It was 5:30pm on a Saturday night. I was getting dressed and hair done to go to a social with some friends at the church. I tried on three different combinations of outfits to wear and felt dumpy in all of them. I didn’t have confidence in any of my choices and felt my stress levels rising. I finally conceded to wear something that looked “ok” and finished my hair and make-up. Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I felt the disdain towards myself rise. I was a loser, a nobody. I was a scared, frumpy-feeling young woman who wanted to fit in and be accepted, but felt awkward and insecure.
After arriving at the church, several people were already standing in huddles engaged in conversation. I didn’t know what to do. I waited for someone to acknowledge me, but they didn’t. My immediate interpretation was that no one wanted me to be there, so there was no way I was going to walk up to a group. I opted, instead to find a chair off to the side and sit, watching the others and longing to be invited into conversation. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated event. This was how I responded in most social venues…and I hated living like this.
Fast forward 20 years. It was Saturday night at 5:30pm and I prepared to go out with girlfriends. I chose a fun outfit that I liked, did my hair & make-up with a little spunk, and looked in the mirror. I saw a beautiful, confident, creative middle-aged woman staring back at me. I was ready to bring my full light to the party. I would start conversations. I would share funny stories. I would not feel intimidated, but confident and free.
I had gone through what I call, “internal fortification” – a strengthening from within. One day, I literally got an idea to stop seeing myself as unwanted and act as if I had something to offer instead. It felt incredibly risky to me, but I had to try something different than my habit of isolation. I walked up to a group of people at a social event and opened myself up to engage in conversation. To my joy and satisfaction, I was welcomed into the group and began participating in conversations. I struggled with knowing what to say at times, but developed a list of interesting questions I could ask others to get to know them better. I also learned to share about myself and discovered that I was not rejected, but appreciated. I became genuinely interested in others, too, instead of focusing all my energies on my own feelings of insecurity.
Eventually, I went on to develop careers in education, public speaking, business, and coaching others towards health and freedom. By taking risks again and again, I discovered that many of my uniquenesses were meant to be a blessing to others, as well as myself. While I did need to shed some unhealthy habits and mindsets, I also learned to allow others to see my, to quote Cindy Lauper, “true colors shining through”. Many of the things that I had believed were negatives about myself, were instead, the very things that are necessary for those roles that bring me greatest joy and fulfillment.
For all of my early years, my beliefs, ideas, and choices had been influenced, molded and shaped by other people. From my parents, to my siblings, to my pastors, to my friends, I had allowed other people’s opinions to dictate what was right for me. It is expected that parents lay foundations for what they want their children to value and how they want them to live. Teachers, pastors, and others in authority in a child’s life do the same thing. But when is an individual given an opportunity to really develop their own thoughts, ideas, and beliefs about things if everyone else is TELLING them what is the “right” way to think about things? Oftentimes, we aren’t sure how to step out as adults to explore this, especially if we continue to have dominating influences in our life.
If you happen to be exposed to a high school teacher or college professor who encourages critical thinking, it’s possible that you learned to think outside the box that was created for you by others in authority in your earlier years. As a result, you may have discovered that if your ideas, opinions, and perspectives are different than those who established that original box and it’s rules for you, they may be offended or angered by your “outside the box” or progressive ways of thinking. If that’s the case, you are bumping against controlling people who believe their way is right and your ideas or opinions are wrong. But… who made them the authority to dictate what is right for your life? As children, yes, there are others in authority over us all…rightly so. But, if you are now an adult, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU.
As you grow, it would make sense that your parameters adapt and adjust with your own evolution as a person. Like a snake or hermit crab that sheds its skin or shell to grow into a new and bigger body, so ought we as human beings. Some things from before need to be shed to allow the new to emerge, in order to be able to freely express our new selves.
