First published in Celebration U – Self-Compassion 101 – a free e-course available from the Raising Loveliness community.
You are not who they said you were, you are who you say you are. ~ Jason Alexander
My mother was 14 when she discovered she was pregnant with me. I was almost aborted, but instead I was adopted out at birth. My new mother was a woman who seemed to have decided early on that she didn’t want to be a mother after all. She and her husband had no further children so I was raised an only child, and I was later sent to boarding school. There was very little affection, praise or encouragement in this family, instead I was raised with criticism, scorn and punishment. I became permanently estranged from my adoptive parents in my 20s, and during this time my biological father’s wife made it very clear to me that I was not to consider myself part of their family either.
Believing the lie
Due to these repeated rejections from mother figures, I found it difficult to trust people or allow anyone to get too close to me, and as a result I have not become a mother myself. For a long time I’ve believed I was alone in the world, someone who slipped through the cracks when it came to families, ending up with none. I never believed I didn’t deserve love and affection, but I somehow came to the conclusion that I didn’t generate these things in people – I was ‘not enough’ to engender love, warmth and respect in others and this was why I was now alone.
It reminds me of a stray cat I once fed. He allowed my own cats to push him around and cuff him, then once they’d finished (or I intervened) he’d then eat the food I left out for him. It was as though he expected mistreatment and seemed to believe it was his due. In the same way, I had been allowing myself to be treated disrespectfully in many situations because I thought contempt, rather than respect, was the feeling I produced in others.
Is it really true?
Fortunately I have come across some wise and understanding people throughout my life who helped me find the courage to look into the shadows and question the stories I’d believed about myself. It was frightening and painful to step into the darkness but what I found there was worth it. The stories I’d always believed about myself weren’t true. They were the projections of other people who had their own reasons for promoting these stories.
Once I learned this, I became very angry. I wrote letters to all the people, including flatmates and work colleagues and neighbours and store owners, whom I felt had treated me with disregard over the years, whom I had allowed to treat me this way. I burned all the letters and watched the smoke carry away my anger and old stories with it. Once this was done, I was left with an empty space that needed refilling. It was time to let go of the life I had built based on false stories about who I really was, and find a life that fit the real me, the one that had been hiding in the dark.
We make the stories true
It is an act of self-compassion to confront your old stories directly and consider whether they really represent the truth about who you are. Unchallenged, these stories cause us to behave in ways that appear to confirm them. For instance, as I explored my shadows I began to realise I was never alone. I always had people I could turn to, but I didn’t because I believed they wouldn’t be there for me. So I never gave myself the chance to see that they would have been. The old story remained ‘true’ until I risked challenging it.
Discovering the truth
So I committed to spending one year exploring my essence, and finding ways to express this in all areas of my life. This journey led me to so many new aspects of myself and put me in touch with kindred spirits with whom I would never have crossed paths in my ‘old life’.
I experimented with intuitive painting, barefoot breathing, and therapeutic journalling. I rediscovered morning pages and artist dates, and I took up horse riding. This led me to begin training in the use of horses as therapeutic companions. I also started studying art therapy and became a certified Soul Art® guide.
Suddenly life was looking very different. I finally realised why I had never felt fulfilled in my old office jobs. I wasn’t meant to be there, that was someone else’s idea of success. It wasn’t because I was a failure, it was because I needed to be outdoors, or creating something, or helping others express themselves.
What beliefs do you hold about yourself? Are they real or are they someone else’s version of the truth?
In what ways are you cutting yourself off from the support you need by buying into old stories that aren’t true? In what ways are you finding evidence that makes your old beliefs seem true?
You are capable of much more than you realise. What’s one thing you can do today to starting finding your way back to the truth?