It was the Fall of my Senior year of high school when I heard someone tell me a friend of mine’s parent had described me as “backward.” BACKWARD?! I had felt the rage inside of me develop out of the piercing aching feeling that deflated me and question how I saw myself. I quickly became defensive and said, “How could she say I was backward?! I would say quiet but NOT BACKWARD.” That sounded to me like awkward and that was NOT how I wanted to be defined.
Now as I type this, it sounds so ridiculous. Why did I let one word spoken by someone who barely knew me be my blockade and resurface as my inner critical voice for so long? Had I been strong enough in myself to not believe it, I would have brushed it off and explained it as their problem not mine. So it didn’t start there. It started earlier.
I had been a timid girl in new situations as early as I can remember going back to Kindergarten. Looking back, I was more like many other kids than I had realized. Yet, my reserved nature was intensified by my family environment of being number nine of ten kids. It seemed fighting to have a voice felt like more work than what it was worth which invited the habit of me just not sharing my opinion in group settings.
It wasn’t until Junior High where being quiet became one of my insecurities. The more I heard, “Why are you so quiet?’ the more I withdrew inward. Sixth grade was a year where I had went from a class of 20 students who I had grown comfortable with to a class of 84 where those closest safest friends grew other friendships. Those years where judging became so common I rehearsed what I was going to say in a group setting so much that my words were left unspoken. It was no longer relevant to the conversation I was in with my friends. People who had been my friends started writing letters to me. Some in concern and another saying “I followed them around like a puppy dog.” It hurt. However I did have the inner strength to fight back.
By my freshman year in my little home town, alcohol was plentiful in social settings so I would have some to help fight my social anxieties. I also started to run track and ended up being good at it so it built my confidence. I then started to talk more in High School and started overcoming some of my shyness. While I still struggled with grades and sharing my opinions, I had at least let enough people get to know me and surprisingly was chosen for Prom Queen. Yet the insecurities of not being smart enough and that “awkward” label during moments of insecurity still didn’t stop that inner critic from speaking loudly:
“They don’t want to hear what I have to say.”
“Why am I so awkward?”
“I hate hearing myself talk. It sounded better in my head. Maybe I should just leave it there next time.”
“I am a weird.”
“I am not smart enough to share my opinion.”
While reading “Shining Freely” by Josie Muterspaw, I realized I need to “let go” of these labels that have been stuck in my head.
“The truth is, what you don’t let go of won’t let go of you.”
“We kill our joy, our destiny, our freedom and our passion when we chew on the things we were meant to let go of.”
“Our emotional experience can be clouded by past hurts and then the fear guides our perspective instead of truth. ”
She talks about how decades can go by where we are stuck in those old hurts. I recognize how I have been running away from that person in high school and have been overly driven to prove all those people wrong about me.
I went off to a college where no one knew me so I could start over. Throughout my journey for redefining who I was, I held onto the security from family members who saw something in me as a child. Teachers who saw I was smarter then I thought. Professors who taught me listening was a strength that could be used for sales to make money. Leaders who shared their struggles of timidness and inspired me to see the person who I could become. I had a mentor who coached me out of my comfort zone and helped me discover how I could be brave and a high performer in sales and management. They all helped get me to believe in myself and enabled me to accomplish what I sought to accomplish. However, when the sense of accomplishment was not there, I felt lost and not valuable.
While that ambition and inner motivation has helped me overcome a majority of the insecurities, I let the list of accomplishments take over and be my source of where I found value in myself. Rather than confronting the source of the pain I have used it as a driver. Yet while running from who I was, I lost site of the beauty within my own unique purpose.
Over the past couple of years, I started to hear things that moved something in me. I wanted others fighting the same battle of getting asked “why are you so quiet?” to read the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain that had resonated with me so they would also know they were also not alone. I didn’t want them to feel the same self abuse.
It wasn’t until I heard a client talk about his daughter who was quiet and share how he had wanted to change her so the world could hear her voice that I started to have a different perspective. At first, I wanted to immediately come to her defense. However, after he explained himself I realized he didn’t want to change what I had internally defined as “awkwardness” at all. He wanted her to share her inner beauty and thoughts and opinions to have impact on the world.
Still, it wasn’t until I started my spiritual journey at Southbrook Church and got certified in Pastoral Counseling where I gained a deeper understanding of myself and how many successful others struggled with negative self talk and feelings of inadequacy. I have become more aware of the roots behind the self talk along with the practices needed to be a healthier more joyful version of myself. I started to listen to the “significant events” that started occurring in my life journey. Those being things that stir emotion inside you.
What I have learned has developed a spiritual awakening within me that has made my inner voice want to shout out to the world everything bottling up inside me or held secret to those closest to me and use it as a way to make a difference in the world. My battle to do that first starts with facing that inner demon. For when I tell myself:
“I am worthy.”
“My opinion is worth hearing.”
“I do have a unique perspective to offer that is good.”
I then speak in a way that shows I believe in myself and then I do feel I am heard. I don’t feel awkward at all unless I start listening to negative self talk, become self conscious and clam up. With positive affirmation practice I have recently overcome one major milestone. During a meeting with top executives of the multi-billion dollar company I work for, I was included in a group of people who were asked to provide feedback in a room with about 40 people on what we did that worked in a recent initiative. I was proud of myself for overcoming the intimidation of such high level executives especially in a group setting where I would normally remain silent and was able to confidently share my honest professional opinions without a shaky voice in a big group setting.
While I have more work to do to be more consistent, I have a strong desire to use my story of perseverance and overcoming feelings of unworthiness to give hope to those who don’t believe in themselves. I am so thankful for the people in my life who have inspired me. I also need to forgive the people who did not realize their painful words would have such an impact on me.
My vision is to utilize the lessons I have learned and multiply positive impacts on others. To let go and tell those inner ugly words, “Get out of my way.”
What is it that stops you?
Two experienced counselors, Jeffrey Stokoe and Denise Ashworth, have helped people by getting people to listen to those negative voices. They recommend to write down what they are saying. Recognize the common themes. Then think back to the earliest memories and identify what it is that ignited them. Then start asking yourself, is that really true? Think of all the times where it wasn’t true. You will start seeing the light and realize the lies you tell yourself. Those lies that stop you from your true potential.
Resources: If you struggle with self esteem and inner critics, please look for the True Profile and Anxiety to Peace workbooks within TimeToHeal.solutions website.
“Shining Freely” by Josie Muterspaw
Photograph Taken Near Lakes of Killarney Ireland