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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

5 Things I Did to Not be Me

Why do we live our lives trying to “become” something other than our wonderful amazing selves?

Slowly (very slowly), I am coming to terms with those really unhealthy things I did in order to survive. All survivors (really that is everyone) do things to survive. Some choose obviously unhealthy options, like abusing drugs and alcohol. It was easy for me to feel comfortable in the things I did to survive because, after all, I didn’t do THAT!

Since my main objective was to hide what I had experienced (even from myself), it was super important to only do things that appeared healthy. In high school, I remember choosing not to take drugs because I knew my ticket to survival (or success) was my brain. If I had ever realized that drugs could take the edge off my inner turmoil, it might have been tragic. Instead, I found other ways to distance myself from my own pain. The subconscious is very clever. Most of what I did to avoid my pain involved strategies that seemed completely normal. This enabled me to never even realize what I was doing. Here are five of them:

  1. Stay very, very busy. Do everything. Volunteer for everything. Never say no.

  2. Be stellar because no one will ever suspect the turmoil if successful.

  3. Avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. For example: Always hire a housekeeper because cleaning the bathtub hurt my back—nope, it was a trigger.

  4. Self-soothe with food. Eating an entire bag of pretzels is funny to people, taking drugs is not.

  5. Make sure everyone likes me. In my world that not only involved being likeable, it also involved being spiritual.

None of those are necessarily trauma-related. They are human. Everyone reading this probably relates to at least one strategy, if not all. That is because, in some sense, we are all survivors of this thing called life. Sadly, for many of us, our survival got connected to incorrect messages about who we were created to be.

My granddaughter is almost ten. I can see how fragile her understanding of herself is right now. I can love her and tell her how awesome she is, but unless she feels that deep inside of herself, she will begin to hide who she is and strive to be what she believes other people want her to be. I remember her brother at this age. His music was the key to accepting who he was. Since no one in our family is musically inclined, we could have easily missed his gift and he would have tried to become someone else’s idea of who he is.

I was an educator for forty years—all in Christian settings. Great life, no regrets. But by the time I was 50, I was an overweight, likable, spiritual, very successful, excessively busy, woman who didn’t have a clue why I had chosen to do (or not do) any particular thing. I created a story of my childhood and life that wasn’t true (not a lie exactly, but certainly not true). Sadly, I did understand, deep down inside of me that I wasn’t doing the one thing that was truly who I was—a writer.

In my effort to be everything I believed everyone else wanted me to be, I had set aside the one thing I understood was truly "me." I can’t tell you how many times I sat across from someone in my office and listened to them say, “I really always wanted to be a teacher, but it didn’t work out.” I felt kind of bad since I was a teacher, but wanted to say, “I understand, I always wanted to be an author.”

It has been a long haul to this place where my decisions are not consistently run through a filter of, “What would others think.” Not that I don’t have moments, but I recognize them and remind myself that I am the only person who truly knows who I am. That of course requires me to like myself, know and be OK with my true life story, and choose to do the things that bring me happiness.

I fear our misguided spirituality had given us the idea that in order to truly follow God, we must be miserable in some way (Suffering Saint Syndrome); the very things we desire must be wrong (Our Desires vs. God’s Desires Syndrome); and at the very least, we should hate who we are as a human being (Wretched Worm Syndrome). What a tragic, misguided way to live.

While my granddaughter is at this fragile age, I want her to understand she was created to be exactly who she is. She needs to understand that what makes her different from others is what makes her special and that those differences are the paths to pursue. I want her to understand that being happy is really found in being content with who she is. Avoiding her emotions and desires will not lead to a fulfilling life. The greatest gift I could ever give her is the gift of herself. She had everything she needed the day she was born. Why do we live our lives trying to “become” something other than our wonderful amazing selves?

When I look at my baby pictures, I see the curious, optimistic, and tenacious person I have become. When I access my earliest memories, I can feel myself analyzing my world and trying to attach thoughts and words. I was brave and true to myself from my youngest years—with a propensity to say things that weren’t always well accepted. Really, nothing made me happier than to be alone in my room with a pencil in my hand. I explored my world to tell a story in my head. Music told a story, flowers told a story, all of life told a story. And a dictionary was a treasure chest.

Let us look deeply inside the children in our lives. The “me” I described in the above paragraph was overlooked and lost in all my survival strategies. I am on a treasure hunt to help my granddaughter find and love her true self before the pull of being like everyone else leads her to a life that wasn’t hers to live. She is the only one who can find the self she was created to be, but only an adult can provide the courage she needs to find and accept it. This young generation needs us to be authentic. Many of us have hidden who we are for far too long.

Find a tween and walk beside them—not to become who you think they should be, but instead, to be who they were born to be. Trust them to know. Deep down we all knew, but the pull to being like everyone else in order to survive made many of us lose our way.

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