God, love her, my dear mother. She would often say: “Don’t do that! What will people say?!” “Stop! What will the neighbors think?!” Growing up, I heard that so often, it got permanently tattooed in my mind. I was already quiet and shy as a young girl. I didn’t talk much. My father once told me that I was a very quiet baby, rarely cried or made a fuss. So, being freely self-expressed was not in my vocabulary or repertoire. A lot of it was nature, but part of it was nurture.
As I look back as a little girl, I remember being immersed in a world of make believe, and I much preferred imagining my world rather than being part of it. I would rather play by myself than with the kids in the neighborhood. I needed “people” breaks…many of them. I craved my time alone.
Since my mother would drape the dining table with a tablecloth long enough to cover all four sides, I would take my dolls and other toys to play under it where I could not easily be found. Sometimes I would even fall asleep under there.
As a teen, I felt out of place… awkward. I decided that my shy and quiet ways were not the right way to be. To be fully self-expressed felt unnatural. I had learned to be reticent and to be highly attuned to how others may feel or think about what I say or do. But I often suppressed or ignored how I was personally impacted by others. Saying nothing was easier than speaking up.
Many years later, I took a self-development class. We played a game where we were required to play out our version of ‘full-blown’ self-expression in front of the class. It took everything in me to participate. My mother’s words kept coming back to me… What will people think? Will they laugh at me? Will they think I’m stupid? This is stupid! I don’t want to do it!
As you may imagine, I was not the first to volunteer to go up. But, one by one, one courageous student after another went up and yelled, jumped, chanted, laughed, cried, danced, moved around the stage and displayed a wide range of emotions to act out their version of ‘full blown’ self-expression.
The room became alive with laughter, joy and lightness. Somewhere in the middle of all the laughter, I felt self-acceptance, quite literally and viscerally. I felt the love in the room that people shared with one another as they were given permission to just be themselves without judgment. To take up their space in the world. To act silly and out of control and not give hoot! To be themselves unapologetically. There was room for it all.
Eventually I did go up and many years of hiding my true thoughts and feelings came out that day. That exercise changed my life. Since then I’ve been on a quest to stretch beyond the safety of my self-imposed boundaries, and to live at the edge of my very own human spirit and essence.
My guess is that we all, quiet or not, have our safety zone. A place where the sea is calm and no feathers get ruffled. That is a special place and we should keep it. Our kind intentions live there and are a good thing. But sometimes being too comfortable in this space limits our ability to connect authentically to our own sense of self. To be ‘real’ about how it really is for us.
Sometimes being true to oneself looks messy, feathers do get ruffled and the road is bumpy. But the very experience of this, the experience we attempt to avoid, calls us forth. It calls us to develop our core and foundation of being. It calls us to reveal that which we are a stand for. It pulls us to what we value.
Society can be condemning, no doubt, and you can be unpopular for what you believe or stand for, even within your own family. This can be risky if you haven’t developed a solid core. What will people say or think? That is rarely a question I ask now. I’ve now moved on to asking myself a different set of questions. Does this feel real and true for me? What hard things am I willing to do for what I stand for? How can I be kind to myself an others while still being true to myself?
I’d like to know. Where are you on this journey? What strengths are inside your life that are screaming to come out and be seen?
Let’s continue this conversation. I’d love to hear from you.