How is it possible that I feel so awkward?
I asked myself this question as I attended one of the many school functions at the tail end of my youngest daughter’s senior year.
I used to pride myself on being able to talk to anyone at any time. I was rarely uncomfortable at any party, business function, or when meeting someone new. Drop me in any group, and I would befriend, advise, and entertain. I tend to be the person that a total stranger will tell their darkest secrets.
Now all the “peopling” is much more painful.
At the most recent banquet, I saw that the table with people I knew was full, and my daughter had to sit with her team. I took a deep breath, scanned the room, and found an almost empty table. With what felt like lead feet, I walked slowly toward the table…my heart racing and my smile forced.
Luckily, I have a genuine care for other humans, so I made some small talk and asked my table mates about their children—which is usually a good way to connect at school events. Gauging the reactions around me, I noticed they still responded the same way people have in the past, so I was not showing up as rude or aloof.
I felt such relief as I practically sprinted away to my car like a hostage who has been released from a tortuous captivity. After I was “safely” back in my home, I started processing what had changed, and I realized that my comfort in the past was unhealthy. I spent years playing different roles depending on where I was or who surrounded me.
I was never authentic and transparent. I was a fraud.
When I was in people-pleasing mode, all I had to pay attention to was what the person (or people) in front of me wanted from me or wanted me to be. Then I became her. I lived my life according to the scripts of other people, and I mostly played the part perfectly. Believably. So in general, unless I changed the dynamic, I was liked and accepted.
I rarely made an effort to express my own opinions, emotions, or dreams. I am not sure that I had a grasp of what those were; I was so caught up in earning love. The problem was that I had little love or respect for myself, because what was legitimately me was buried. This had become such a system of living that the only indication I had that something was off was my growing resentment toward all the people I wanted to love me. I was exhausted, mostly on a spiritual level.
After a few years along my journey of personal growth, I have committed to embracing honesty and self-compassion. I have a passion for following my own script, which risks everything I once craved.
I still want those things, just not at the cost I was willing to pay in what almost seems like another lifetime. So, as I move forward, sometimes sprinting and sometimes barely moving, I have to face my fear and re-affirm my worth. Sometimes I feel only discomfort, but sometimes it feels closer to panic.
What if they don’t like/love me?
What if they don’t accept me?
What if I lose the ability to connect with and help my fellow humans when I am not playing according to their screenplay?
I do care about the answers, but I know they can’t matter to me on a global level. They can’t be the driving force behind all I say and do anymore. I know I can’t spare anyone their own struggles, but I can bring some awareness to some of the things we can do in congruence with our true selves.
1. We can avoid getting too attached to what kind of person we think we are or identify as. I want to think of myself as kind and caring, but sometimes I am selfish and grumpy. I am smart, but can be quite obtuse.
2. We evolve and grow which is not only necessary but integral to our personal joy and our ability to motivate the people whose lives we touch.
3. We can be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable and get curious about the source. We can have better awareness of when an echo from the past catches us and triggers us into some role. I am not sure that the goal is to eradicate all our destructive patterns, because our desire and ability to empathize with the suffering around is critical.
4. We have opportunities to make true connections with people. We are not wasting time filling the silence with jabber—or worse, compromising our identity to please someone else.
5. When we are willing to be transparent, despite fear, we give other people space to do the same. I want my daughters to see me live this way. I want to teach them the skills of integrity, self-acceptance, and love for self and for others.
Although this season of my life is trying and bound to have some ugly crying as I celebrate the “lasts” of my beautiful daughter’s senior year, I am more comfortable with the awkward, sometimes uncomfortable person I have become. The discomfort reminds me I am sitting in my truth and willing to risk the disapproval of others in order to keep the approval of myself.
The lessons that I have learned as part of the process are valuable, but may never totally be mastered as their different forms reinforce and help me advance without the armor that once protected my fragile, but brave heart.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Image: Flickr/Global Panorama
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina