Any closet Oprah magazine readers out there?
I had an “Aha!” moment today.
I was out for lunch with my parents, and conversation turned to my current situation. I said that in conflicts my overwhelming desire is always to opt out. That it always seems like less of a hassle to give in, forget about whatever it was, and concentrate on moving forward. I had my reasoning all sorted out, and even felt a measure of pride in my ability to transcend the pettiness of meaningless squabbles that ultimately wouldn’t matter to me when I was dead.
My mother said that she thought of me as a person who sticks up for what she believes in. You’ve always been pretty stubborn, she said.
I said, no, I’m actually a bit of a waffler.
She said, well maybe you waffle for a day or so, but you’ve always been so determined, so strong, such a fighter. You know what you believe in, and you stand your ground.
I thought, huh. Maybe when I was a kid. Which made me think back to myself as a pre-teen, and now that think about it, I remember that I was pretty scrappy. I was a loud mouth at the dinner table, I hogged all of the air time during group conversations, I held very strong opinions (sometimes based on not much more than blind conviction), and I never hesitated to stick up for kids being bullied. As a skinny ten-year old I threw rocks at a gang of older boys who were taunting another boy, and so frightened them with my flailing arms and red-faced, hoarse-voiced over-the-top shrieking that they turned and ran. That same year I was so frustrated with the relentless teasing of a different boy, who in retrospect I think simply admired me, that I punched him in the face. I also remember being so angry at someone once because of the way he was mocking my friend that I broke a bone in my hand by smashing my fist into his back.
Not the actions of an even-tempered, peace loving, let-bygones-be-bygones kind of kid. If one of my children punched someone else in the face, I would make an immediate appointment with a well-trained child psychologist. I would be horrified by such an out of control reaction, because it’s pretty darn extreme.
And yet, here I am, 30 years later, thinking of myself as a peace at all costs kind of person.
Why is that?
Here’s the AHA! realization. Not really earth shattering to anyone else, but to me, in connection with myself, it’s a profound shift in my thinking.
I have internalized a feeling of shame about speaking out, about making my voice heard. Somehow, over the years since puberty, I’ve disowned the part of my identity that was willing to take an unpopular stand. Somewhere along the way I internalized the cultural messages that have effectively silenced women throughout time. I had no desire to be seen as pushy or as a loudmouth or as unfeminine or as a bitch or an emasculator or a ballbreaker so I sat down and shut up. Without realizing that I was doing it. To make things worse, I’ve managed to justify my actions, or lack of them, to myself all of these years. So much so that I am now in a situation in which every single person I talk to is basically telling me to GET A BACKBONE! and I am whiffling and waffling and on the verge of sweet-talking myself out of taking the stand that is very, very clearly the stand that I need to take.
I know what I have to do. I have to reclaim that lost bit of self. Go back and rescue that brave and foolhardy girl who knew what she believed in. I have to recognize the ongoing temptation to fold in on myself and when I feel myself going in that mental direction, realize that it’s just a sign that I need to do the opposite.
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