As a woman, there are certain societal standards that get ingrained in your brain from a young age. You have to be calm and sweet. You have to be dependent and nice and you have to dress, look, think and act “appropriately”.
It’s all predetermined and you just need to follow the rules.
But, then, you grow up and your personality develops. Half of those rules make no sense anymore and the other half make you feel shameful. You’re thirty and still single, there must be something wrong with you. Someone offends your coworker and you want to scream and be angry but you’ll probably be called a witch if you do.
You’re confused. There’s a voice within you saying one thing and another with all the society’s rule book saying another and somewhere between those two exists the best version of you.
It’s a tough balance to keep but it can be done.
When we look at the status quo, we realize people are afraid to be themselves , we notice patterns of shame and fear of failure and rejection. We are social beings and we need to feel loved and accepted by others no matter how independent we are.. So how do we become more resilient and dare to be more authentic in a world led by shame and fear?
In her book More myself, Alicia Keys shares her experience with internalizing others opinion;
“It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment when we internalize others’ assessments; it’s usually not just a single experience but rather a series of moments that bruise the spirit and lead us to distrust ourselves and those around us. And then we wake up at age seventeen or twenty-five or thirty-seven and realize we don’t know the last time we’ve lived life only to please ourselves.”
I can remember the day when I realized I couldn’t recognize myself. I was 26 years old in full tears talking with my coach and facing my biggest fear, not being true to myself.
Somewhere along the way, by being too easy going, by not caring how I spend my time and by not setting good boundaries, I had become someone I barely recognized.
Why did it take me till that day to find that answer? Why do we let ourselves fall so far away from who we are and how can we slowly find our way back?
It ‘s not easy to change if you have been conditioned for years to live a certain way.
As women, we are raised to be good daughters and good mothers; we are taught to care, serve and love and while all these are amazing, they are not enough. All these attributes given to us, all the dreams we are encouraged to follow are about what we can do to others.What about us? What about what kind of leaders we want to be ?What about the passions and hobbies that will ignite our souls?What about how we want others to treat us and how we feel loved ?
Those matter,too, and we owe it to ourselves to find those answers.
We have to commit to this self-discovery journey and practice it on a daily basis.
We have to create new experiences and practice self reflection to live authentically.
No one knows who they are when they get started. We get a new piece of the puzzle with every new experience and every question we ask ourselves and while some may be hard, painful and scary, they are worth it. We are worth it and I suggest we take a good look at our life and decide who we want to be.
In order to help you with that, , here are some questions that have proved to be useful to me and other women I’ve worked with.
- What events or moments in your life make you feel alive?
- What are your fears?
- How does being with your partner make you feel?
- What did you feel today and why? What should you do differently tomorrow?
- What is draining your energy?
- What helps you recharge?
- When you visualize yourself 10 years from now, what do you see? What are our dreams? Who is there with you?
- What are the small steps you want to take tomorrow to live your dreams?
Every person we meet will have an opinion about us, how we should live our lives, what we should wear and who our friends should be. Their opinions do not matter and should not be taken into considerations but we still need some feedback in life to understand our blind spots. We need someone we trust to tell us the difficult truth.
My favorite quote that addresses this is from one of Brenee Brown’s books.
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinion of me matters. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and for my struggles. “
So who are the people on your list?
You should really take your time deciding that, and I will help you by giving you some criteria you can use in making that decision .
These people should
- Love you and accept you for who you are
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
- Have been there with you in your darkest and happiest moments .
- Taken risks in their lives
- Have faced failure
- Be on their own authenticity journey
- Not be afraid to tell you the truth
(There shouldn’t be more than 4 or 5 people )
I have counted on the people on my list so many times I lost count because we can not do this on our own.
We need someone to lean on when we can’t trust ourselves, when we feel judged or when everything in our lives is falling apart.
Their words may not be what we go by exactly but they will spark in us the inspiration we needed and support us through the darkness.
They will provide us with a piece of the puzzle we need to take the next step.
So when you’re back reflecting on what to do next, it’s not just your experiences and your reflections that will help you stay true to yourself but their words, too.
There is nothing more liberating and more difficult than saying “no”. We have been brought up believing it’s shameful and selfish to refuse helping others or being there for them. We need to always be loving positive women.
Here’s the problem with that,it is impossible to serve and please everyone and yourself all the time. We do not have this kind of limitless resources and energy so we have to choose what really matters to us.
This is where creating good and healthy boundaries comes in handy.
If knowing yourself helps you establish what matters to you, boundaries make sure you are living what you’re preaching.
They determine where you want to put your energy, who you spend your time with and what you accept and don’t accept from yourself and from others.
No one can know what hurts you if you don’t let them know. No one can know how to love you if you don’t tell them.
Knowing yourself is not enough if you don’t establish and respect your own boundaries.
My biggest challenge with my boundaries came a few years ago. I had just broken up with my long time boyfriend and was on a race with myself; going out every night drinking, playing games and simply not taking a moment to pause. I had no inner boundaries and I was exhausted. It wasn’t till years later, living abroad that I realized how important boundaries were. I started exercising when my body needed it, saying no to social outings when I needed time alone and picking the friends I wanted to spend time with instead of saying yes to everyone. I feel less depleted now. I probably have less friends and have disappointed a few people but at least I show up fully.
When the people who matter need me, I have the energy to be there for them. They know when I say yes I mean it.
Also, having good boundaries made me less resentful and angry. I am not angry at my boss for keeping me late every night because I was clear on how much extra time I can give. I am not resentful towards my friends or family because I do not feel obligated to be there for them. I am when I can; I choose how and when I can give.
It’s not a chore. I am not obliged to say yes and love others so I do not end up losing myself in their name. I give because I want to and that has made every sacrifice I make a joy and not a burden. I have never felt more free.
Creating good habits
The key to authenticity and having healthy boundaries is not in undertaking 500 new tasks in one day.
It’s in establishing new small measurable actions and repeating them daily till they become habits. This has better results than drastic changes do.
As per James Clear’s book Atomic habits , research shows that 1% change everyday can lead to a 37% improvement a year later.
That is huge and can be done easily.
So, which habit are you starting with?
Journaling? Finding your list of people? Practicing saying no?
Start by looking at the big questions in the first section of this article to know who you really are and who you want to be. After that, you can figure out which habit you need to start with.
I have to say being authentic in a world filled with judgment has never been easy. It’s hard and painful to face rejection and failure but I have never been more at peace.
I have found happiness and fulfillment in loving myself, having good boundaries and being loved by those who matter and I hope you find that, too.