A few nights ago, I caught myself, hiding aspects of who I am, from others.
There I was on Instagram, browsing my favourite accounts, while being inspired by the thought provoking and stimulating content. In my usual fashion, I took a few screenshots of the posts that resonated deeply and shared them on my Whats App status, with the exception of a few.
Honestly, prior to that day, there were several posts that resonated deeply but I failed to share because there was a latent fear of being judged by those viewing my status.
At the time, I felt that the content of the posts, which essentially reflected my beliefs and perspectives, were so radical and outside of the norm, that others would criticize and possibly condemn me.
However, on that night, I saw clearly how I was unconsciously hiding what was my truth and myself, because of a fear of what others would think.
I’m sure, just like me, you too can relate to some aspect (s) of yourself, where you confine and withhold the full expression of who you are, from others because you are afraid of their opinions or reactions.
Most of us are very confident in showing the parts of ourselves that we believe is readily accepted and celebrated. However, the other parts that might be considered different, controversial or unacceptable by the rest of society, are often closeted and padlocked.
This somewhat default choice, to deny and reject who we are, without a doubt, comes at an extremely high cost. A cost that robs us of our joy, happiness, liberation and freedom, to be uniquely us. We sacrifice our authenticity and true self-expression, by denying and rejecting ourselves in an attempt to please others.
This largely unconscious compulsion to be accepted by others, despite the sometimes, outright self-rejection, can be traced back to our childhood, when we were taught what was right or wrong and good or bad.
For many of us, these moralistic lessons, were enforced using either rewards or punishments. If our behaviour was considered good or right, we would be rewarded by being accepted and encouraged, which of course felt great. However, if our behaviour was considered bad or wrong, we would be punished and discouraged by being rejected, which did not feel good.
Overtime, we would have established an association of what was good and what was bad, based on whether we were accepted or rejected by those around us, and was further reinforced by how we felt.
This formed childhood association continues to be the framework from which we view the world as adults. And therefore, largely influences and dictates our choices and behaviours today. It is also the fuel behind our compulsion to be accepted.
As a child and young adult, I was socialized in the Christian belief system and followed that path up until my early 20’s. At age 23, I began exploring outside of what I’d come to know as the truth. Because frankly speaking, I was in search of a deeper meaning of life.
My search led me to discoveries, understandings and wisdom far beyond anything I could have ever imagined or conceive of. Soon enough, I then realized I was not necessarily in search of another belief system to follow but a way of life that felt good to me. I eventually choose a path of spiritual growth and development that supported the live I desired to live.
As you can very well imagine, my decision to abandon what was considered the only true path, was met with resistance and criticism, from my inner circle. I must admit however, that the greatest resistance I experienced at the time was within myself, as I towed the line between accepting who I was choosing to be and my desire to be accepted by others.
This internal battle led to me sharing only parts of myself with my family and friends and resorting to being fully myself, when no one was around, who I believed would judge me.
This split in fully expressing who I was, continued for several years, up until about a year ago when I became ill and had to temporarily move back to my family home, after living on my own for more than 16 years. In previous times, because I only visited my family for short periods, I compromised by closeting that aspect of myself, until I returned to my own home.
This time, however, was very different. I was with my family indefinitely and made myself extremely uncomfortable in the process.
At first, I tried to quietly practice my meditations, chants and other rituals, very early in the morning, before anyone got up but that was simply unsustainable. From time to time one of my family members would surprise me by getting up earlier than anticipated.
There was this huge, white elephant in the room and guess what, the elephant was me. I tip toed around the matter for a few weeks, even tailoring my language and some of my practices but to the detriment of my being. I became extremely uncomfortable and somewhat miserable with my thoughts about the matter and eventually decided to confront it head on.
No, I did not have a conversation with my family, who, by this time were looking at me with curious and confused stares. No, instead, I decided to have a heart to heart conversation with myself about the outright self-rejection I was engaging in.
My perceived fear of my family’s opinions and reaction to my lifestyle choice, caused me to betray who I was and to suppress what felt good and nourishing to my being. My heart to heart showed me that the only thing I needed at that time, was to deeply and completely love and accept myself.
Interestingly, the more I practiced self-acceptance and self-love, the more at ease I felt in expressing who I was.
None of my family members ever confronted me about my obvious spiritual preference and practices but I certainly did notice a difference in their attitude towards me, especially, when I was engaged in my rituals. They seemed to be more at ease and even lightly joked about it.
This experience became a major turning point for me. I eventually realized that my fear of being rejected, judged and criticized because of my choice to live a different lifestyle, had nothing to do with other people. But had everything to do with me and my self-perception.
The truth is, no matter what path you choose or choice you make, people will have their opinions about you. However, it is important to remember that people’s opinions have nothing to do with you but about them.
Additionally, the more you practice self-acceptance and being comfortable with your life choices, what others think and do becomes less important and less relevant to who you are.
Making the choice to create your own path and stand in your uniqueness, takes courage and strength. This is especially in a world which celebrates sameness and often victimizes and ostracizes those who think, look and act different.
We will always have the choice to closet, push down and put aside who we are to avoid being rejected by others. But this usually comes at the sacrifice of rejecting self, dimming our unique light and denying ourselves and the world of our authentic expression.
My most recent experience with hesitating to share content representing my beliefs, reminded me that giving ourselves permission to be unapologetically us, is a continuous journey. A journey that requires us to always love and accept ourselves, remember who we are, what is important to us and to stand in our truth and personal power.