Making Friends With Yourself
Like many people, I was bullied in school. Not physically bullied, but a lot of taunting, teasing, students making up stories about me, and behaviour that I would now call emotional abuse if it occurred between adults. In grade five, I looked around my classroom and identified that I didn't have a single friend in the room. No allies at all. I was so afraid of confrontation that I didn't even deny it when the teacher punished me for making racist comments that I didn't make. I had to write an essay about it, that seemed easier somehow. I became depressed, and I remember my mom trying to figure out what was wrong with me. But at the time, I couldn't even express to her the depth of what was happening. I didn't have the words or the tools. I tried once and she laughed, as if to say, “what silly kids.” And of course, to an adult, it would have just seemed silly.
But because it was one thing on top of the other, everyday, over and over, it was tormenting. I felt so alone, and like no one could possibly understand me. I started to build a very sturdy brick wall of protection around myself. As far back as I can remember, whenever I was in trouble with my parents and sent to my room, I thought to myself, “no one loves me”. Where this diminished sense of self worth came from, I have no idea. But it sure is a persistent little f###er.
At the end of grade 8, I made a conscious decision; next year I would not repeat that lonely and frightening existence. I don't remember what I actually did differently, but I know it had something to do with simply smiling, and not walking around with the "please don't hurt me" expression on my face all the time. A few bricks came down.
In high school I was still very self-conscious, and very aware of not fitting in. I actively chose to fit in with the misfits, I found solace in hiding myself in the obviousness of being "different". I still do this. I wore strange clothes from the thrift store and cut my hair in a funky short style (still do that too haha), got piercings and tattoos, listened to heavy metal, anything to differentiate me from the “normal” kids. Maybe it's what I needed to do to feel special. These actions that I thought were just an expression of my individuality (and to some extent they were) started building up the wall again. The wall made me feel safe because it told the world not to mess with me. Unfortunately, it also told the world not to engage with me. And through this false safety net I fell deeper into a sad and lonely place where I felt neglected, unwanted, unloved, unimportant - fulfilling the self-imposed feeling that I had nothing to offer the world, so there was no reason why anyone would want to talk to me. So I became more surly and unapproachable and made others feel unwanted, unloved, and unimportant. Hmmmm....
This attitude towards myself lingers with me still. Looking back on my twenties, I was so wrapped up in fiercely observing the people around me in social situations that I was unable to engage. Constantly thinking about what I would say, and how they might react, and what would that make me look like, and how can I just be myself? - that myself almost completely disappeared. After gratefully shedding my twenties I have been fine tuning my listening skills, and turning them inwards. I have been studying yoga and meditation, and also have been mostly single for four years, and forced into being in my own company. And though I've spent some time feeling lonely and wishing I would meet someone already, I've come out the other side feeling so grateful for the alone time that I've been gifted with in order to cultivate the most important relationship I will ever have, the relationship with myself.
In my thirties now, I am finally starting to peak out from over top of the wall, and everyday, pulling down another brick. It takes a constant conscious effort to reassure myself that I am worthy, and that I have something important to say. I've been told many times by many people that I don't come across as shy and self conscious, but I think that I must just be a good actor because I've fooled them! I would wager that most people have felt this way at some point in their lives. I've always struggled to make friends, and it takes me a while to feel comfortable with people. I like to blame the bullying in my youth, but I know that shifting the blame doesn't solve the problem. I need to take responsibility for myself. I couldn't stand up for myself then, but I can do it now. I can be myself unapologetically, and not only does that not attract negative attention, it draws people to me, because people are attracted to authenticity. I'm still human and not always my genuine self 100% of the time, but hey, it's a work in progress. And as I become better friends with myself, it gets easier to attract new friendships with others.
Nowadays, I'm sometimes overly friendly with new people, in an attempt to make sure that those around me don't feel neglected, unwanted, or unloved as I have felt in the past. But that can also backfire to the point where it's obvious that I'm trying to make friends, and people can get weirded out... 'Just be cool, Liz, you're worthy, remember?' … Ever tried asking someone out on a friend date? I've had some success but mostly people just think you're covertly coming onto them, or else just desperate. We live in an age where most communication and meetings take place online. So when you try to strike up a conversation with a stranger they look at you like you're crazy, maybe even start backing away slowly hahaha...
I was hesitant to publish this blog because of it's personal nature, but I figure, if someone else has felt this way, it may help them realise that they are not alone. Please feel free to reach out to me, or anyone else if you need someone to talk to about it. And also, if you're ever feeling lonely and you need a friend, remember your best friend is looking right back at you in the mirror. And no matter what anyone else has said to you/about you, or what you have said/thought about yourself, remember: YOU ARE WORTHY.
Resources for those seeking help::
www.talkspace.com - going to a therapist is confronting, but sending instant messages to a therapist is (a little) less scary, and has helped me a lot, especially as I'm living remotely without access to traditional therapy sessions.
www.connectedspace.com.au - Relationships Australia
www.ncab.org.au - National Centre Against Bullying
www.bzaf.org.au - Belly Zero Australia Foundation (cyber bullying)
www.au.reachout.com - Emergency help and Info