Peeling Back the Onion

Last week I did something truly radical. I decided to be me. Just me. I dropped the facade of whoever it is I usually convince myself I should be and broke out my true self. I just busted out from behind the shadow of the person I was with, dropped all pretense, and said what I wanted to say. The reason this is so huge is that for once I didn’t edit myself. I didn’t let the words roll around in my throat as I attacked them with my pink editing pen, making all of the requisite changes to make the conversation perfect before I spoke. To make myself into what I thought the other person wanted. I simply dropped it. The pink pen was on the floor and I was speaking freely. I was just speaking. A natural flow of conversation occurred that was surprisingly easy.

I have always walked on eggshells around the other humans. From the beginning of conscious memory, I have operated under the notion that everyone must like me. You have to like me, my neighbors have to like me, my coworkers have to like me, the baristas at Starbucks have to like me, the Babushkas selling strawberries from little baskets in Russia have to like me (although one of them scowled at me; that really hurt), and even people in government that I don’t even like have to like me.

So, in order to increase my likability factor, I developed two habits: being a selective mute and molding myself into the personality of whoever I was with. A great example of my mutism (some may call this more of a mutation, but I’ll just ignore them) is my first semester at college. I was a five-hour drive from home surrounded by hundreds of other incoming freshmen who scared the heck out of me. I kept to myself because my roommate was on the womens’ basketball team, so she had a ready-made group of friends. All I had was a ready-made date to go to the dining hall with myself three times a day. At some point in the fall, a friendly sophomore down the hall took me under her wing and began asking me to dinner with her and her friends. During these dinners, I ate while listening to the easy conversations between this group of friends. I said nothing. After about a week of this interloper sharing meals with them yet saying nothing, one member of the group said to my new friend, “Does she speak English?” Ouch.

My other habit, of becoming a mirror to whoever I was with, began so long ago and with such intensity that I honestly can’t tell you when it started. If I were to sit here and really ponder the question, I would imagine it began more than fifty years ago in a small house on a hill as I attempted in vain to please the person who had given me life. But that’s another blog post. Actually, it’s probably a book. The point is that this desire to be liked at any price is ingrained almost at a DNA level.

This is why last week was such a triumph. I existed during a small amount of time as just myself. No mutism, no mirroring, just me. It may have lasted merely a half hour, but it felt good to break out the real me. But please don’t be alarmed if you think that my true self is something to be feared. I’m not a closet serial killer who is pretending to live a quiet life as a nice special ed teacher. Nothing like that. I’m just a person who wants to be liked to the point of extremes. I am also someone who has decided to fight this tendency with every editing pen in my drawer because I’m done. I’m just done. It has become too much work to be anyone other than who I am. And if who I am is not enough for other people, I am going to learn to be okay with that. I don’t think I’ll ever like it, but perhaps I can tolerate it. Hey, it’s a first step.

 

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