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Dare to be on Your Own Team
I have a memory from sixth grade that still haunts me.
I still think about it and wish that I could have done it differently. But as an 11-year-old, I can’t say that I had the wisdom of an enlightened sage in my heart. My heart at that time in my life was more “defend and protect” than open.
Elementary school years were not happy years for me. I had few friends, and I had a horrendous haircut in fourth grade that resulted in lots of bullying. I was learning that I was not worthy, and there was something wrong with me. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention I had buckteeth.
Whoever says looks do not matter has never been on the receiving end of bullying in a fourth-grade classroom because of how they looked. Looks do matter to those kids—a lot. And my looks at that time were not doing me any favors. My mom also happened to be an elementary school teacher at the same school. For grades one and five, I went to the school with my mom. Recognizing I had no friends and was not doing well, my mom had me transferred to a school closer to my neighborhood in the hopes that I would make some sort of connection.
However, at this point in my young life, my internal belief system was, “You are unworthy, you are ugly, you don’t belong, the world isn’t safe, and people aren’t safe.” Ouch. Even writing that all these years later, I feel a tightness and ache in my chest and stomach. Those beliefs were powerful, and to me, at that time, they were so real. And I am sure you have all heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” One thing I have learned in my many transitions in life is that you cannot outrun your belief system—that stuff will cling to you.
Even though I switched schools and was in a more “friendly” environment, my heart believed and perceived differently. The world was not safe to me anymore, and I acted that way. The memory that brings me guilt is acting from this place of woundedness rather than from a place of love and connection.
There was a girl in our class who I remembered just as I was writing this. I still remember exactly what she looked like. We happened to be sitting next to each other in our little desk pods. She was struggling with math; however, she was not winning any popularity contests either. For me, at that time, life was about trying to look like the popular kids as much as I could and distancing myself as much from all that was not.
On one inconspicuous day, while doing math homework, she asked me a question. My internal belief system got fired up to tell me that it was not safe to be kind and openhearted toward her. It was not safe, and we needed to protect ourselves. So instead of giving her the time of day, I shrugged my shoulders and basically insinuated that she was not worth my time, and I was not going to help her.
I knew then that this had hurt her. I felt guilt; I just did not know what to do about it. I felt guilty because, even at that young age, kindness, connection, and love were values of mine. I simply was not aware of that, and I had no clue that I had an operating system that was causing me to react in a different way. That moment has stuck with me because I inflicted pain on another and never did anything about it. I never apologized. That girl went on from that moment believing that she was not worthy of my time and attention. And nothing could be further from the truth.
I did not have love, compassion, and connection in my own heart. My own heart was fragmented and in survival mode. Because I did not have any of that toward myself, I had nothing to offer her. When I look back and reflect on this, I can see with deep awareness what was going on for my little self and so much compassion for all my needs that were going unmet. All behavior makes sense in its context. Given the cause and effect equation, it makes sense that I acted in the way I did. All behavior makes sense—even the ugly stuff.
That does not mean that all behavior is life-giving. But there is no judgement. It simply is what it is. I was empty and hurting, and I lashed out as a result. I did not lash out because I was a terrible person. I am/was neither good nor bad. I am just a human being living in the world of cause and consequence. I am not a devil, and I am not a saint. I am a spiritual being having a human experience. I am learning, growing, and evolving all the time.
What I have learned along this journey is that it is safe to sit with those pieces of myself that bring shame, fear, judgement, and self-criticism. It is safe to do that because there is always a reason why that behavior, thought, or feeling is there in the first place.
It makes sense that an 11-year-old girl who had been bullied and love-starved for years would not be able to offer unconditional love and compassion to another.
This does not mean we get to be butts to each other and pawn it off on the thought that “it all makes sense.” What it does mean is that we have the power to validate our experience and have compassion for ourselves and our story. It makes sense that we would act in the ways we have acted, given all the variables present at that exact point in our lives. As Maya Angelou says, “We do the best we can. When we know better, we do better.”
I would like to say that this experience is limited to my little 11-year-old self, but that’s not true. There are many times when I fail to show up as the openhearted, kind, compassionate person I would like to be. And you know what? I am learning to have compassion, patience, and understanding for the adult version of that little girl who walks around with an empty love tank and unmet needs. There is a reason she is acting, seeing, and thinking the way she is. I have learned that it is safe for me to lean into the feelings of guilt, shame, and overwhelm that come from not showing up as my best self. The principles that apply to my 11-year-old self apply to me now.
The only difference between me now and me then is that I know how to show up on my own team today. I know that I will catch myself when I trip or fall. I will be the one who offers a hand up, dusts off my back, and gives myself the biggest love hug. I am there for myself so I can be there for others.
Let me say that again. I am still bound by the same universal principles; I still have the same heart, soul, and body. I still get angry, sad, hurt, have unmet needs. The only difference is that now I know I can show up for myself differently. I can be a witness to myself in any state and meet myself there—not when I have achieved perfection or done all the items on the to-do list.
Wherever I am, whatever state I am in, whatever level of success I reach, I can meet myself there. The “meeting myself there” has literally made all the difference. It is all about connection and love, and that connection and love must start within our own hearts. Show up for yourself. Do not abandon yourself when you need you the most. When it is the hardest, that is when you need you most of all. Do not abandon yourself to the hard feelings, situations, or circumstances. You need you.
I am sorry, old friend. The actions of my 11-year-old self were not in any way a reflection of your worth as a person. You are love, and you are loved. It is my desire that through the years and space that you feel that message deep within your heart.
“The wise man takes the shortest path to peace with himself. Acceptance of what is, that is the shortest path.” ~ Robin Hobb