this period as they are constructing their view of the world. They notice how the people closest to them are in their relationships, how they express their emotions, how they are in their career and with their friends, when are they happy or sad or angry and how to handle these and all their emotions.
We can’t change the past, but we can focus on our future
They are working out who they are and how they relate to the world. Sometimes during this period children have excellent role models and examples to learn from, sometimes they don’t. As we grow older, looking back at the influences we had as children it’s important to remember that we didn’t get a say in how we were raised or by whom.
We do have a say in how we handle it as an adult, and what we choose to do with our life now. I decided I wasn’t going to waste my time blaming anyone or anything or trying to change the past, which was out of my control. Instead I had a friend ask me what was in my control which got me thinking, what was in my control, really?
I made a list of all the things that were in my control, it was simple to start with. I’m in control of my eating, where I live, my job, who I spend my time with. As I went on, I started to challenge myself with other things I hadn’t considered to be in my control. What if I am in control of how I feel, of my emotions? What if I’m in control of my thoughts and choices? What if I’m in control of who I want to be?
Everything is your responsibility, but nothing is your fault
I had read somewhere that everything was my responsibility and nothing was my fault. I’d never really understood what this meant until I started to be aware of what was in my control and what was out of my control. If I was responsible for what was in my control then what was out of my control wasn’t my fault, but was my responsibility to consider how to change it.
How I showed up for work was my responsibility, being real with people was my responsibility, learning and being educated was my responsibility, having tough conversations was my responsibility. How people responded to this was out of my control so long as I did everything I could to help them understand that was as much as I could do.
Instead of putting all my energy into fitting in, adapting by changing myself and putting out a fake version of myself to hide, I started learning about myself. I looked at the reasons why I didn’t feel like I could connect easily with people and I decided to start to learn how, to find people who easily connected with people and learn from them. If I could continue to learn and grow then I would be good enough, that being perfect wasn’t the goal, that growing was a more achievable goal.
As I started to grow I also started being real with people about how I used to hide from the world and how I decided to grow into myself and work out how to be the person I wanted to be. When I was real with people it was easier to connect with them, and they started to be real with me. It turned out I wasn’t so different to others after all, that we are all unique and different and working on our own perceived shortcomings. That we all act differently sometimes and that the strength to be ourselves, or to take off the mask and grow, takes a step from each of us first before we find the people to share the journey with.
Start By Learning About Yourself
It didn’t start with taking my masks off straight away, that was too scary! For me it started with learning about myself, taking responsibility for what was in my control, working out what wasn’t working and then deciding on who I wanted to be and how to grow healthily into that person. Wherever you are at and whatever you want for yourself, you can grow beyond your past if you choose to.