Last night, I cried. A lot.
I have been holding in a lot of feelings recently, and last night they all boiled over. I cried because I often feel like a failure for not yet having reached certain goals. I cried because even when I do something right, I often feel like a fraud who just “got lucky.” I cried because of my relationship with my body and the food I put into it. And lastly, I cried because I often feel generally out of control and powerless when it comes to the things I care about.
And yet, in the midst of all these tears, I thought of a close friend with whom I usually talk about such things. I thought, “What would you tell her if she came to you with these worries, with these thoughts about herself?” And I realized that I would gently try and calm her fears; that I would try and help her see herself the way I do.
I would tell her that she’s not a failure, and that there’s not a set timeline we all must abide by—that everyone graduates school, enters the professional world, gets married, etc. (if they even want to!), at different times.
I would tell her that she has incredible worth and works hard, and that luck has nothing (or little) to do with her successes.
I would tell her that her body is an amazing thing—a beautiful thing!—and while I understand what it’s like to have a tenuous relationship with numbers or the mirror or food, we need to be kind to our bodies because they are the only permanent home we have. I would tell her that there will be fluctuations. These fluctuations are actually good. They tell us something about what we need; we just have to learn to listen better and act with gentleness.
I am realizing that I have internalized so many hypothetical fears and made them real, projected them onto the picture of how I see myself.
I would tell her that while she can’t control everything, she DOES possess the agency to make her own decisions. To express her opinions. I would tell her that people are drawn to confidence, anyway, and though it seems counterintuitive, she will not be left alone because she begins speaking up, or making decisions that subvert expectations.
Why is it so much easier to tell our friends these things, or to take such advice from others, than it is to become our own source of power? Is it because women are typically taught to nurture, to give much more than we take? Is it because we are taught to be humble, often to the point of putting our bodies and our accomplishments and ourselves, in general, down?
Whatever the reason, awareness of the pattern is the first step. I am realizing that I have internalized so many hypothetical fears and made them real, projected them onto the picture of how I see myself. These fears inform how I interact with the world—and it’s a damn shame. Because I’m starting to think that this picture in my head is probably not reality.
Today, that same friend sent me a text about an ongoing issue in her life. It was the sort of text we send each other when we need to be calmed, to be reasoned with. I wanted to do that for her, but more than that, I wanted us both to learn to do these things for ourselves. I remembered the question I asked myself the night before, in the midst of my tears, and rather than telling her that things would be okay, I simply asked, “What would you tell me?”