My own relationship with my Self has been a rocky one most of my life. From a very young age I received and internalized the messages of how my body was not mine, how I was to be seen and not heard, how I took up too much space, how I was too smart, how I wasn’t good enough at this or that or anything. I had feelings of shame for even existing as far back as I can remember. These messages came from many places, family of course, but as I grew older and started reading teen magazines and Cosmopolitan, watching movies, really listening to music, the message became very clear that my sole purpose on this earth was to look pretty and to get a boy or man and that in order to do that I had to look and be a certain way.
And of course I didn’t measure up to the standard idea of beauty – my thighs were too big, my hair too mousy; I was too short; I wore glasses. My clothes were hand-me-downs or homemade and never in style. I would never fit that Ideal and so I would likely never catch a boy or man. In addition, I was smart, and, well, we all know that smart girls can never ever be pretty.
Since my worth, according to media, according to popular (i.e. patriarchal) culture, was measured by whether I could get a boy/man, I was clearly worthless.
This didn’t get much better as I grew older. In college I spent the first three years or so proving how very stupid (and therefore how very pretty) I was. There were periods of self harm that included drugs and drinking and hitting myself, usually my legs, so hard that I would bruise.
All of this I hid from others for the most part. All of this I had to hide because it was only more proof of how flawed I was because I couldn’t “handle” life and very clearly didn’t have my shit together.
Eventually I did meet my now husband and our love story is one for another day. But my not measuring up didn’t stop with falling in love with, and more importantly being loved by, this man. I had my career, then an electrical engineer, where I was constantly pushing myself beyond my limits by working 50, 60, and even 70 hour weeks to prove I was as good as The Boys and trying to find the balance of my femininity and my power. And then when I had my first child things became even worse.
Now I had to juggle career and motherhood and I could not fail at either. And failure, by the way, basically looked a lot like being human. I kept up a persona and mask that everything was Fine when the truth was I was suicidal and on the brink of a complete mental collapse. I hated myself, and blamed myself as obviously lacking, because I couldn’t do it all and my career, marriage and motherhood were all flailing.
I was never ever enough on the one hand and I was way too much on the other and no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I could never “win”. I could not feel, now matter how much I did, that I deserved any of the success that came my way. If someone tried to compliment me on some thing or another I would come back with a list of all the things that were wrong or imperfect or all the ways I fucked this or that thing up.
And boundaries… what were those? I wouldn’t dare set a boundary for fear of being considered rude or a bitch or selfish or not committed to my work.
And at my core, I didn’t like myself. In fact, I really hated myself. I truly did not believe I was worthy of being loved. I did not believe that I was lovable. I didn’t respect myself. I was ashamed of who I was, how I looked, and almost everything I did.
There are many things that contributed to the shifting of my relationship with myself. There was therapy, and then my pregnancy with my daughter and then her birth and life. There was leaving engineering and going to graduate school to study psychology. There was mindfulness and yoga and writing the words breathe or love or gentle on my arm. There were a million books. There were friendships that saved me. There was my husband. And there was more than all of this.
One of the things that finally helped make it click for me though, was the realization that it – all that self hatred and loathing, all those feelings of not measuring up or taking up too much space or needing to prove I deserved to even exist – wasn’t my fault.
None of it was my fault.
It was the realization that our culture purposefully trains and conditions us to think we are undeserving and unworthy of love as we are and so we must keep striving and proving and fixing ourselves. That if we have boundaries we are cold and uncaring and will alone. That we must bend and mold ourselves ways of being to always please others and make sure they are comfortable.
When I started to dig into the ways the system was truly and actually stacked against me – against all women, and definitely some more than others – light bulbs started to go off in my head.
And more than that, our culture doesn’t want us to have any type of healthy relationship with our Self – with our body, our mind, our spirit or our soul.
It wants us living outside our body while also being focused on changing it, on starving it, on torturing it, on hating it.
It wants us disconnected from our mind and so keeps us distracted with all the menial ways we “fail” and don’t measure up, be it the clothes we wear, the home we live in, the way our children act. It wants us constantly striving and striving and striving, never being satisfied with anything we have, because if we feel satisfied with ourselves, with our life, we might actually take the time to stop, and breathe, and look around and see how fucked the entire system actually is – and then, and then, we might actually also have the time and energy to do something about it.
It wants us believing in a spirituality that doesn’t feed us, that oppresses us, that doesn’t allow space for women.
It wants us cut off from our soul, from our core, from our very being.
By keeping us disconnected, disembodied, and cut off from our Self, our culture, and those in power in our culture, is able to keep us distracted, compliant and complicit. By keeping us severed from our Self, it is able to continue oppressing us and in turn have us passing this oppression down through the generations.
To all of this I say:
Not on my watch.
You are my sister, my comrade, not my competition.
I am connected to my Self.
I have compassion for my Self.
I honor and love and cherish my Self.
I invite you to join me in the resistance to our culture. To the gas lighting. To the shaming. To the stories and lies of how we aren’t enough and are too much and aren’t lovable and need to be “fixed.”
I invite you to sing and shout and whisper and scream and roar with me:
Not on my watch.
You are my sister, my comrade, not my competition.
Connect with your Whole Self – body, mind, spirit and soul.
To have compassion for your Self, your stumbles along the way.
To honor and love and cherish your Self, as the beautifully profound and amazing being you are.
I invite you to join me in this rebellion of connection, of wholeness, of love and in so doing burning down a culture that dare to hold us down.
I talk even more about how our culture encourages us to disconnect from our Self in this 20-minute video below. I hope you enjoy it.
This essay and video are the third in my three-part series Unleashing Our Self as an introduction to the topics we’ll be unearthing, examining, dislodging and embracing in the six month circle Unleashing Our Mothers, Unleashing Our Selves. We begin April 1. If you are interested, you can learn more and request an application here. xoxo