The human experience is an interesting thing. From the moment we are born we begin being molded by our relationships with others and the world. As we grow and begin to gain consciousness of who we are, we become inclined to believe that we are made up of our role in our relationships, our successes, our mistakes, our good and bad our experiences, our challenges. We very often get lost in the expectations and approval of others, our painful pasts, and other experiences that prevent us from seeing who we truly are - our authentic self. In a moment of deep sadness during a weekend away at internship where I was so lost in the question of who I truly am, what my essence is, one of my wise teachers said to me, “release who you are not, so that you can be who you are.” Let that sit for a minute.
When she said that, my first response was “What in the world is she talking about?” I clearly didn’t realize that my ego was in defensive mode protecting itself. Her words stuck with me and I kept ruminating over what I needed to release? Then it hit me. Even as I write this, I still get tears in my eyes, because what I didn’t realize initially, is that when I looked at who I was, I was not seeing myself through my own lens. It was all the different lenses that I had internalized – my parents, the expectations of those around me, the trauma, the positive and negative experiences, all the loss throughout my life. This is how I had been defining who I am – all of it from my past and all of it governing my life. Here’s how it showed up.
Although my parents meant well and parented my siblings and I the best way they knew how, they did not create a safe place for us to grow, feel, experience, and share feelings. They were not very demonstrative with their own feelings. The only feelings they expressed were the happy ones. All other feelings were just put aside like they didn’t exist, so they weren’t expressed, and they weren’t heard. I learned very young not to trust myself, because I couldn’t say anything if I was sad, I had to smile. If I was angry, I had to smile. If I was hurt, I had to smile. And then the smile became my mask. And before I knew it, I was wearing this mask all the time. What this has meant for the little girl growing up inside me, is that her “true” feelings did not matter.
My experience at home laid a foundation for my defining myself based on the expectations of others. I had become a people pleaser always feelings that I had to prove my worth. I wanted to be accepted, to belong. I became whatever you expected from me and I did everything in my power to try and make you happy, even at my own expense. I quickly learned how to read people, just so I could make them happy and so I could feel fulfilled and worthy. What this often translated to was giving up who I was, giving up what I needed and wanted, and often disconnecting farther and farther away from myself. At some point, I lost me and no longer knew what I wanted, because the answer depended on who was asking.
Through the lens of my trauma and loss, I learned to identify myself as a sexual assault survivor. It was who I was, that one experience defined my every day since it happened when I was fifteen. At different times in my life, I entered into therapy to address the issues that arose from there. Except I didn’t address anything. I stuffed every bit of it into a box. Then something would happen, the box would pop open through some trigger resulting from the assault, then I’d go to therapy to stuff it back in the box.
It wasn’t until several years ago that through hypnotherapy and other holistic healing modalities that I was able to begin releasing all the shame, anger, sadness, grief and other feelings tied to this experience. This is where my life started to shift, and the true healing started. But even then, I was still tethered to all those lenses through which I had grown so accustomed to seeing myself. In this healing process I was able to learn about releasing all that I wasn’t so I could see who I truly was, how I had to pull myself out of “autopilot.”
Releasing who I am not, so that I can be who I am… Such simple words, but such hard, soul searching, and difficult work. I knew I needed to clean house. I started with taking inventory of: what belonged to me; what did I internalize from my parents; what was I brutalizing myself with; and what no longer served me. I soon realized that so many of my judgments, my “should,” my beliefs, were not even mine, but yet I was holding myself to these standards. I was doing this to myself, no one else was harming me, it was just me. I started to become aware of the thoughts, challenged them, and was then able to start releasing them. I started to see with my own eyes, without judgment. I was not focused on the past, not focused on the future, but focused on right now, this minute, this second. Each time I would catch myself looking backward, looking forward, I would redirect my thoughts to the here and now. As hard as it was (and sometimes still is) I started setting boundaries that honored my needs and learning to say no. I allowed myself more quiet time, reducing my busy life and my commitments to others so that I had the opportunity to be in the present moment. As I released one thing, it allowed me to see more like an onion where each layer got me deeper and deeper into awareness of myself.
Another practice that has made an incredible impact has been making commitments to myself that I actually keep. Dr. Nicole LePera (The Holistic Psychologist) often says that healing isn’t about motivation but rather about discipline. Motivation is a tricky thing – when we don’t feel like doing diddly our discipline will keep us going. The key is in remaining gentle with ourselves and not using these new commitments to brutalize ourselves. If we miss a day, that’s ok, do it the next day. You can start off small. You can make just one new commitment to yourself. I started taking daily bike rides. The first week I was rained on almost every day. The Universe has a funny way of testing us to see if we really want what we say we want sometimes. As resistant as I was in the beginning, I also started “Future Self-Journaling” which allows me a few minutes every single day to sit with myself and my manifestation of my authentic self.
I am still committed.
For Dr. Nicole LePera's free e-book on Future Self-Journaling, click here.
To visit Dr. Nicole LePera's (@the.holistic.psychologist) Instagram page, click here.
About the writer: Tina Fadil is a licensed psychotherapist with extensive clinical experience working with individuals, couples, children, and families. She walks alongside individuals experiencing trauma and PTSD; grief and loss; emotional and behavioral disorders; life’s transitions; unresolved childhood issues; personality disorders; stress and anxiety, communication difficulties, co-dependency, substance abuse disorders, and other issues interfering with becoming their highest self. She is trained in traditional therapeutic techniques in addition to alternative therapies that facilitate healing through the integration of the “whole being” - mind, body, and spirit, assisting you to live authentically with deep and meaningful connections in your world.