Do you enjoy seeing a funny meme pop up on your social media thread? Reading a meaningful one, perhaps, that inspires or challenges you? On the off-chance that you’re not familiar with what a “meme” is (Don, I’m looking at you!), let me give you a quick introduction. A meme (rhymes with team) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. The most common modern example is in the form of internet memes – usually funny, cute images with a witty saying or quote. They’re engaging and entertaining, and occasionally they offer a more in-depth observation about life and the human condition.
A close friend of mine posted a meme on social media yesterday and it has been on my mind ever since. It expresses the fear that people don’t actually like you and just tolerate you hoping you’ll leave them alone. (Notice I said a close friend posted this. If they find their way here and read this, I have to urge them — please know you have no reason to fear. You are genuinely cared about – not merely tolerated – and an asset and joy to many!)
What was instantly ironic for me, upon seeing this meme, is that I had recently expressed a very similar fear in more traditional communication. It’s something many people might think but don’t necessarily say. Either way, the words with this image portray a deeply guarded secret I’ve carried in my heart for a long time.
Most of my acquaintances would probably agree I’m fairly positive and try to keep an upbeat attitude. Those that know me more substantially, however, are aware that sometimes that face is an act. I am embarrassingly sensitive, and that sensitivity, in fact, can breed and amplify negative things… There are days I struggle with depression and crippling insecurities that necessitate wearing a public persona so no one knows the things I keep inside. Days when my faith wavers and bends like grass in the wind. Try as I might, I can’t always keep the fears at bay… One of the greatest of which, is that I am not only unloved but that I am, in fact, unlovable.
Positivity has not always been easy for me. When younger, I was actually quite abusive to myself. Self-deprecation was a foreign language I studied and mastered (and still speak to this day), and I would continually compare myself to unrealistic beauty standards (which I still manage to do). I was also physically cruel to myself in this pattern of self-destructive. My eating habits were not normal and I would briefly deny myself food as a form of self-control and discipline… and perhaps the worst – I went through a period of time when I self-harmed. I was a “cutter”.
There’s still enough shame in admitting that fact that I almost want to delete most of the last paragraph. Part of my mind whispers, however, that perhaps the admission will help someone else one day so I should leave it out there for people to see.
“Cutting” typically involves making scratches or cuts on your body with some sort of sharp object until you bleed… I’m sure several people close to me know I went through a couple of difficult times and still bear a few scars as witness. To the great majority this will be a surprise, though, as I took great pains to hide the fact and my smile stayed fairly constant on my “public” face. Those who have never had this sort of tendency may not ever understand. To people who have self-harmed, self-medicated or engaged in any other self-destructive behavior, I probably don’t need to explain any further. For me, it was a way to deal with all of the things I had no control over – such as feeling unworthy and unlovable. The pain I created for myself, however briefly, overshadowed the pain inflicted by life, and the endorphins released offered a false sense of peace for a short time after. In the end, it was more damaging than helpful and I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that now… (*Please see notes at the end of this post!*)
Seeing people post images or quotes on social media that echo the turmoil and heartache I felt during those chaotic years bring back a lot of memories. The majority are not good, but there are lessons learned from the mess those years left. One of the most important, for me, is the idea that I will always be flawed, I will always be “broken” in a multitude of ways… Yet, those facts do not make me unlovable. They merely make me human and make up the sum of who I am. I’ve spent a large part of my life believing people don’t actually like me, and that they could not – would not – love me if they could see all the damage and darkness in my soul. The truth is much kinder, thank goodness, than my vicious inner voice… The truth is that we all have struggles and dark times. We all have concerns and inescapable fears buried deep within the shadows of our hearts. Despite the flawed, imperfect parts of us, we are all deserving and capable of being loved. The flavor and depth of fear is different for each of us, but I doubt I’m alone when I think people merely tolerate my presence until they can escape. That does not mean that it’s true… However, if I continue to fall back on a lifetime of self-destructive patterns, it makes it seem plausible.
So what to do? I wish I knew the answer and could share it freely with you. The best I can offer, I think, is a glimpse into what helps *me* with this struggle. Try to find positive things to be grateful for every day. Joy breeds joy and whatever you fill yourself with is going to multiply, so do try to treat yourself with kindness! More importantly, however is being present in life… One of the most empowering things I do is take risks and learn from possible rejection. It makes it sound easier than it is, to be sure, but nothing wonderful is gained without first taking a bit of a risk. John A. Shedd wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” There is something beautiful and true in that simple sentiment. As humans, love, I believe, is the very essence of who we are – our very nature. It would be easy to avoid rejection and pain by staying safe at port, but it is not truly how we’re built… And while we may not always be fully loved in return, those that do love and value us usually make that sentiment known in their words and actions. The trick, reader, is to teach your heart to trust that it is true.
Love one another, dear friends, and be kind…
*** PLEASE NOTE: Regardless of my past, I DO NOT endorse self-injury or harm and highly recommend that anyone considering it or doing anything of the sort, please find someone you trust and reach out to them! Please don’t use this pretend therapy of creating new wounds in an effort to heal old – it WILL. NOT. WORK. If you can’t talk to someone you know, check out any number of available websites such as this one, this one, or this one.