Growing up, I was always different. And, like anyone who knows what it’s like to be different, you grow up knowing that you are not good enough. Our societies have always demanded we conform, and we do even to the detriment of ourselves, our bodies, and our health. We break and bind our feet; we put harmful chemicals in our hair and on our skin; we change the way we walk, laugh, talk, until we no longer recognise ourselves. Those of us who refuse to change are punished. Harshly!
I never changed. It is not because I did not want to, it is because I did not know how to. I tried, and tried and still failed. Eventually, I gave up, and just bowed. I was defeated, and I knew it. I accepted my lot in life. My entire childhood, I smelt my wrongness. Everyone told me how wrong I was, so how could I, the lone voice in my conscious, be right?
Not surprisingly, I grew up with low self-esteem, carrying my shame from childhood into teenagehood, and, finally, adulthood. I remember standing up to my high school bullies as one of the greater moments of clarity in my life. Out of nowhere came this voice of strength I’d thought I lost. But it was a turning point in my slow recovery to healing.
A friend asked me once if being bullied most of my life affected my present. I told her no, but I have come to think that it does. No matter how many people love me now, I remain wary of those who love, and of love itself. “It is not real!”, I tell my cousin (who very much believes in love). I might not believe very much in love – in human kindness and compassion – but I hold myself to a higher standard, because for every time I hurt, I understand that much deeper how another heart might feel. I fail constantly, so I dust myself off and try again. I try again, and I try again, and I try again, because I understand how love can soothe away our scars, no matter how long it might take.
So, how did I overcome my low self-esteem? It was through acceptance. I knew I would never be loved by everyone, so I stopped trying to change myself to fit their expectations. It was a process that took years. (It is still taking years.) I simply stopped looking for love in humanity. Perhaps, because I am a religious person, I was able to find love in God, and I was satisfied. Nevertheless, I realized that no matter how painful it is – and boy! Is it painful! – there is a certain confidence you earn when you disregard others’ expectations of you as inconsequential. Suddenly, YOU matter and, as if by magic, their disappointment in you becomes meaningless.
Ironically, as soon as I looked away from others, they came a’running in hordes, asking for my return. Simply put, the less I care to please others, the more they try to please me. But this is not what matters. I truly believe that loving others, despite our pain, can go a long way to healing our own hurt. Yet, we must remember that we cannot love others without first loving ourselves. I fail so many times, but when I do succeed, I succeed!