For years, I struggled to be myself in relationships. Instead, I tried to guess who you wanted me to be and then I morphed myself into that person. I tried to figure out what version of myself would be the most liked, loved and accepted; what version would be the least likely to rock the boat or provoke disapproval, anger or rejection.
It's not surprising that I behaved in this way. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
A series of childhood experiences led me to believe that it wasn't safe to be entirely, authentically myself or to speak my truth. I developed a belief that I wasn't enough and that the real me was somehow faulty, wrong or unacceptable.
As a little girl, I tried speaking my truth but it didn't go well. I was met with anger by the adults around me. This frightened me. I was dependent on these grown-ups for my survival and so when they were angry, I felt like I wouldn't survive.
Naturally, I made a decision to avoid angering people from then on. Anger was scary - to be avoided at all costs. And that included my own. I suppressed my anger by turning it on myself through binge eating, compulsive work and compulsive exercise. I avoided your anger by acquiescing and saying 'Yes' when I meant 'No', even if I hurt myself in the process.
When I spoke my truth as a child, I was also told that my truth was wrong, which undermined my sense of self. From an early age, I didn't feel I could trust my perceptions. I thought my version of reality was mistaken, because that's what I'd been led to believe by the grown-ups.
It's quite debilitating to go through life believing that you can't trust yourself, your perceptions or your intuition. Decisions become excruciating. You ignore the tap on the shoulder that's warning you off a course of action because you don't trust your gut.
You always feel like you're walking on shaky ground, grasping around you for some sense of safety, picking up unhealthy crutches like food, drink, drugs, sex, or compulsive achievement to feel better about yourself or stronger in yourself, even just for a moment.
This fear of being me and this missing sense of self affected two key areas of my life:
I ended up taking jobs or staying too long in careers that I no longer loved because:
a) I'd spent so many years suppressing my true self that I didn't know who I was or what the real me wanted to do.
b) I didn't believe I could trust the part of myself that yearned to do something else and I didn't feel 'enough' - I was plagued by imposter syndrome in everything I did.
c) The ground was so shaky and the world such a scary place full of angry people that I felt compelled to hold on to 'security' at all costs, which meant not taking risks.
My love life
I went on dates with the belief that the real me was unacceptable, feeling that I had to pretend to be someone else. I also dated without knowing who I truly was on the inside, and without loving and accepting all of myself. This made it hard for me to love and accept anyone else.
I entered into relationships hiding key parts of myself because I was afraid of being rejected or abandoned. And I stayed in unhealthy relationships too long because I didn't believe I deserved anything else.
The good news
If you can relate to my story, please know that you're not alone with your struggles and that there is a way out. We can change.
We can restore that sense of self that was broken in our childhoods or younger years.
We can learn to connect with and trust our intuition so that we make good decisions from a place of peace.
We can learn to soothe the frightened child inside us so that we are able to speak up for ourselves and speak our truth, knowing that we can survive other people's anger and disapproval, and knowing that every time we do so, we grow emotionally.
We can ground and root ourselves and build up our emotional core - or our inner oak tree as I call it in my book - so that we can replace the shaky ground with firm earth and no longer feel afraid of people or life. We can do this through meditation, through grounding exercise such as yoga or Pilates, through spending time in Nature - leaning on oak trees or swimming in the vast sea - and through developing some form of spirituality - a sense of a higher being, a bigger force, or a higher self.
We can learn to take healthy risks, knowing that success in life, love and work require us to step out of our comfort zone and walk through our fears. We can even become comfortable with making mistakes, knowing that the rigid perfectionism that ruled our earlier lives gave us a false sense of control and kept us small and stuck.
We can begin to believe that we are enough, that we are lovable and that the real us is entirely acceptable. As we do this, we can learn to love and accept another.
The journey won't be easy. There'll be bumps in the road and we'll need bags of courage. But the rewards will be incredible.
When I was stuck in a job I no longer loved, I never imagined that I could break free and transform my career into something entirely authentic and fulfilling. And when I woke up single on another birthday or mourned the end of yet another relationship, I never imagined I'd be engaged to a wonderful man and preparing to marry (next June!).
So change is possible. Believe it. Know it. Get the support you need. Start speaking your truth. Start showing up as your authentic self.
Believe me, you won't regret it.
** Upcoming events **
Fall in love with yourself, with your life and with another. One-day workshop. London. Nov 17.
For How to Fall in Love retreats in Dorset, Spain and Turkey in 2019, click here.
Stop emotional overeating and lose weight for life. Four week online live video course with group coaching starts Nov 5. Evening London workshops Nov 6 & Jan 16.
Let Go of Your Blocks in Life & Love. One-day workshop in Bournemouth. Dec. 1
Relight Your Fire: Find Your Passion & Purpose. Evening workshop, London. Jan 15.
Free Facebook group for women: Being Real, Becoming Whole.