When you tell others who you USED to be, do they ever look at you with complete skepticism and awe? Is it the old tendencies you share that are more jarring? Or the fact that you can acknowledge and own the person you were? Maybe a combination of both? Welcome to my life.
Once upon a time I was a WHOLE mean girl. No punches held. No regrets around how deep I hurt others. The most hurtful things said with the most brilliant smile because THAT was how you left people feeling conflicted and confused. During that chapter in my life I had ZERO awareness around why I behaved this way. Luckily these days I use that same wit and intelligence to build bridges and connection with others. Looking back, I see the hurt, guarded girl who pushed everyone away, functioned as an island, and rejected love because she didn't "need it", but even more importantly didn't know how to receive it. And I wouldn't change a single thing. Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean that I don't regret how I hurt others. It doesn't mean that I feel justified in how I could size everyone up in a millisecond and cut to their quick with my sharp and cunning words. It doesn't mean that I wasn't lonely as hell. What it means is (in the words of an amazing human and beautiful friend), "Of Course". Of course I behaved that way. Of course I hurt others - I was hurt. And guess what? All of that molded me into the person I am now, and I LOVE who am, regardless of how I got here. There's a list that lives in my brain, of those I intentionally attacked on the regular. Mostly old co-workers that I didn't approve of (as if I was the end all, be all when it came to approval). One girl in particular really got under my skin, and I let her know it. I was judgmental, disapproving, loved to shame her, and talked all kinds of crap behind her back. And this is the part that can get really confusing because, looking back - somehow my underlying character, my ability to show up when things went left, my push to help the group succeed was still apparent to those I targeted the most. I clearly remember a conversation with this girl where she told me she knew I didn't like her, but that somehow when I was around that she knew things would be okay. The fact that she could say that, despite how I treated her, is really a testament to her character, to her strength, and to her ability to be vulnerable. That vulnerability was something I was scared shitless of, back in the day. Let MY guard down? You HAVE to be kidding. Let others see that I'm hurt, scared, or struggling. Not a chance. But guess what? That mindset was what kept me on the island I mentioned above. At some point I realized that it was SUPER lonely there. And not only that, I realized that I didn't want to continue to choose that as my reality. Yes, choose. Even when I was tearing others down, I still chose to show up for them. It's a lot of irony that isn't lost on me. And it was choice that shifted everything for me. It started with realizing how absolutely unfulfilled and awful I felt in my romantic relationship(s). The biggest motivator (and reality check) was knowing that unless I did something about it, not only would I continue to be miserable, I would be handing these same behaviors down to my son. And that just wasn't going to happen. I was an island. I did everything myself. I "couldn't" trust anyone. I was isolated, lonely, co-dependent, needy, insecure, ULTRA independent (for those of you that don't know, MAJOR trauma response there) ...... and the list goes on. So how did I shift from all of THAT to being almost the complete opposite? I did the scariest thing one can do, I started searching for the healthy behaviors and examples I wanted to embody and then forced myself to (deep breath) practice vulnerability. And all of that has brought me to a place of curating the most BEAUTIFUL friendships, relationships, and supportive connections with others. But here's the real truth - Vulnerability is STILL scary for me. I still second guess whether I'm "doing it right", whether I said too much (or too little), whether I'm trying to force myself into someone's idea of who I *should* be (or vice versa). So I get it when others are scared to open themselves up in that way. It's also one of the most important reasons to bring someone like myself in to help work through those terrifying steps. You won't learn that it's okay to be vulnerable without practice. You won't learn that the stories you're telling yourself are probably complete bullshit without asking others what the true reality is on the other side of the story. You won't get to a place of being okay with vulnerability without actually implementing it. When I started "doing the work", I realized that I had a lot of stories on a loop in my mind. I also realized that somehow my interpretation of the actions and words of others were a complete distortion of the WHY behind what they did (remember that co-dependency, neediness, and insecurity - all HUGE players here). I make it safe for you to practice vulnerability, to go through the motions until you invest in them, to make vulnerability your default even when it's scary (but worth it). There's another layer to this whole vulnerability piece too - TRUST. You have to learn who you are, learn that it's OK to be yourself, learn that you can trust yourself, and learn to recognize who you can trust with the pieces of yourself. And that my friends is a WHOLE process. One of the main reasons I never opened myself up to anyone else when I was younger was because I didn't trust them with me, but more importantly (and this was a VERY empowering realization) I didn't trust ME. That inability to trust MYSELF became obvious in SO many different areas of my life. Even so, the most beautiful part of that is YOU CAN ALWAYS LEARN HOW TO TRUST YOURSELF. I've changed that trust dynamic in so many different areas of my life - relationships, friendships, professional settings, money, opportunity..... the list goes on. And the biggest factor in making that shift is plugging into that vulnerability and ASKING what the truth is behind the actions and words of others AND sharing the story that you're telling yourself. I say all of this to say - What you've gone through never HAS to define you. It IS a part of you - 100%. But you get to CHOOSE what you want moving forward. You get to DECIDE who you are and how you show up in the world. Take it from a former mean girl - you can learn to trust yourself, trust others, and live authentically without having to keep your guard up or keep others out. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing. 📸 Phrené Hoeksema