Relationships with people have never been easy for me.
I grew up watching my extroverted mother and extroverted younger brother making friends with ease.
When I did make a friend, it was usually the other way around – that person (for some obscure reason I couldn’t ever quite put my finger on) chose me.
While I found relating to my pet parakeet, Perky, effortless and joyful, and I delighted in the company of my 5 slider turtles, I mostly lumped “birthday parties” and “dentist appointments” into the same category of “events to avoid at all costs.”
People mostly just mystified me.
Often they would say one thing and then promptly do another. Sometimes they would say one thing when a particular person wasn’t around, and then say just the opposite when that person finally appeared.
It took me years to realize that many of the strange interactions I had with various classmates might have actually been attempts at bullying. Once, a girl in my class (a notorious puncher) walked right up to me and punched me in the stomach. I just stared at her.
While the whole group of us waited with baited breath to see how I would respond, I was busy debating with myself inside my head about why on earth anyone would do such a thing. I finally concluded I had no idea and proceeded to not respond at all.
The bully left me alone after that, but there were many others waiting to take her place. They never seemed to run out of their lists of petty grievances – I looked like a boy, my jeans were the wrong color, I kept failing the math tests (I couldn’t argue with them on this one).
Sometimes my teachers would join in. It was the adult bullying that I noticed. It was the displeasure of the adult teachers and influencers in my life that prompted me to begin my big slim-down, which in short order blossomed into an eating disorder.
But whether I responded or didn’t respond to what I now call the various attempts to “customize” how I looked and acted, the relationships themselves never seemed to get much better. Sometimes I tried really hard, only to find the critiques got commensurately harder in turn.
Sometimes I tuned it all out, only to be confronted with accusations of dissociation (totally true, although I didn’t know what that word meant at the time) and inattention (also quite true).
I just found so much of it so deeply uninteresting. Or actually, just confusing. Maybe I had poor social radar growing up, or maybe I was just wired a little differently, as my mom often claims.
As I got older, I discovered there were times when dissociating wouldn’t work as well as I hoped – like during college entrance interviews or job interviews. Bosses didn’t seem to like it much either, especially during my annual performance reviews.
So I started attempting to customize myself in earnest (I write a lot about this in each of my books, “Beating Ana” and “Love & Feathers“). I would pull out one personality in some situations and another personality in other situations.
But in no situations did I ever show all of me all at the same time. I felt sure I had finally learned my lesson there.
It wasn’t until I met my mentor, Lynn, that I realized it might be possible to show all of me all at once without socially imploding. To date, progress has been slow, but persistence has been high.
A few weeks ago I had a really big “aha” moment – the kind that makes all the preceding incomprehensible years suddenly become comprehensible all at once.
I realized that when I am being myself, I have to acknowledge that those around me are fully responsible for their words and actions.
In other words, I can no longer blame their bad behavior, their horrid statements, their various social lacks, on myself. I can no longer justify my self-assigned role as the long-suffering social martyr. I also can’t retreat into “I’m just not good with people” when I make a social oops. I have to apologize, to learn, to wrestle, to grow, to try again.
That part has been particularly hard to deal with.
When I am being me, showing up as me, taking care of “my side of the street” as Lynn would say, then I have no excuse for forgetting that the other side of that same street is off limits.
If someone I am keeping company with says something mean or acts in a way that reflects poorly on them – if they junk up their side of the street or graffiti it or fall into the large potholes they have created – that is not my business. I can’t run across the dividing line and take ownership of any of it or quickly clean it all up for them.
It is not mine.
I have learned that this makes for some less comfortable moments, such as when someone says something I don’t understand (but that sounds mean or judgmental) and I have to stop and ask for clarification.
Sometimes I have to just stand back and watch someone I love behaving badly and I have to let them spray paint all over my own formerly pristine and perfect image of them and feel the pain I feel as it happens.
I think what I’m trying to say is this… The people in my life have had their pedestals taken away. And I have finally pulled my own chair up to the table where we all sit together, works-in-progress….and all equal.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever had a moment when you realized there are consequences for choosing to be yourself, to show up as you in your own life? What was that like for you? What did you learn from the experience?