Have you ever experienced a time when someone says something pretty benign to you and yet, it hits that tender spot deep in your soul? You know the comments that bring you back to when you were a child, that make you feel shameful or like you just can’t get it right? I imagine that each of us has found ourselves in that place once or twice or hundreds of times in our lives. I know I have. What we do in those moments can be the difference between healing it once and for all and reinforcing, wallowing in the feelings, perhaps even beating ourselves up over it.
“You’re too sensitive”
“You don’t handle pain well”
“You’re just a challenge”
This past weekend, I was transported back to my childhood with one small comment that was made to me. OUCH! This situation really had the potential to take me deep, deep down a rabbit hole, if I had allowed it. But I didn’t. I was given an opportunity to sit in my hurt feelings and my vat filled with these painful memories. I could have numbed them, I could have ignored the way that these comments make and have made me feel in the past. Instead, I decided to explore it. This was not an easy exercise. It’s taken me years to get to the point where I have the awareness to open my mind and my heart to really look at something that causes me pain and then choose to walk through it.
First, in case you haven’t been on the receiving end of this type of feedback, let me give you a little background from my own experiences. I have been a people-pleaser from the earliest age that I can remember, and because of that, in the past, I have taken the input and feedback of others very seriously. I gave away my power before I even knew what that meant. Especially when it came to my parents, teachers, doctors, other adults and well, pretty much everyone including my peers. I believed that people knew better than me and learned early on that if I agreed with them, then they would be happy with me.
For example in elementary school I was struggling with math, and a teacher told me that I just wasn’t good at math; I listened. I believed it. And the door shut on my math brain because of it. (PS I am actually very good at math but that is a whole different post) I decided that there must have been something wrong with me because I wasn’t good at math. And then to reinforce it, my relationship with this teacher seemed to improve once "we" decided that I just couldn't learn math. Likewise, when I was told that I was just too sensitive or too serious when something was said to me that was hurtful or rude, I believed that too. I believed that I was broken. I was flawed. Why else would someone who I loved and trusted tell me this, if it weren’t to help me identify the things that were wrong with me. Eventually, because it seemed that everyone around me felt compelled to give me feedback on what I did, how I did it or what I didn’t do the way they’d like, I began to believe that I was really just a complete failure. I truly believed that I could not do anything right, no matter how hard I tried.
And I spent years, decades, twisting myself into a pretzel, believing that I was a misfit who just didn’t get it, who wasn’t normal, who was challenged and a challenge. Decades. Trying to fix myself. Every once in a while, I would stop and step back. I’d give myself a big pause and think “wait a minute” that comment really hurt me but when I pushed back or questioned the feedback, it usually made the other person upset and well, given my people pleaser mentality, you can guess the rest of the story. I didn’t push back long and instead accepted the responsibility that I was just really screwed up and then I’d twist and contort myself again to conform and make the other person happy.
Just so that I’m clear here, this is not about abuse*. Most of the time, I truly believe that the comments made were not out of anger or to purposefully hurt me. Many times, in fact nearly all of the times when this type of feedback was offered up, I didn’t push back, I didn’t want to rock the boat and honestly, I had been conditioned in some ways to believe that I was broken and I simply accepted it as reality. So I own my part in this for sure.
As I began to heal my people-pleasing ways, though, I started to realize that these comments were not about me at all. A light bulb went off and I began to realize that most, if not all of these comments were simply a projection of the other person’s angst, fear, need to control or need to feel in control; my actions, inactions or my inability to learn the same way as everyone else wasn’t flawed. In fact, what I realized was that I am ok being me, just as I am, and the opinion of others isn't my truth. Holy hell. The moment when I began to realize this, it felt like my entire brain started remapping. Seriously. I began to recall many, many times where I had interpreted a comment as my own personal failure as a human being. I started to look at the situations around these comments and see them each from a little bit of a different angle. For the first time in my life, I began to feel ok with being me.
It’s been a long road, but I’m learning to love myself and my flaws; real and imagined. This past weekend, when the old story line reared its head again, it gave me a chance to revisit and reaffirm that I am ok. I took some time and processed this situation in my journal. As I was writing, I had a huge A-HA moment. Not only did I realize that the comment was simply a projection of the person, perplexed by a situation that they couldn’t easily resolve, but more importantly I realized that I am not broken and I don’t need to be fixed.
And you know what? You don’t need to be fixed either! Life is about learning to love ourselves, all of our bits and pieces. You are perfect and enough just as you are!! Spread the Love and pass this on to someone you know who needs to hear this message.
*And it’s important to note, I have experienced abusive situations and if you are in a situation where there is abuse, or if you feel that what you are experiencing may be abusive in nature, please reach out for support. There are many agencies and support organizations out there that can help you take the first step to identify your situation and provide hope and counsel – if you cannot find those resources, please reach out to me and I will help