Years ago, my sister and I went to Philly to visit some family and friends.
We had a great time, and although I don’t remember much of what happened on that trip, one moment has always stuck out in my mind.
We were at our cousin’s house, sitting in the living room, hanging out with them and a couple of their friends.
We chatted, laughed, and had a good time.
I don’t remember the conversation specifically or the topic; I just remember making a self-deprecating comment about being overweight — as a joke.
At the time, I thought it was HIGHlarious to make fun of myself, and I thought everyone else thought it was equally funny.
Later that night, my sister and I were getting ready for bed, and she got mad at me.
I can still remember her tone being angry and annoyed.
She asked, “Why do you do that? Why do you make people so uncomfortable by saying stuff like that?!?”
While I thought I was just being a stand-up comedian, I had failed to notice that my audience wasn’t laughing cause they thought it was funny….
…they were laughing because they were uncomfortable.
It was an awkward, uncomfortable laugh.
The worst kind.
I was mad that my sister got mad at me, but I also felt incredibly guilty that this was the impression I left on these people.
It was the first time someone had pointed it out to me, but it wasn’t the first or last time I would make such comments.
I assumed I had become more aware of making statements like this…
Until a couple of weeks ago, when, unbeknownst to me, I did it again.
And once again, my sister called me out on it.
An old friend from many years ago emailed me at work.
He works for the same company I do, and although we’ve known each other for many years, we aren’t particularly close.
My sister and her friends grew up with and hung out with him more than I ever did, but I became friends with him through her.
My dad had spoken with his dad and told him that I was now working at this company.
So, his dad told him, and he sent me an email to say hi and say how excited he was to know that I was working there.
When I saw the email in my inbox, it made me so happy!
It was lovely to randomly hear from someone I had not seen or spoken to in so many years.
So, I happily replied to him, asking how his family was, told him what department I worked in, and how my sister was doing.
Then, I ended the email with this line (verbatim):
“Thank you so much for reaching out! I didn’t even think you’d know who I was (most everyone only knows [my sister’s name], so it made my day!”
I thought it was just an innocent, harmless comment.
My sister brought it to my attention that it wasn’t.
“Of course, he would remember you! Why wouldn’t he?? Why do you always just dismiss yourself so easily? You dismiss yourself before they can.”
Once again, she is right.
These types of comments have always been my M.O.
Dismiss myself, before they can.
Beat them to the punch of making comments because it’s much easier to swallow if it comes straight from me.
Ignore feeling hurt, betrayed, heartbroken, overlooked, and used — because if you feel it, you are being overemotional and dramatic, and no one wants to be around overemotional, dramatic people.
Now I see how I do this all the time — whether at work or in casual conversation.
I think I’m being funny, but what I’m doing is belittling or dismissing my intelligence, my ability, and my self-worth, all as a means to protect myself.
If I can protect myself, then I won’t get hurt.
I won’t get hurt by their comments about how I look, who I am, my intelligence, etc.
Just be who they want or expect you to be, and everything will be fine.
So if they want me to be funny and entertaining, I will.
If they want me to be the “angry brown girl”, I will.
If they want me to play the chubby sidekick, I will.
If they want me to take on more responsibilities because they know I will do it without complaint, I will.
I will do and be whatever they want because then maybe they will like me and I would rather be liked by everyone and accept those roles rather than show them who I really am.
All these years, I have been living my life with multiple masks on —
… there’s me, the clown that puts on a show and makes everyone laugh with her jokes, comments, and stories, because she wants everyone to like her;
… there’s the me who drowns herself in books and dramas, because she’s convinced herself that, after all the heartache and betrayal she has experienced, those fictional stories are the closest she’ll ever get to knowing what it feels like to be pursued, validated, and loved;
… there’s me, that is the dependent, reliable, hard worker who will always go above and beyond to make sure she doesn’t fail or fall behind, even if it means that people will take advantage of her work ethic or attack her because she is efficient, successful, and good at her job.
… there’s the me who wants to be seen as a spiritual, profound, insightful, God-fearing woman; so, she puts a quarter in the “cuss word jar” because good, holy girls don’t cuss. Or when she feels hurt, betrayed, lonely, etc., she shoves it away and brings out the “church girl” mentality, to avoid actually sitting in the heartache and pain — - because she doesn’t want to look weak in her faith.
I didn’t learn this behavior of dismissing myself and what I feel by myself.
It was taught….engrained in me….
…It was my example growing up.
UN-learning toxic, learned behaviors is my biggest stumbling block to moving forward.
I remember one incident at church where I was being berated by the elders of the church.
It happened at a General Body meeting, [a committee-like meeting all church members attended, including the women/youth/kids], where I was made to defend myself against some really stupid accusations regarding a baby shower invitation that I had made for an aunty that was expecting in the church.
I don’t remember the details, I just remember some adults were offended by it somehow.
And it was such a big, heated issue, that it was brought up in front of the whole congregation.
I remember having to stand at my seat in the 2nd row of this small church, facing all these adults, to defend myself, and I started crying — from fear, from hurt, from a lot.
While I tried to get the words out in between sobs, I was scolded and angrily told to, “Stop crying!”.
I was 12 years old.
That was one of MANY moments where I was taught that I had to protect myself because no one else would.
So at a young age I was taught that crying and feeling was weak.
Stand up for yourself.
Don’t let them know you’re hurt.
Be ready to fight at all times.
When I tell you I’m exhausted.
It’s exhausting being someone I’m not.
It’s exhausting constantly having to defend and protect myself from people.
I think I have finally, very slowly, started to put my weapons down.
We all know how hot it’s been on this planet this summer.
This past week, I decided to wear a dress to work because it has been unbearable.
However, I only wear this dress with a jean jacket because I am so self-conscious about my body.
Growing up, I was always told, “What will people think?!”
Now, as an adult, I have convinced myself that if I’m this disgusted with my body, then surely everyone else looks at me and feels the same way.
So, I got ready for work and put on the dress.
Instinctively, I put on the jean jacket.
I looked at my reflection in the mirror before walking out the door and was already getting hot just standing in my bedroom.
And I got so mad!
Out loud, I literally yelled — “Screw this!” and threw the jacket on my bed.
The conversation with myself continued:
“I don’t give an F if someone is disgusted by my body. I don’t CARE if someone thinks I look fat or ugly! I JUST… DON’T…..CARE!”.
With that, I grabbed my bag, walked out the door, and went to work.
The rest of the day, I kept repeating to myself, “IDGAF” (the actual words, not the acronym lol), and didn’t care one time what people were thinking because it didn’t matter!
It was so freeing and such a relief!
If that’s how that ONE, very small moment of not caring anymore feels, then what will it feel like when I free my mind from these toxic habits and mentalities?!
Just knowing that it is possible to live a life where I am no longer dismissing myself or my feelings, but living completely free, whole, and authentically as the person I truly am, is what I want more than anything else in the world.