Recently in an EMDR session with a psychologist,
she asked me to write down the 10 worst experiences in my life.
Rainbows and butterflies ensued.
Of all the 10 things I wrote down, the only one that brought a huge lump to my throat and needles to my eyes was the one that I least expected – I didn’t even remember it at first.
When I was at highschool, I had a group of three female friends, which was later joined by a fourth friend, S, who moved from another school.
Fairly quickly it became clear that S really just wanted to be friends with the other two.
She was very possessive and jealous, bordering on obsessive.
She started to arrange catch ups just with the other two, but never me.
I could feel it happening, and I didn’t know what to do. I was a very confused human back then, I had very few social skills, and I was already extremely untrusting and pessimistic.
Slowly the friendship with the four of us degraded to the point where the three of them would sit in classes writing notes about me and hiding from me at lunchtimes. It was agonising. Sometimes they’d leave the notes out and I’d find them. There was a lot of AOL messenger nastiness.
I remember a lot of hiding in the school toilets wracked with feelings of rejection and humiliation.
At one point, S wrote me the nastiest email I’ve ever read, highlighting all the reasons she hated me, including that
she thought I walked around school with a tampon stuck up my ass, I was such an arrogant snob.
That line from her email is burned into my brain, I can’t remember any of the rest, but I do remember the feeling of wanting to throw up when I read it for the first, third, and tenth times I read it.
I couldn’t believe that they could think I was arrogant when I was so insecure and panicking on a daily basis.
Somehow my shyness and social awkwardness had come across as arrogance.
It was one of the most excruciatingly painful experiences I can remember in my entire life, and it went on for more than a year.
Only recently have I realised that that was what we now call bullying.
And only now am I realising the far reaching impacts bullying has on humans.
And how important it is for us to resolve it, even if it was 20, 30, 50 years ago so it doesn’t keep affecting our life now.
Through talking more about it with the psych and with mates, I’ve unravelled more and more of the mystery.
I’ve always had the lurking feeling that there is something terribly, terribly wrong with me.
When others are hanging out having fun, I’m on the outskirts trying to work out how the hell to fit in.
I’ve never been someone that people immediately warm to, I’ve always felt awkward in friendships, like there’s a big wall that I can’t get over, and no one wants to make the effort to climb over to my side either.
Looking back on my past, I knew I always hated myself. I knew I was good at things (which made me even less likeable), but that socially
I was a flawed human that people just didn’t like for some reason.
I’ve spent my life trying to work out how to be more likeable, how to be nicer, how to be more generous, how to be more effervescent, and cooler, since none of those things come naturally to me, and all I wanted was for people to like me.
Which of course meant that I’ve always tried too hard, and so they never did.
When I found mindfulness, I found a way to learn all those things. I found a way to stop my insecure, passive aggressive reactions ruining social situations, I found a way to be less of a know it all, less snappy, less annoying, less socially awkward. They even did a study recently that showed that practicing mindfulness actually increases your charisma!
Taming my mind and learning self awareness gave me everything.
But there lurking at the bottom of it all, there was still a belief that I am broken.
To be honest, there still is, I just try not to take the belief so seriously anymore.
From the outside you probably wouldn’t know it. Taming my mind has enabled me to stop getting caught up in the past so much, to stop reacting to things in such unhelpful ways, and it’s given me the space to learn new social skills and build my confidence.
But to this day, being around many of the lovely friends I have now can sometimes put the fear of god in me.
They are incredibly kind, empathetic and generous humans, the kind of humans I’ve always aspired to be. And when I’m with them I’m constantly trying to remember to be thoughtful and nice and generous, so that I won’t let slip that I’m actually totally broken and worth hating.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from writing my Project Self blogs and talking to hundreds of clients about their hidden thoughts,
it’s that nothing I think is a unique struggle that I face.
If I’m thinking it, a million others must be too.
So if you also have been bullied or rejected, if you also struggle in social situations, if your mind keeps telling you you’re broken and unloveable…
Maybe everyone, too.
I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been for me to unpack some of this stuff in therapy, by writing it out, and by talking to friends. The more we talk and write about it, the more integrated the horrible memories become in our brain, and the less they keep triggering us and taking over our thoughts and emotions in unexpected ways.
Therapy often feels as though nothing is happening.
It can feel like we’re just focussing on the negative, getting really sad or angry for an hour, and then feeling no better afterwards.
It can open up cans of worms that we’re not sure we should have opened.
But eventually all the worms crawl out and bugger off, and we’re left with a lot more peace, and some self understanding to boot.
It helps us get to know ourselves better, helps us understand how we react and why, so we can get unstuck from unhelpful patterns.
Therapy is not so that we can wallow in self pity and blame our past for our flaws – as many people think it is – but so that we can release all the thoughts and emotions out of the shadowy places we’ve shoved them into.
Because one day you’ll find that you’ve talked about the crap so much that it’s actually kind of boring, and no longer elicits a huge emotional response.
Which is pretty bloody awesome.
Because when you’re bored of your own story, you’re free of it.