The Scarlet S of “Thanks, But no”
I’ve written on the topic of changing relationships many times before in this space. The many nuanced aspects and reactions of both (eventually) positive changes, as well as those estrangements or changes that have chipped away at my heart and have been hard to accept. About owning who I am, and knowing how to deal with who’s in and out of my tribe. And coming to terms with that all being OK.
What I haven’t spoken so directly about is the vulnerability of all those things and how that often negatively plays out in my head (and in my physical body as well). No matter how bravely ahead I say I’m going.
Yup, that’s my giant flaw; the scarlet S of shame I don’t talk about, that often attaches itself to me like a tick as I wind my way on my path.
Because let’s face it; no one wants to talk about their shame. Just saying the word gives me that very uncomfortable gut ache, pounding heart, tingly arms and legs like maybe all your blood just crashed to the floor that make me want to disappear behind my hair, or under the table or in some far-reaching corner of Iceland ‘til the current moment/situation blows over.
This has been my most deeply personal secret as long as I can remember, and I can’t seem to shake it. There are very few others who I’ve even admitted my shame to; mostly, because there is a part of me that knows it simply isn’t logical. That it’s purely a triggered reaction on an emotional level to feeling exposed, criticized, judged less-than. That my friends’ reaction to me admitting to it would likely be “Are you nuts? That’s just silly and you have no reason to feel that” and then they’d list the 5,976 reasons why what I’m feeling isn’t logical or rational.
But you see, that’s the thing about shame; it ain’t about what’s between your ears, it’s about what’s in your gut, your heart, your life memories. And she is one persistent bitch in hangin’ around way too long after closing time. The uninvited guest that never seems to know when it’s time to go home.
All the way back to my reasonably idyllic childhood, one with an intact family, friends who accepted me for who I was, teachers and coaches who respected me, parents who loved and valued me; I still lived in fear and dread of the times when I was criticized.
When I was judged. When I was made fun of, as kids all do. When I was maybe inadvertently the last kid picked for the science project partner, or the neighbourhood kickball game. When the mean girls wrote mean things about me in a “slam book”.
Anyone who knows what a “slam book” is, and grew up around them, knows they were the penultimate bully-mean-girl-enabler of all time. For those who do not know…a slam book is a stapled together pack of paper, where each page has some poor sucker’s name on it. It then got passed around the classroom, or the cafeteria. Where everyone could write whatever they wanted to on your “page”. It was like a reverse, pre-internet version of Twitter (the current cesspool of the worst of humanity). They were AWFUL. Usually, they got started when some squad fight erupted over some perceived dis, over a boy, or the wrong look, a bold comment, a bad haircut or a bad fashion choice. Or when the current mean girl captain wanted to assess her constituents’ loyalties. Then someone would start one, listing a whole bunch of random people; and everyone else passed their own judgement By-Jury-Of-Bic on everybody in it. This truly sucked. Yes, occasionally someone also blew smoke up someone’s arse that they wanted the favour of (or were scared shitless of), with “she’s a sweetheart” or “she’s so pretty”; but generally, it sucked in my case. This is mostly because I’ve always had a very minimal filter about expressing exactly what I thought pretty much from birth. And a very sensitive bullshit meter. I was certainly direct, and often in the position of saying out loud what the rest of the room just thought in their heads. Which resulted in a lot of ‘who does she think she is anyway?” and “she’s so stuck up” comments. I’ll admit, sometimes I deserved “a talking to” for orally overstepping, but it sure would have been a lot better if some kind friend had told me privately. Public lynchings by slam book were just easier, I guess.
Honestly, to this day, every time I get a “thanks, but no” from anyone, it’s like being back in grade six and seeing a slam book come around and reading what’s on my page.
What the hell.
Especially now, after I have spent years, money, time and tears in coming to terms with myself. Doing what I thought was the hard work of finally reclaiming my authentic self. Working to accept who I am and that I won’t be everyone’s cuppa. Maybe too much for some people’s cuppa. And that I should be, could be, OK with that.
And for the most part, I can be. But not all the time, and not with all the people.
We are constantly bombarded these days with the repeating reel of loving ourselves as we are, walking away with heads held high from disrespect, from those who don’t value us. There are about 86 million Insta pages dedicated to posting daily pithy sayings about all that. Yeah, I’ve re-Grammed them all, I think. And yet; here I am.
Many times, when a situation arises where someone judges me “lacking” I accept without hesitation that I am that worthless thing they say I am, that I am not worthy of time, love or even recognition. Defective. After pretty much every unsuccessful love relationship. When I am in the presence of family who chose to cut ties with me and the sting of now being an outsider comes back. When friends have criticized me as “too much”, “too loud”, just “too…(fill in blank here)” and expect me to be someone who I am not.
Enter Shame. Who let her in?
Gut ache, tingly limbs, and the uncontrollable urge to run away. Where the hell is that girl who did all this soul searching and found herself worthy of love, attention, being accepted as she is? How can all that investment still get wiped out in just a moment of rejection?
I am reminded of the little chestnut “what other people think about you is none of your business”. I so understand and accept that as valid. But still, here I am. In a world of billions, I unquestioningly allow the opinions or choices of a handful, to be the sum total of assessment of my worth and value, and find myself accepting their point of view as the only valid one.
I KNOW THIS IS NOT RIGHT. Which makes me even harder on myself for not being smart enough, or strong enough, “whatever” enough, to just consider the situation a bad fit that wouldn’t work, or assess it as “their loss not mine”, and walk away. To re-focus my time, love and energy where I am valued and ignore the rest.
Oh, I may say all the right things and put on a face like I’m being a bad boss bitch about it, but inside, the same Shame spiral happens more often than not. When it does, it makes me feel like a fraud. Like that strong, persevering woman that everyone who values me, tells me I am, maybe isn’t so much the truth. Was I just drinking my own Kool-Aid on this? Was all the inner work really just window dressing? Am I truly just like assessed in grade six? UGH.
But thankfully, I usually snag myself out of the spiral eventually and realize that all this self-valuing is a journey, not a destination. That our emotions, confidence, all of it; ebb and flow. None of us is at our strongest every day. Sometimes we will still break. Sometimes we might still feel small and vulnerable.
There is some work to do here still, I see that, in redoubling my efforts to see myself as a constant that is independent of how others may view or value me. To be in the presence of people who’ve judged me lacking, or turned their back on me, thrown me under a bus, or otherwise disrespected my worth…and NOT skulk to a corner, lose my groove and stop being my authentic self for fear of her getting another beatdown. To still be mindful and check myself to make sure I am not offside, but once I have, to let it go as someone else’s issue not mine. To NOT walk into a room full of people I know, and assume that my presence is secretly eye-rolled. And to be OK with myself, even when it IS indeed a hostile audience. Because I will still be me, I will still be valued and loved elsewhere, and maybe the misfit is not my issue to own, but the other side’s. That’s a big one, a work in progress. To realize that a “thanks, but no” is not always an indication that I am lacking, but maybe just not a good fit; that my best fit is still to be found, elsewhere. That not everything that goes wrong is my fault.
My rescue dogs accept this, I need to as well. Maybe when I can truly internalize all that, I can stop sewing that invisible scarlet S to every mis-matched interaction, and start allowing my heart back onto that sleeve instead.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.