Thursday, September 5, 2013

When people try to change who you are ....

Part of the reason I'm so comfortable with Hawk is because he lets me be where I am. He hasn't shown any inclination to try and change what I think, how I respond, etc. If he disagrees, he presents his opinion as his own opinion and doesn't in any way insinuate that I ought to think differently as a result. We simply learn from each other.

In my experience, that's amazing.

In contrast, I spent seventeen years with my ex telling me what I thought and what I felt.  He also attempted to predefine what I ought to think and feel. Just to make it more mind-bending, I was frequently treated as a liar or an enemy when I stated my view, especially about our relationship, feelings, or even verifiable events and actions at times. 

The church we were attending ended up handling our situation in a very similar way, calling me un-submissive for disagreeing with my ex. when he twisted the truth. It was odd. They agreed that he was abusive, then blamed me for pushing him to act that way by not complying with his demands.

I guess they couldn't even see the depth of the problem because they really believe authority is meant to work in that top-down, forceful way, themselves. They even wanted to limit the books I could read so I wouldn't encounter unauthorized ideas that disagreed with their position that I was the main problem in our situation, because I found it unendurable. Of course, the more blatant problems of his attitude concerned them, but they felt he might do better if I helped by not making him face such difficulty.  

By the time the church counselors entered the picture in the final attempt (there were multiple previous attempts throughout the years) at making our relationship conform to the acceptable pattern, I had become pretty good at thinking through opposition. They could only make me think more deeply. In the end, their intervention clarified what I saw, understood, and believed because I had to ask myself their questions, face their judgement, and widen my perspective to see and correct the flaws and instability in my position.

For a long time I had wondered if I was so good at lying ... that I could lie to myself convincingly enough ... to actually believe I felt and thought ... what I must have originally only pretended to think and feel ... in order to get my way somehow ... or maybe just because I wanted to prove I could? 

Don't worry if that paragraph was hard to read. It really doesn't make any sense. 

By the end of my marriage, I figured out that I could understand my thoughts. I don't always know why my emotions react to situations the way they do. But my thoughts? I do know what I'm thinking.

And once I knew what I thought, I realized that I had to live as myself.

Anything else would be lying.

Lying is easier (because people expect conformity) and it feels safer to stay in a mislabeled box on the wrong shelf. In order to really grow and not just fake it I had to let people see my thoughts in action, knowing some would reject me for not being who they imagined I must be.

I had always been afraid I would lose 'everyone' by being myself. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy because I had set myself up for it by trying to outwardly fit their expectations. Once I saw I'd never really had them in the first place, I chose to accept it. And it was then that I began to clearly see the quality of my friendships.

It's not that these individuals didn't care about me. Many took the time to attempt to change my mind because they sincerely believed my choices would be destructive and they wanted to protect me. Eventually they realized I would have to make my own mistakes to realize what they were convinced I needed to learn. Some withdrew completely because they couldn't make me learn the easy way, by taking their word for it and I suppose they didn't want to watch. Some were angry. Some felt betrayed because I wasn't fulfilling their expectations of who I was. Some grieved for me because they didn't want me to suffer the consequences they felt must be inevitable.

Like purchasing a boxed product and finding something else inside when you get home, there were returns and disappointment. When I chose to leave my ex, the church leadership announced that they had removed me from the congregation, told the members not to talk with me except to ask me to comply, and explained to me that they couldn't allow me to "fellowship" on church property since my existence was in opposition to their authority. I could always conform and come back, of course.

On the other hand, a very few local friends (people in my church) realized they appreciated me even more as myself. Even knowing that I am always a mixture of wisdom already learned, questions to be explored, and life experiments. (I will fail many times along the way to finding solutions.)

None of my online friends rejected me. I'd been more honest with them, you see. They were the ones who taught me I could be both myself AND accepted in the first place.

So if you find yourself where I was (and I hope you'll never be in such a painful situation!) I know it's very difficult to face. Here is what I've learned:

  1. There are people in the world who will appreciate the real you. 
  2. They can see you for who you are and love you. 
  3. They will ask you for advice because they observe you've learned something they want to know.
  4. They will assist you in becoming the best of yourself at your own pace. 
  5. They will be honest about their mistakes and problems.
  6. They will encourage the good they see in you instead of dragging you back or pushing you around. 
  7. They will tell you their life story without thinking yours will turn out the same.
  8. They will challenge you, because they want you to ask the questions that make you stronger.
  9. And they know it takes time and experience to learn, too. 

Do your best to be this kind of friend to others, first. Even though it's scary. The world needs more people who know how to accept others for who they are. You know this very well.

Be yourself. It's worth it.