Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
I’m still in the middle of the book ‘Women who run with the wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés in which she analyses different myths and shows how they can be used to illustrate phases in the life of a ‘wild’ woman. It’s offered me so many recognizable moments and surprising views already!
The last story I read was that of the ugly duckling, the outsider who is banished by her community and has to withstand ridicule and a cold winter before she finds the safety of her own flock. The story, and analysis, held some valuable insights for me, and the ideal of ‘being different‘ came up again in a coaching session yesterday as well.
First, I want to make something very clear. I’m not outwardly or visibly ‘different’ from your everyday, standard white women. My hair is not blue, I identify as the gender I was born as (mostly) and my clothing is modest at best. I’m not part of any minority in my current environment, either (though on a global there are over 60 million more men than women).
And yet, I’ve made choices throughout my life that have raised the eyebrows of people around me. I was interested in different things than many of my peers. My family shared hobbies I didn’t participate in. I got married at 21, when still in college and moved to China for 2.5 years after that. When my husband and I moved back to Belgium, we moved in with, and later bought a house with my parents. Even in my parenting choices, I couldn’t just ‘go with the flow’ of what happened around me. I made deliberate, and sometimes controversial choices, such as co-sleeping and breastfeeding my children until they were 5.
For a long time, this provided me with a sense of being ‘misunderstood‘. I felt like no one wanted to make the effort to ‘get to know me’. I played out the victim role with true dedication for a long time. It felt like being different was something I just couldn’t help, and I was being punished for it.
At the same time, I tried to minimize my differences. As a teenager, you experiment with personality and fitting in either way. Suddenly, the fact that ‘someone else is doing it and others approve’ becomes a very compelling reason to act in a certain way. You learn to adapt to others quickly. This person likes the sarcastic, witty version of you? You turn that on. Someone else would prefer if you were joyful and silly? Switch the knob.
It has taken me way beyond puberty to shake that habit off. My need to ‘fit in‘ was often way stronger than my need to ‘be seen’, or so it seemed. Because you can’t really have one without the other.
When you adapt to others around you, not just for the sake of politeness or being attentive (I’m pro being attentive, make no mistake), you do two things that ultimately hurt you:
- You don’t show who you really are, but present others with a fake version of yourself. If they then approve of this version of yourself, you won’t feel loved or appreciated ‘for you’ but for the person you’re presenting, and that’s merely a disposible version in the end.
- You are showing yourself that you, completely with all your quirks and oddities, do not deserve a place in society. Perhaps you have a private version of yourself for when you’re alone, but you put on a mask as soon as you leave the house. You can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself. Even if it’s hard to know who’s really hiding underneath (it can take some time to recover your true self), most of us know when we’re NOT being our true selves.
The last few years have brought me many changes, and one of them is the feeling of self-love and self-acceptance that has grown through emotional work, therapy and through strong relationships with loved ones. This self-love will not let me dismiss or ridicule who I am as a person anymore. The Netflix special ‘Nanette’ by Hannah Gadsby fully embodies this message as well: Don’t put yourself down, for any reason, and least of all for the benefit of others.
So what happens to those who are slightly different and yet learn to love and accept themselves as they are? What are the pros and cons? For me, it means knowing that I’m alright, just the way I am. There’s no need to change my personality. It also means realising that not everyone will like everything about me. I don’t have to ‘be’ a certain way just in order to please others.
I’ve realised that being apart from the crowd usually means it takes you a bit longer to form your own crowd. That new crowd might be smaller, but it will also be tighter.
People will have opinions, they always do, but not everyone’s opinion gets equal weight. You get to choose whose opinions matter and whose don’t. Remember to listen to the right ones.
Non-confirming gets easier the more you do it. You learn that what felt unsafe before can feel perfectly fine and even comfortable after a while. You feel free to grow more and more into yourself.
Other people are not ‘wrong’ for not liking you the way you are. They may not favour your forward style of communicating. Or they might find your creativity pure ‘extravagance’. They are entitled to their own experiences and feelings. We all are.
I’m lucky in that I’ve found people who don’t mind my particular, personal way of being in the world. I’ve actually found people who enjoy it, and one person has even grown so fond he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. ❤
I hope y’all will find someone who cherishes what makes you different. And I hope, you’ll cherish it within yourself.