By Tanya Tiger
I used to stuff my feelings, more often than I care to admit.
I think it went hand-in-hand with the idea that nice people don’t get upset or angry. I used to crave normalcy. I used to sit in my room daydreaming about being one of the cool kids. I remember trying to contort myself into a vast array of characters just to fit in with the crowd, whomever that crowd happened to be at the time. At the time I defined “normal” as blending into my surroundings, being one of the crowd. No matter how hard I tried though I never quite got it right.
I should have known back then that I was never meant to be normal.
I should have known that my heart was too big for that town and those people. I should have known that I danced to the beat of my own drummer—but I was young and lonely and more than a little lost. I couldn’t see the beauty in all of my selves. It scared me that I had so many facets and faces. I didn’t think it was normal to feel more than one thing at a time or to act bravely one minute and like a coward the next.
I lived in a very black-and-white world. To portray more than one side at a time was to be unbalanced.
I grew up being told to be “a good girl.” I know that my parents said this as a way to keep me out of trouble but looking back I see that it had some unexpected repercussions. I internalized that being a good girl meant being a people-pleaser, never doing or saying anything that might embarrass the family, and never taking a risk. You know, “don’t rock the boat,” “don’t be overemotional,” and “don’t do anything that might make someone not like you…like say no.”
I would find myself saying “yes” to things that I didn’t really want to do because I didn’t want to make waves. I functioned out of a sense of guilt. I would help everyone else and put my own needs last, sometimes never getting to them at all. I would find myself feeling taken advantage of or disrespected but I would just smile and nod and be a good girl. I was afraid that if I said “no” or expressed how I was feeling I would lose the people around me or be seen as ungrateful, rude, disrespectful or “a bitch.”
It was truly exhausting and I forgot, for a while, what it felt like to really be happy. I had pretended for so long.
Identity has been a major sticking point for me for a very long time. I used the people around me to define myself and totally lost the beautiful and bizarre core of who I really am. Thankfully, I am beginning to realize now that I am a player in the Divine’s Symphony. My multitudes each play a role and they are each a part of me.
I am not an intimidating looking person. I’m quite the opposite, actually. I look like the textbook “Girl Next Door” type; the one who might teach your kid’s kindergarten class or care for an elderly neighbor. I’m not flashy or presumptuous. I’m just me…until you try to overpower me in any way and then the gloves come off.
Anyone who truly knows me can tell you that I am quite capable of becoming 10-feet-tall-and-bullet-proof when someone tries to hurt or intimidate me or my loved ones. I am extremely loyal and I come to the defense of anyone who needs assistance (if it’s warranted and requested—my “superpower” is not about getting into other people’s business).
I find myself especially courageous and ready for battle when it comes to protecting the underdog, the defenseless and the afraid among us. It’s not something I do out of a desire to be recognized as heroic, enlightened, or even brave for that matter. It’s just something in my nature. I’m not a violent person, nor do I condone outright violence, so when I push back against these individuals or groups I do it as a peaceful warrior, but I push back nonetheless.
For as long as I can remember I have lived in my head with these different sides. I have created alter egos to satisfy some longing that has gone unmet. I created my badass drummer ‘tude and even named her Trouble. She comes out when I feel like stirring up some mischief.
I have my Zen-like mothering side who can tolerate a screaming toddler while running a bath and cleaning up spilled juice. There is my studious bookworm side who can spend hours sitting quietly reading a book while listening to classical music in the background. There is my over-the-top comedian persona who loves to make people laugh and really gets a kick out if a good snort.
What I am beginning to discover is that I will never be the real me if I don’t allow myself to be.
If that makes sense. I am all of these personas, this circus sideshow of characters. For so long I was trying to pick just one that would capture “who I am” that would make me “normal” but that isn’t reality—that person doesn’t exist.
I am a mixed bag of fruity flavors. I am a Technicolor frenzy of Freakish pizazz and I am finally home. My different sides still battle, much like a typical family I suppose (although, what is typically really?) They drive me a little batty sometimes until I remember that they are me and so I can tell them to sit down and shut up… and I do. It’s been, and I imagine it will continue to be, one hell of a crazy ride.
