If you are born with short legs, or big feet or any other physical trait that you don’t particularly like or doesn’t fit with the current trends, you may complain about it and wish they were different but you likely not to spend too much time or energy on trying to change it. And if you did worry about it, the people that care about you would probably tell you it’s just the way you were born and they love you that way.
However, if you are born with a tendency towards being very introverted, anxious or melancholy then well-intentioned people often show concern and offer suggestions on ways to improve these aspects of your self. For the shy child, we try to get them to come out of their shell. Or the sad and teary child, we try to cheer up. Or even the loud or hyper child, we try to quiet them down.
So what can be learned from this? Is it that big feet are not your fault and don’t hinder your life, and therefore don’t need to be ‘fixed’? But a person born with personality traits that don’t fit in the spectrum of ‘preferable person’ (whatever that means to you), efforts should be made to improve the aspects seen as lacking? Of course, no one overtly says this, but I still believe that most of us hear it loud and clear.
As a child, I remember commenting to my mom that she would act differently when different people were around. She did not seem happy with me commenting on this observation as if it was some kind of secret that I shouldn’t speak of, and then she simply said I was making something out of nothing. I also remember from my high school and university days how I tried so hard to ‘fit in’ with the fun crowd; laugh at their jokes, or pretend to be interested in the latest gossip. I spent a lot of energy on trying to be more like other people because I believed that there was something wrong, or at least not desirable, about who I was (or the way I was born). I would wonder what was wrong with me and how can I fix it.
No one told me I should act differently or be like someone else. In fact, I had a very loving family growing up and I had more freedom than most to explore who I was. But somehow I still got the message (and I believed it) that what was going on in my mind and my natural tendency towards soul searching, meditation and emotionality, were not traits to be celebrated. Even now that I know this is not true, I can still occasionally find myself trying to ‘fit in’. It is not an easy lesson to unlearn especially since our society still seems to prefer certain types of behaviors in certain groups of people.
Sometimes I wonder if all this ‘acting’ didn’t contribute to my eventual breakdown and major depression five years ago. I could only sustain this appearance of good mom, wife, daughter, friend, employee/ manager for so long, especially when my husband was struggling with PTSD and I was struggling to care for him and our kids.
I also wonder if this isn’t part of what’s causing the increased rates of depression and anxiety that we are seeing in our communities today. If we are feeling the need to hide parts of ourselves only to bolster others or act one way with some people and another with others, this is not sustainable. It is confusing enough to figure out who we truly are and want to be in life without having to think about what everyone else expects from us.