It’s no secret that human beings are creatures of habit. Whether it’s a good habit or a bad habit is really not important: we like to feel safe, secure, and protected. I believe we call it “the comfort zone.”
For children, the “comfort zone” is extremely important. When children feel safe to think, feel, speak, explore, create — they literally shine. You see it in their eyes, their body movements, the ease with which they express themselves, their achievements, their confidence, their overall sense of self-worth. As a teacher, I see it every day: the ones who skip to the bathroom, the ones who can’t wait to tell you about their fabulous weekend or their new puppy, the ones who hum while they work, and dance freely in the yard.
But when children are unsafe — when they are not comfortable in their own skin — it’s obvious. They censor themselves, withdraw, stay quiet, stay small, speak little, are afraid to create. They are like closed flowers, scared to bloom in case they’re crushed by some uncontrollable force outside of themselves. The world is scary, and so they hide. They don’t believe that their story is worth sharing, that their petals are worth displaying. Somewhere along the way, their light was dimmed, and their voice stifled. They create their own “comfort zone” where they can stay safe.
Adults are no different.
Growing up in a home permeated by fear, anger, grief, illness, prolonged stress, substance abuse, neglect, or any other negative situation, can literally shape who we become. Our thoughts and beliefs about our experiences start to drive our decisions, choices, and behaviour. As I dig deeper into the lives of my clients, I realize that the majority of people walking this earth are pretty wounded. It’s rare that I find someone who has not been touched by some negative force during their childhood. We all have different family dynamics that have shaped who we are. We all have demons, skeletons. And to boot, they don’t have to be these GIANT traumas like sexual or physical abuse. Sometimes the slow, quiet, subtle events can be just as damaging, kind of like Chinese water torture.
So… why so hush hush?
Our culture — our society — teaches us that negative emotions, like anger, sadness, shame, guilt — are rare. Images flash across our TV and computer screens of “perfect” lives, “perfect” families, “perfect” bodies, “perfect” relationships. We watch these moments day in and day out, from our little “imperfect” homes, and we think: I want that. I want a perfect life. I want a pony. I want a mom who listens to me. I want dance lessons. I want happiness. What’s wrong with me that I’m not like THAT? And slowly, bit by bit, we can sink into that hopeless place of “not enough.”
And so we hide our true feelings. We cover ourselves with masks, blankets. Some blankets are made of food. Some blankets are made of alcohol. Some of sex, some of drugs, some of workaholism, some of gambling. Whatever it takes to not feel the pain of what we lack — that’s what our blankets are made of. Blankets are comfy and cozy, no doubt! They protect us, they surround us, they cocoon us. They keep us from more pain.
But here’s the problem with blankets: they cover who we truly are, and they cover our “shine.”
They blind us to the fact that everyone else is covered in blankets. That everyone else comes from a place of pain, loss, and suffering. To not talk about our wounds is to deny our own identity — to deny a huge part of ourselves that needs healing.
My childhood was by no means “perfect”. In fact, there was a lot of not-so-great stuff occurring on a daily basis. The message I got from these events was that my story was not important. My wants, needs, desires, and dreams were not valuable. My own happiness was out of my control. And so I stuffed my story down, because that’s what I thought everyone did.
I did not speak up. I did not voice my pain and suffering. I moved on. I forged ahead. I over-achieved. I pleased everyone around me as best as I could, and it worked for me for a long, long time. Or so I thought. I never put together the fact that I numbed my own pain by diving into my work, and by diving into a bottle of wine or beer just to relax. Anytime I started to feel something negative — anxiety, fear, sadness, anger — I told myself NOT to feel those things, and not to reveal my “weaknesses”. It worked quite well for quite some time.
Until everything collapsed. And I mean, EVERYTHING.
My marriage, my house, my career. Could it get any worse? In my opinion, NO.
So I sought help. Me. Seeking help. Independent, driven, determined, “together” me. Actually reaching out for help. I found a coach, and took a course, so I could find out why happiness eluded me. Why I constantly waited for the ball to drop. I soon realized that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you believe, you will achieve.
But in order to heal, and to reveal this giant truth, I had to tell my story.
I had to become vulnerable. I had to take off my MANY blankets, and let someone in to take a look at my brokenness. To shed light on my darkness. To show me how my past wounds were still festering, still in desperate need of healing. I needed to be heard, to be acknowledged, and to be valued despite my wounds. And in sharing my story, I found out that I’m not alone. I’m not the only one. I’m a piece of a bigger puzzle that is incomplete without me!
Our story is our truth. It’s who we have chosen to be as a result of what happened to us, around us, within us. But the beauty of a story is…
It can be rewritten. We have a CHOICE to rewrite it.
We’re not meant to be slaves to our stories. We’re meant to see how our stories have shaped who we’ve become. How our stories — the myths we’ve bought into about ourselves — have taken over and have covered the very essence of who we were when we were safe enough to BE our true selves. Before we became products of our environment. Before we were able to form lasting beliefs about our own self-worth.
Tell your story, and heal your life. Shed light on the darkness. Allow yourself to be the flawed human that we all are. For in telling your story, you tell the story of countless others who may be sitting in silence, under their blankets, hiding. Staying small.
Tell your story, and free us all.