This month I’ve been someone else
I’ve always feared being disliked, especially the idea of upsetting people. I have often kept my beliefs to myself, all the bits that buck the mainstream view, even if I’m pretty clued up on the topic at hand. I do this to avoid confrontation, the unbearable feeling of being misunderstood, and the risk of rejection. I have a theory it stems from schooldays, where all the best neuroses start to root.
I’ve also allowed more than my fair share of difficult characters into my life, enduring unreasonable — sometimes toxic — behaviour. And toxic is not a word I use lightly. I think it’s because I’m empathetic. Even when someone is hurting my feelings, I can usually understand why they think and feel the way they do, which leads me to make allowances for them.
Before you think this is one big humble brag, let me be clear: bad shit happens when you try to please everyone:
- You feel compromised. Part of who you are has not been seen or heard.
- You lose your power. Your light is dimmed.
- You leave no room for people to surprise you. For people to respond well to who you truly are and to your boundaries.
- ‘Nice’ can’t last forever. Eventually you blow, like Vesuvius, defeating the object of being nice in the first place.
- The eruption plays on your mind. The analysis is relentless.
In short, Little Miss Nice has a shadow. But last month something changed…
‘Nice’ expired and fell away
I began to care more about how I judged myself, and more about my opinions of others than their opinions of me. It had been brewing for a while. Still it felt radical, thrilling, and kind of uncomfortable. The next time an opportunity to ‘speak up’ arose, I challenged myself to take action. The first time it happened I succeeded. I felt calm and my words were met with respect. It actually made me warm towards the other person, as I encountered — for the first time — the depth of their maturity, and tolerance of a viewpoint wildly different from their own.
The second time an opportunity arose, I bottled it. It was a phone call involving asking to be paid, instead of doing work as a favour. I reminded myself how utterly reasonable it is to be paid, and phoned them right back. Victory.
So far so good, so the universe decided to throw some bigger tests my way. In the 48hrs that followed I found myself embroiled in more heated interactions than I’d experienced all year. I allowed myself to express the gamut of my emotions. From the very real sense of compassion I felt for ‘my opposition’, to the equally real anger I felt as they continued to trample all over me.
I asserted myself, and I didn’t mince my words. It felt bloody good to ‘call it’ and exit situations where my needs could not be met. It also felt sad. Ruptures in relationships hurt, me and everyone else involved. None of that sat well. This adorable baby pretty much sums it up. Triumph, certainly, but short lived. Followed by a quivering bottom lip.
I needed a PERSONA…
…an alter ego to help me through the growing pains of metamorphosis. The idea of a persona started as a joke. I’d pull my shoulders back and flick my hair, far too close to my fella’s face, just to get a laugh. Gradually though, I realised I was drawing strength and inspiration from the character I’d created in my mind’s eye. I pictured her as a flaming red-head, firm but fair, and unwavering in her self-care routine. She had many responsibilities in life, but she attended to them after taking care of herself. She embodied the mantra ‘fit your own mask first’.
Of course a woman as great as this needed a name. I explored the options as I lay awake one night. The one that stuck was ‘Amber’, like the stone, bold and bright naturally. I flirted with the idea of buying myself a big ass amber necklace (Amber certainly would) but decided instead to write a list of all the qualities I imagined Amber would have:
- Amber is rational. She feels her feelings, but isn’t consumed by them. She says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to others, based on what makes the most sense.
- Amber invests in people with a high ROI. People can make mistakes…but not many. And not at the expense of her wellbeing.
- Amber watches and chooses her thoughts carefully. She refuses to beat herself up, consciously creating new neural pathways that serve her, if ever she finds herself caught in a destructive mental loop.
- Amber knows when to let shit go. She opts to see the funny side, the lighter side of life.
I wasn’t kidding when I told you I’ve been someone else. Or perhaps I’ve been becoming more myself. Hayley 2.0, brand shiny new.
Wise words from the ‘hugging saint’
I’ll finish with a quote by spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, aka ‘the hugging saint’:
“Don’t feel bad if someone speaks ill of you.
Think that this, too, is for your best.”
When we find ourselves in conflict it’s important to reflect, just in case it’s YOU who’s in the wrong. No-one likes home truths, but they do gift us with an opportunity to level up. And you know how I like to level up ;) Sorry, in-joke. You’ll need to have read my column ‘Is wellness your carrot or stick?’ to have got that one.
But what about the times when we’re in a row and we’re in the right? Fortunately, the quote still works a treat. A row gives us a chance to practice forgiveness, something so precious, as anyone who’s ever been forgiven truly knows.
And finally… People being mean is for our best because it forces us to grow a backbone. Life’s too short to hide and be a doormat. If you think that could be you, it’s time to find your inner-Amber, the I-matter-and-will-gladly-take-up-space WARRIOR that’s slumbering deep within.