I have, for many years, taken a path of self-dismissal. A good score? Well that’s expected, so it’s nothing to be pleased about. Dramatic weight loss? Cool, but that was really just you pulling yourself together from being so pathetic, so it’s nothing impressive so much as it is, I’d say, ABOUT TIME.
Somehow, somewhere, I got some key personality traits jumbled up. I took on humility so intensely that it became a special form of low confidence, self-disgust. I’ve also been guilty of mixing up intimacy with self-love, and co-dependence with both. It comes from the concern of the direct reaction of others to nearly everything I do. What will my parents think? What will my friends say? And nearly always, this is the term we know as “Shame.”
My incomplete list of issues that I both desperately want to and will not openly talk about because of shame:
-In some cases of relationships, I have let people come to me overly much: my many multitudes of relationship sins include taking on too much emotionally, taking on too much physically, and feeling guilty for not taking on more financially, even when it’s bankrupt me. I’m also frightened to talk about these particular sins, because they sound an awful lot like martyrdom, and no one really wants to hear a woe-is-me story about someone who struggled just oh so hard in a relationship by doing everything they could to keep it going.
-I’ve really struggled with depression. It has been so hard to figure out how to feel correctly and completely and at all.
-Money. I will not discuss money with anyone unless held at knifepoint. Or unless I’m desperate. Then, when I discuss it, I feel ashamed asking for any assistance, and disgusting if I take assistance, which then comes across as ungrateful, again BECAUSE I won’t talk about it, and I seem greedy and entitled when in fact I am pushing myself to the limit and so grateful for help that I can’t speak because of shame.
- My heart condition must sound like the biggest plea for attention in the world, and I hate discussing it. But it’s also this super-real issue for me, and it makes me tired each day. It also feels like the worst excuse, “look I really can’t drink more, I have a heart condition, I have to go to bed.”
And the list goes on.
There are so many layers of complexity here, explaining each of these issues and the way they relate to my upbringing and my own decisions and my education, but the key factor in all of them appears to be the belief that my thoughts about myself are not sufficient. For them to be valid, I have to submit them to some other thinker (parents, boyfriends, professor, friends).
I submit today that the idea that we are incomplete without shame in this sense is complete bullshit.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that when I feel something genuinely, if I cannot get another person to understand my point of view, then my feelings are not valid. This mentality, this idea that we have to constantly compare ourselves to some mysterious standard, is exactly what makes us feel that our accomplishments are not worth celebrating. My weight loss, for example. Holy hell is this one that so many people can understand at a basic but not individual level. My journey towards becoming healthier had layers that ran deeper than calories in, calories out. It included the diagnosis of a life-long heart condition, my push against severe depression, and finally, changes in my lifestyle that would help me to become better (more well).
During this struggle, I often came across people who would nitpick the choices I was making, and pin that as the primary issue in my weight loss. “Oh, well if you didn’t eat out so much” (on the one night I was eating out that month) “then you’d be able to lose a lot more a lot more quickly. You know it’s 100% about calorie control. There’s always a leak somewhere.”
“Well you’ve done a great job, just seems like maybe you need to work out a bit more. It’s all about maintaining motivation.”
“I’ve been skinny all my life, and it’s all because I make exemplary choices with my diet and exercise. Do you exercise at all?”
The frustrating thing about these comments is that they are intended as helpful; the person giving the advice really is trying to connect and come up with a solution to your problem, or at least commiserate and give helpful advice. The unseen issue of course is that for me, beta blockers were keeping me from being able to move enough to exercise. And prior to that, my heart, due to its arrhythmic beats, wasn’t getting oxygen to my limbs fast enough to keep me going during any exercise session longer than ten minutes. As for calories in, calories out, absolutely. But when you are on a SSRI, sometimes the calories in don’t get burned consistently, because your metabolism is moving up and down, and you can’t find a middle ground to stand on.
And blah blah blah and so much more, all of these things that you want to say to people because they are not completely in tune with your personal struggle, and in honest truth it took me forever to realize that
it doesn’t have to matter whether they get it or not. It’s your struggle. Not theirs.
Why on earth did I spend so much time going to others, seeking approval? I started thinking about the decisions that my friends have made that I admire most. The decisions that I really appreciated were the ones where I’d think “oh that’s so [this person].” Decisions where I saw that person take other people’s advice in, and then go forward and do things in precisely their own way. They weren’t necessarily denying other people’s advice, but they weren’t relying on it, either. They were going to themselves to make the decision right, and they were celebrating and trusting themselves by taking a leap based on their own thoughts.
By going to themselves, they stop the need for constant approval. They also stop the pressure felt by someone not quite understanding exactly the why’s and what’s of what they’re doing. And I think, as I understand this more, the more I can say, “I’m making this decision for me, by me.” And less shame will be felt in celebrating that decision, because of course, I know the most about the situation out of anyone I could talk to. It’s my situation. It’s my decision. It’s my celebration.
I’ll end with this quote from Community, which surprised me but summed things up nicely,
“No woman, none of us have to go to anyone. And the idea that we do is a mental illness we contracted from breath mint commercials and Sandra Bullock. We can't keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves. Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else's job and just stop hating ourselves.” -Jeff
Which leads us nicely into the land of healthy vulnerability with each other, a discussion for another day, after we’ve all figured out how to go to ourselves first.