A few weeks ago, I found myself really uncomfortable in my own skin. What do I mean by that? I mean comparing myself to other people around me, wishing I was more like that, and less like this. I was in a group of people I didn’t know very well, a situation which is always quite challenging for my introverted nature. Having done a lot of work to understand myself, what triggers me and what makes me hide, I know my patterns. I have uncovered my habitual tendencies in these situations, where I unconsciously choose to put up great defences to protect my vulnerable ego. My mind says ‘this is a difficult situation, can you get out?’, and if I can’t, it offers solutions ranging from criticising how other people behave and finding a way to feel superior (out of jealousy), justifying my response by rationalising, and being overly attached to what makes me feel safe (the glass in my hand, my chair, my friend, my status, etc).
I know these patterns, I have lived with them for many years and have been working with my mind to overcome the need to put these defences up so quickly. I have been challenging myself by choosing to be in situations that make me feel uncomfortable and working with what comes up. I have been working on soothing my ego, not attacking it, and bring A LOT of compassion towards myself, using comforting statements such as ‘Even though I find X hard, I love and accept myself’ and ‘I am working to overcome this challenge in a kind and patient manner’.
I thought I was doing well with this. But in this recent occasion, I was shocked by how much I felt triggered and by how quickly all of those limiting beliefs and rigid statements about who I am and how things should be (‘I am so bad at this’, ‘I am boring and people don’t want to chat to me’, ‘People should make more effort’, ‘Why can’t I feel good here too?’, etc), came flooding back in. For a moment, I felt devastated. Not because I found it so challenging being in this social situation, but because I was so critical of myself and so intensely. Because my judgmental tendencies became very loud. Because I didn’t want to feel so toxic inside. I felt disappointed that after all this, I was not truly accepting of myself.
Luckily I was with another (introverted) friend in the room (who will remain unnamed for her protection, haha!). I witnessed her discomfort, I saw her getting caught up between her desire to fit in and her very real struggle of being there. She became my mirror. I knew she wanted to be perceived as fun, enjoyable and interesting, attributes which all characterise her anyway, but the environment she was in did not let those aspects of her personality shine. Instead, she was bogged down by self critical thinking and being afraid of what others think of her. I observed she could not enjoy the music or the conversation that much because she was thinking about what to do next. I observed her use alcohol and humour as her defences.
She left feeling unhappy in her skin too.
I saw my reflection clearly in my friend and it eased my own anxiety and feel less alone. I remembered we are all fighting some inner battle. By witnessing her struggle I was able to say to her (and essentially to myself) that nobody else apart from her knows what is important to her. That she needs to be softer and kinder to herself and that it’s ok she doesn’t really enjoy these occasions as much.
That she can choose to challenge some of these fears if she so wishes, but doing so should come out of understanding and accepting of who she is, not out of self blame and self hate.
That we are too old to feel unhappy about ourselves!
That others are inspired and attracted to you when you are confident in being yourself, not when you try to be like them.
Other people’s opinions are reflections of who they are, not of who you are, and anyway, most of the time, other people are so absorbed by their own stories, they don’t care about what you do.
Accepting who you are and owning that, is the biggest lesson.
We spend so much energy worrying about how we appear to others, wishing we were better, different, more, that we miss the real point. The people we aspire to are those who are, in fact, unapologetic about who they are. Unapologetic doesn’t mean rude or disrespectful of others, nor does it require big amounts of effort to show you are unapologetic. It is a simplicity that comes with recognising your uniqueness and, as a consequence, that of others. It is a grace that comes with embracing difference. It is a freedom that comes from not making assumptions. It is a beauty that comes from treating yourself and others with kindness and compassion.