The trouble with moving out of the original skin or “box” and into the new one is that your evolution may evoke fear in others who want things to remain the same or are unfamiliar with your new look. If your ideas are “right for you”, what does that say about their ideas? Unfortunately, this way of thinking stems from unhealthy co-dependency that isn’t able to honor the uniqueness and other-ness displayed by a person moving towards healthy independence. The unhealthy individual or system wants everyone to be the same or remain in the system that they are a part of. To protect their own sense of security, they may criticize your new realm as unacceptable or wrong in some way and perhaps directly criticize you as having gone-awry. Without internal fortification, an individual will recoil and stop exploring beyond those boundaries originally established as “the right way”. They will shut down natural curiosities to try new things and choose instead to listen to the controlling voices that have defined how things ought to be for everyone.
For those who break free, however, and develop a new confidence in their own ideas and voice, they are able to spread their wings and soar above and beyond the restrictions set for them previously. They begin exploring with adventure and experimenting with fresh curiosity about a world of possibilities. They learn to take risks again and fear of failure no longer holds them back from at least giving themselves an opportunity to try something new. They learn to hone their true, Divinely-endowed gifts, talents, passions, and perspectives and find new outlets their own personal expression. Others no longer dictate what they should or shouldn’t be thinking or doing in their life, but they act according to their own internal, divinely guided compass towards a life more in alignment with what seems right to them.
Internal fortification begins with a leap of faith. It starts with a willingness to believe that YOU ARE ENOUGH. Who you are in your purest expression is perfect for what you have been created to be and do in this earth. No one can ask any more of you, including yourself. You no longer need to compare yourself to others to gain value, but you alone are the most valuable for your own life. No one can live your life but you. No one has the unique mix of gifts, talents, passions, life experiences, personality, etc…. that you do. You, alone, have been given the divine responsibility to live YOUR life.
One of the greatest first steps of developing internal fortification is to choose to take 100% responsibility for your choices here on out. Many of us blame others for our misfortune or undesirable circumstances. But, if you stopped spending time assigning blame and put your energy instead into doing something about your situation, you will begin to move out of those circumstances and onto a life you’d rather be living. This may mean cutting losses and letting go of something you’ve been trying to hold on to out of fear. It is not an easy process and it takes work. By taking one step at a time in the direction you’d rather be going, instead of remaining stuck and blaming others, will eventually lead you out of your undesirable situation and onto what you really want.
Developing this inner strength can be challenging to do alone, at first. Oftentimes, there are remnants of insecurity that lead you to question if your new choices are “ok”…or even which choice to make that is different from an old practice. It helps to have a non-biased, supportive person in your life who will allow you to develop your own voice and new lifestyle. These individuals may be challenging to find, but they are out there…perhaps an older family member or mature friend or a life coach or a counselor… Consider who you can say anything to who will not correct your views and try to put you back in that old box. Who might allow you to explore new ideas and stop aimless activities, encouraging you to replace them with things more in alignment with who you are or want to grow into?
If, however, you wish to begin this journey on your own start by taking an overall assessment. Set aside 30 minutes or more to ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I take full responsibility for my choices and actions? Why or why not?
2. What area(s) of my life do I want to be different than they are now?
3. What would I do in those areas to bring a better level of satisfaction to my life?
4. What holds me back from making these changes?
For some of you, your own fears and insecurity are what holds you back. If this is the case, you may be in need of developing your own internal fortification. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I willing to take full responsibility for my choices and responses/reactions to others?
2. Whose voice is louder than mine in my life?
3. Why might I have given away my personal power to that individual or those authorities?
4. Is there anything I can do to take back my power with that person or people?
5. Take an honest assessment of your strengths, gifts, and talents. Own them as uniquely yours by looking yourself in the mirror and saying, “ I am _______________, _______________, ______________, etc… I love these things about myself and will take steps to live out of these beautiful attributes of my uniqueness.”
6. What is your next step to walk in the light that only you can bring the world?
7. Consider reading Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life
Now… go spread your wings and fly!!! Penny Moisson