I am so much more than one persona.
But, you know what? I wouldn’t trade this ride for “normal” if you paid me. I like my sassy and spirited, sometimes quiet and pensive, tender and tough, thunder and rain, hold me and get away from me self.
Carl Jung called it the Shadow. I know her as my constant companion. She is my other half, my alter-ego, and my partner-in-crime. She is that part of me that I kept hidden for most of my life because she displayed unacceptable behavior. She was too edgy, too brash, and too naughty. She is the one who would watch rock music videos and think, “That is badass! I want to be like them!”
She is the one who would have glared at a bully and fought back if I had let her. She is the one who would scream from the depths of my soul to try something new, put myself out there, or step outside my comfort zone. She is the part of me that I tied up, locked away, and muted for far too long.
I stuffed her so far down that I wouldn’t even listen to certain types of music because I was afraid it might offend someone. I would deny liking someone if people I hung out with said something negative about them. I wouldn’t wear certain clothes because people might judge me. The list of the ways I betrayed my “Shadow-self” was a long one.
I believe that we are all part of this great symphony and when we come together we make beautiful music. When we are out-of-sync the music falls apart and we become noise in each other’s worlds.
One of the things that I sacrificed as a people-pleaser was risk-taking. I didn’t present my poem to a live audience at an awards dinner, out of fear. I didn’t try out for cheerleading or dance in school, out of fear. I didn’t go away to college or change my major to something that I felt drawn to, out of fear.
I never did anything by myself, out of fear.
I didn’t apply to certain jobs, out of fear. The list goes on and on. The fear that drove me away from my pursuit of happiness was the fear of rejection. It was also the fear of embarrassing myself and thereby embarrassing or disappointing my family.
In hindsight, I know that it was all in my head. My family never said anything remotely discouraging and they were always there to support me. There may have been a few times that their fears got in the way of a potential dream of mine but I’m not sure they even realized it so I don’t blame them.
Making the change from a people-pleasing, in-the-shell, afraid of my own shadow kind of person into a risk-taking, quick-witted, speak-my-mind type of person didn’t happen quickly for me. Almost everything in life is a process and this transformation was no different.
For some, their Shadow-self is scary. It’s that dark side of their personality that is a little too real. It’s that part they refuse to recognize and instead condemn. They mask their “Shadows” with the voice in their head that critiques men and women who dress a certain way or talk and laugh “a little too loud.”
This is how I felt about my Shadow-self until I hit my mid-twenties. I was afraid of her. I was afraid of the power that emanated from her. There was a raw energy there that I didn’t think I could control because she was so much bigger than me and yet she stayed hidden without much of a fight. That is, until I pushed her too far down.
Over time, my Shadow-self had worked out the knots and undid the ties that bound her. She took off the blinders and removed the duct tape I had placed over her mouth. She got right up in my face so that I could no longer ignore her and she screamed…I am you! You can’t deny my existence any longer!
See, I found out that when you deny this part of yourself, any part really, it’s like trying to amputate a limb by restricting circulation. The limb doesn’t die right away. The limb goes numb and then it rots. When we try to cut off a piece of our souls, it doesn’t die right away either. That piece will go numb at first but then it will get angry and it will rot and poison us from the inside out.
I no longer hide my Shadow from the world. Why would I? She’s amazing! She is the Rock n’ Roll to my country, the dark to my light, the whiskey to my water, the fighter to my peacekeeper, the sinner to my saint. She is a vital part of who I am. My only regret is that I didn’t let her out to play sooner.
Without her I would not be as strong as I am today. She is my backbone and my fighting spirit. When I feel like I can’t go on she reminds me that I’m not a quitter. When I feel myself withdrawing from the world she is the one who cracks me open and shoves me out into the daylight. She will no longer let me hide or play small.
She is beautifully reckless and a total badass.
“My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.” ~ Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)
Editor: Dana Gornall