When I look back on the decisions I made as a young adult — the people I dated, where I lived, the career I chose, recurring patterns in relationships — I’m often shocked that I was that person. After some serious soul searching and personal work in my early 30s, I finally am on the path that’s meant for me. But for most of my life, I struggled to find my place in the world. I felt like I was playing a part and that I had to mask my true identity to fit in and be loved. In the deepest sense, I felt that if anyone really knew me, I would be cast aside as, well, super weird.
The older I get, the more I’m embracing the parts of myself that I’ve tried to hide…my eccentricities, my spiritual gifts and my wisdom.
I used to water them down to make others feel important and to help myself fit in. I was afraid of my gifts and ashamed. I desperately just wanted to feel normal. And then I found other people like me. I found teachers who helped me understand my differences and channel them. At 38, I’m just started to feel at home within myself.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Institutions (the church, school systems, the patriarchy and society as a whole) tend to squash individuality. The people who raise us tend to want us to take the path of least resistance because they want to protect us. They know that our culture rarely celebrates a unique path.
I’m not angry about how I was raised, but I do want something different for my children.
As a child, no one ever taught me how to be different; they never modeled how to cherish my unique traits and fight like hell to protect them. After all, the traits that make us the most special are the ones we are shamed for and forced to hide to survive.
So instead, I tell my children every day how special they are, and I use specific language that highlights their unique gifts. The ones I never want them to bury. The ones that will make the world a better place.
I’m weird with them in public. I validate their emotions. I try really hard never to shame them or make them feel like they’re not living up to my expectations. Once they’re older, I’ll have difficult conversations with them about generational trauma and the fact that hurt people hurt people so that they have a foundation of emotional intelligence when someone is unkind to them. I will model vulnerability.
I will do everything I possibly can to help protect who they are at their core so that they can fully live life from the very beginning…and not have to wait until they’re 30.
We can do this for ourselves, too. We can dust off those old traits and welcome them back into our lives. We can find ways to celebrate the children we were never allowed to be. We can heal and grow, and in doing so, we’ll make the world a brighter place, too.
Prompts to consider:
What messages did I receive at home as a child about how to please my caregivers? (Get good grades, speak only when spoken to, follow the rules, excel at sports, don’t show emotions)
Were those messages direct or indirect?
Did I rebel from or adopt people-pleasing tendencies?
How did interactions with kids my own age shape who I became?
What characteristics did I bury?
What parts of myself am I ashamed of? Is that shame coming from someone else that I adopted? Or my own?
How are my career, relationship patterns and habits a reflection of my upbringing vs. my core self?
What limiting beliefs can I let go of? What characteristics can I bring out of hiding to show the world? How can I integrate them into my daily life?