At the core of my being, there still resides a little girl who just wants everybody to like her. She is still there, cowering, meek, looking around at everyone and waiting to be noticed, waiting to be invited. She just wants to fit in and feel like she belongs. That there are people she can count on, people who would also turn to her in their time of need. I’ve always had her with me.
When I was a child, I lived with a lot of criticism and self-hatred. No one took care of that little girl’s need for approval. There was always something more to do, something that could be better. Never good enough — what a negative way to perceive yourself. Always a better grade to achieve, nicer friends to spend time with, more points to score on athletic teams, more prominent awards to win and programs to be accepted to. I remember one summer when the unemployment rate for Canadian youth was almost 30% and I was having trouble finding a job. Instead of feeling supported in my efforts and reassured that everything would turn out, I got asked, “Well, you’ve got to figure out what it is that’s wrong with you. Why don’t people want to hire you?” Emphasis on the you. Not the fact that almost a third of people my age were out of work.
It would be easy to blame my parents, specifically my mother who actually thought she was doing everything right and ended up doing everything wrong. The pattern of self-hatred was definitely established early and it continued into my young adult life. I was so unsure of myself and my choices. How could I know if I was doing the right thing? I had no idea what I thought was important or what I liked. I was always looking for clues from the people around me to see if what I was doing was a popular choice. I missed out on a ton of stuff that I would have really enjoyed and friendships with people I could have really connected with because I simply never realized that I would enjoy it and, furthermore, that it would be okay to enjoy it, okay to connect with people who weren’t generally popular and approved-of.
In my early 30s, after my first daughter was born, I experienced an intense period of self-doubt and self-hatred. I was wracked with anxiety about how to take care of my little girl. What kind of mother was I going to be? I didn’t know anything about or have any right to make decisions that would affect this other being’s existence. Luckily, I found a wonderful therapist who helped me move forward on a journey to self-acceptance. I learned that the most important little girl to take care of was my own inner little girl, whom no one (except my husband — how did I manage to let him?) had loved properly her whole life. No longer did I wait for an approval from an exterior source — I learned to soothe my own hurts and listen to the critical voice inside me with objectivity and tell it how wrong it was. I gained a feeling of happiness and self-worth. I cut off toxic friendships and opened myself up more to those who didn’t shy away from the real me.
Life was good.
Then I moved to Atlantic Canada. I was nervous that I would be able to continue my journey without the help of my therapist, since I am really the kind of person whose ideas and problem-solving benefit from being reflected back to me. I can make leaps in understanding and integration, as long as I am thinking out loud, preferably to someone other than just me. Anyways, turns out I was right to be nervous, because here I am six years later and right back to where I started.
Why do I do these things?
- Worry whether my neighbours like me, like my children, like my husband
- Wish that people I meet would invite me to be in their Book Clubs, girls’ night out groups, dinner clubs, running groups
- Feel left out every time I hear about people doing something fun
- Wonder if it’s okay to call someone just to chat
- Question myself for not going to church!
- Get upset every time I go to the golf club (or even think about it) and see so-called “friendly” people who never invite me into their foursomes
- Avoid writing on this blog in case someone I know reads it and decides never to talk to me again
Clearly, I don’t need to be friends with everybody. I shouldn’t be friends with everybody. I don’t want to be a chameleon who changes spots to suit every last person she interacts with. In fact, I have never been good at that anyway! I only need a few like-minded people who would truly stick with me. I really need to stop worrying about fitting in with the “friendly” Maritimes and all that entails and just worry about being true to myself and what is important to me: taking care of ALL the little girls around here, including my “inner Aerin,” who needs a huge daily dose of positive feedback. (Feel free to leave comments below! lol — I crack myself up.)