In a discussion about bullying the other day, someone asked me if I was ever bullied at school.
I thought carefully about it, and answered “No, I don’t remember being bullied.”
It’s not that there wasn’t any bullying, I grew up in a pretty rough Northern Ontario town where there were plenty of bullies and I remember some kids in particular suffered tremendously. In fact, most kids at one time or another were the target of bullies.
But no, not me. It’s not that I was special, or a bully myself, I just distinctly remember being ultra aware of who was being bullied and making sure it wasn’t me.
I was friends with pretty much everyone, and I made sure it stayed that way. And it was exhausting work and probably used up a lot of my energy.
I went out of my way to survey the landscape of the playground and make sure I was not in the line of fire. It worked for me.
I have now come to understand that this type of hypervigilance is something called “fawning”: making sure you please and cater to everyone so they will like you.
It’s the 4th ‘F’ in the fight-flight-freeze-fawn stress response cycle.
It also trains a very keen eye and allows one to creatively adapt to their environment in order to survive. Very effective when one is trying to survive, but not if the pattern continues on into adulthood at the expense of true authenticity.
As infants and children we learn very quickly what is needed in order to be fed, watered and loved… and included. If our needs are not met when we cry, emotionally or physically, unconsciously we adapt to what is needed to be loved. Survival trumps everything.
We need to be attached to survive and thrive. It’s a biological fact.
We have to choose attachment over authenticity, in the words of Gabor Mate, physician and author of the book “When the Body Says No”.
We choose joining in for survival. We choose becoming someone we are not, because we have to in order to survive as infants and small children. It is actually impossible to stay true to ourselves.
But as adults we no longer need to worry about depending on attachment, but the habit keeps on…
Until we get sick. Disconnection creates disease.
Anxiety, depression, chronic pain and illness, auto-immune disorders…
Our bodies don’t like it when we jump ship and leave.
This is not a stretch, this is validated by research.
The simple act of saying ‘NO’, being true to yourself, staying with the true you, can save your life.
Does this mean we become selfish and only ever do what we want to do?
On the contrary. When we are fulfilled, happy with ourselves and satisfied because we are just… well.. ourselves, we have far more to give to others from a place of true compassion and empathy and not out of obligation.
Obligation and pretending breeds a wellspring of resentment and simmering anger.
And this creates disease.
The ongoing stress on our nervous system to be someone we are not sends a cascade of stress chemicals through our bloodstream, causes muscle tension, aches and pain, and anxiety and depression.
How can it be that a simple act of saying ‘NO’ can be so damn powerful?
For me, the journey back home probably truly began in my 30’s when I became pregnant for the first time and had to really, truly pay attention to myself. Interesting that it was still for someone else (a growing fetus), but I got the benefits too!
It continued largely subconsciously as I grew to love yoga and mindfulness. I didn’t know at the time that this was self-love.
I just instinctively knew it felt good to step on a mat, slow down, breathe and be with me. My true self was welcoming me home.
It’s not always a smooth welcome. Sometimes it’s more like a crash landing of anxiety, discomfort, and pain. But it’s still home.
We live in a society that promotes conformity and fitting in, being better, more this and that, rather than being ourselves. If we were happy with who we truly are, who would keep the insatiable appetite of the consumerism going? Who would buy all the products, programs and foods designed to make you better than you already are?
We have to feel ‘not good enough’ to keep the health and beauty industry alive!
We have been trained out of our natural, primal impulses to listen to ourselves.
But something beautiful happens when we do. It’s like our nervous systems can relax when you shine a light on yourself that says “I see you. I hear you. I feel you.”
This is the biggest gift you can give yourself.
It begins with coming back home to yourself, little by little, breath by breath, moment by moment.
It starts with noticing where you make a ‘bypass’ and give yourself, your feelings, your wants and needs up.
And most of all, it starts with noticing what you feel, in your body, slowly over time.
What are the sensations of that feeling? Tightness? Sickness? Tension? Space? Joy?
And then noticing what you truly need. To move, take a breath, go to the bathroom (how often do we ignore that?), burp, speak, leave, rest, run… what do you truly need?
As an adult, start to choose authenticity over attachment.
Of course this is not always possible at work, at a social gathering, but you can stick to it as much as possible or make a note for later. You have still been seen.
Try it now:
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Bring all your attention into yourself, your breath, your body.
Notice and let go of any judgment If it arises.
What is going on for you right now?
What messages, if any, are being sent to you from your nervous system?
Every single emotion has a message to tell.
Now, perhaps you continue to sit and breathe, or perhaps you follow the natural impulse of your body brain and give yourself what you need.
Let this be your compass.
Let this be your inner gps that guides you gently back to yourself.
Your true self has been waiting for you.
Choose authenticity over attachment.
May you have a good day today, coming back home again and again.
And, if you are looking for great discussion and support to do this work, join my free facebook groups right here:
You are not a problem to be fixed. You are a human to be held.
Have a great week everyone,
ps. If you are burned out from giving too much to others, or giving yourself away, send me a message so we can chat. I have some goodies in store for you 🙂