The Challenge to Value Myself Over What Others Might Think of Me

I was inspired to share this experience after reading many heartfelt, courageously written recent posts from my blog friend, Alienora.
I spend a lot of my spiritual life in challenges, most of which I haven’t shared. But in different ways I think we all have to deal with this one, sooner or later. I’m still in the middle of it!

September 3, 2014
To Those in the Otherworld Who Walk Their Journey with Me:

It is Wednesday morning, and I am feeling strangely cut off, like somehow I dropped the thread I was winding through the maze of my journey, and cannot find it again. I am exhausted. My bones ache, as if I have gone a long, long way. I worry I am falling back asleep, and then I might fail or be forgotten. I do not know the word I need to live by. I only know the word yes, not yes to doing more and more, not yes to pleasing people. It is yes, I am.

Lately growth for me has not come with trying, working hard, demanding more from myself, pushing limits, proving I can do what I originally took to not be possible. I have, in the course of the challenges I meet, done every one of these things. But then I can’t do more or I fall apart, or I am frozen in fear, or I just can’t keep going: and then I grow.

I grow because I open and unfold across the barriers I built to continue my false sense of security. I grow because I can no longer maintain the dam holding back emotions, they spill over the sides of the space within which I wish they had stayed. . I give up the need to be in control. I let go. I let myself be seen. And I let change take me by the hand, as if I am a weary child, whispering hush through the dark shadowy bits of mind I might have otherwise disowned. I dissolve into endless belonging beneath coming and going. Suddenly I am not lost but at the center of the labyrinth of living. I grow.

This particular morning, I am trying to rid myself of the belief that what others think of me is often more important than being true to myself. I am terrified to say the wrong thing, to confront anyone and create conflict, but definitely could wait a bit longer before accepting this. I think of ways to hold myself apart from past and potential criticism so I won’t get hurt. I think of the defenses I’ll need to build so I won’t feel small when people try to minimize my ideas or cut me down. I wonder whether I can get away with using indifference as a shield against taking what people say personally, at least occasionally.

And then I realize, unfortunately with an even greater sense of alarm and terror, that if I did this there would be no way for you and I to reach each other. It would plunge me into the invisibility that is my greatest nightmare. The possibility is inconceivable to me, like self-imposed exile. It is a choice I will never make again.

Once, I was so hurt that I cut myself off from any world, and lost sight of my own identity. It was the year I started grad school and my parents were separating. I almost never found my way back home. I know what it is like to allow the desertification of the forest of soul. I hid myself even from me, thinking this was a form of self protection. I almost died inside before I admitted how my refusal to live consciously was only a brutal form of self-betrayal.

Earlier this year, life again began to draw me toward that edge over which we fly or fall. There, unconsciousness called alluringly, louder than the din of my over occupied, overwhelmed mind and raging emotions that were threatening to engulf me and pull me in. I lost myself in sleep, dreaming for hours, unwilling to take the covers away from my face or get out of bed. But that was not the end of it, because the stillness I knew to always be with me, in which I learned my worth, in which I came home to myself, called my name. I heard your voices in the silent cry, I remembered looking into your eyes, and found I was enough.

I came too in the midst of a crowd. You all stood with grave, stern faces, devastated by what I had almost done. And you said, “There is nothing we would have been able to do had you chosen not to return.” That was when I promised you, and perhaps more importantly myself, that it would not happen again. And it has not. It cannot.

Etched into my mind is the picture of the six or so of you I could see, incredible sadness searing lines across your faces. And I understood that had I chosen once again to simply go through the motions, we would search for each other and see nothing, you would call my name and I wouldn’t hear you: all because I would have imposed separation on myself. And so once again my world turns upside down, leaving me dizzy and disoriented with the effort of ridding myself of false beliefs, determined to stay present.

Shaking, I tear down the defenses, I break the facade of indifference, relieved that now, there is nothing between us. But there is also nothing between myself and uncertainty, and what others think of me is quite beyond my control. An icy cold runs through me. I start to cross my arms in front of me to ward off the cold, but remember in time how it will help me instead to stand in the way that reflects how I wish to be in the world. I feel like standing is an impossibility, but somehow it continues. Still, I reach out. This is the only way I know to be fully alive and live with the authenticity that comes from not letting the opinions and talk of others destroy my sense of worth and self compassion. And we all know I could use a bit more of both when it comes to this world, when, inevitably, someone won’t like what I do or say, and might even reject me.

being able to do this in my own world is the whole point. I try hard not to think about that now, though, because when I do the world spins around me in 360 degrees, and I’m reaching out again, this time literally for balance.

I can’t recall a time when reaching out was harder. Ironically, as I stumble through and decide I am probably failing, I worry about what you are thinking of me. Of course, this only convinces me that yes, most likely I really am failing. Moving beyond concerns of judgment—yours and mine–and that I’ll be found seriously wanting, is like walking through a hurricane. When I try and move through physical space, the room spins around again dangerously. I bump into a few walls. But Silently, spent of doing, I reach out. And for a moment I am there, knowing how it feels to love myself fiercely, no matter what this world’s reaction may be.

It’s only one short moment. For today it’s enough. I decide that, tomorrow, rather than “try,” I will instead just be. I will accept where I am even if I wish I had learned more quickly, and surrender to silence. I’ll open the door that habit and fear have implored me to leave alone, to find my way through a room littered with the tears and isolation, invisibility and insensitivity that haunted my childhood.

Beneath the insecurity I face, I know that, when you see me, your eyes will be kind. You have been here before. If I fall, you will, gratefully, say nothing in the moment, just help me start again. There are many things I know I’d rather not confront, but they are the guardians to the gates, the keepers of the keys I need, in order to be free to say what I long to say, to be truly who I am. And that is what this is all about. It is all I’ve ever needed to be. I start again.

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5 thoughts on “The Challenge to Value Myself Over What Others Might Think of Me

    1. Thank you so much, Sue. 🙂 I was thinking today that if, as Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, we each have a word to live by, mine is probably “being enough”, or just “enough.” Because it’s an ongoing journey to not just know, but also feel this to be true of me.

      1. I think a lot of us can relate to that, Éilis. It is easy enough to know on a purely intellectual level, yet to really know it and feel it with every part of being, is one of the hardest things of all.

  1. Hey Éilis, I hope you are finding peace with yourself. That piece of writing was such a torrent, an outpouring of emotion and confusion… it doesn’t sound like the you I am getting to know.

    I have another friend who believes that unconsciously, we mould ourselves to fit the expections of others, to fit their vision of us, even if that is not who we really are. Maybe this is what you are trying to break away from. Whatever it is, it sounds like you’ve stepped onto the right path to achieving it… keep going Éilis! You can do this!

    1. Thank you Ali for all your encouragement! I have learned that wherever I’ve gotten to on my journey, there are always dark spaces waiting for a light to shine through them. I actually asked to be in this challenge because this is an area of life I need to work on so I can be fully myself. It means wading through a lot of childhood stuff to make peace with the past and create a new way of relating without needing to fit in to belong. And it is worth it.

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