There are friends who light me up inside. Who have me howling with laughter for hours at a time. People I can’t stop smiling about when I think of them. One of these special people came to visit recently. Like a lot of funny people I know, their sense of humor was born of trauma. Their ability to provoke laughter can be a shield, beacon, or balm, depending on what they need.
When they arrived at my doorstep, they warned me they’d be a mess, but they weren’t sure what they needed.
I knew that they needed me to listen. As I did, it became clear that they were caught in a shame cycle they couldn’t break. There were imperfections they were obsessing over. And that made it hard for them to find their joy.
You don’t have to ‘be strong’ or alone
We’ve known each other for more than twenty years. But I didn’t realize how much they struggled with these feelings until about five years ago.
They held everything in.
They didn’t want to ask for help because they didn’t want to inconvenience anyone.
I get that.
Many of us were conditioned to believe that we exist on some continuum of weak vs. strong and we fear being seen as weak.
It was such a great visit. We joked around and laughed until my sides hurt. But in between improv gags and bits, we talked about things that mattered to us.
You’re not a monster. But what you believe might make you think you are.
For example, I told them about a series of nightmares I’d had when I was nineteen that kept me up for weeks at a time. There was a terrifying monster; I would spend all night running for my life. When I was too exhausted to run anymore, I told my dream monster to go ahead and do whatever awful thing they wanted to do to me because I was too tired to fight.
“What do you want?” I demanded.
“I just want a hug,” said the monster. And it hugged me.
That’s when I realized the monster was me.
‘The monster’ was the sum of all the parts I didn’t like about myself. Things I’d hidden, locked away, pretended weren’t part of me.
The minute I acknowledged this, I was flooded with relief. Years of fear and pain melted away. I finally was able to start the hard work of learning how to love myself after years of hating so much about who I was.
Pushing down feelings doesn’t make them go away
But if you try to ignore something, it gains power.
I couldn’t run away from myself forever. Eventually, I had to face what I was hiding and accept it.
When you face what you fear, it ceases to have the same kind of power over you.
Reclaim your authentic self from judgment
My friend has a character they developed years ago that was their polar opposite. Whereas my friend is mild-mannered and sweet as sugar, this character was always snarling at people and demanding love and admiration. We both loved that character fiercely. She inspired my friend to write a one-person show that was amazing.
But about fifteen years ago, that character stopped talking to my friend. My friend stopped writing and improvising. That’s how they ended up feeling stuck, personally and professionally.
This past weekend, the character came back. My friend and I were improvising, doing bits on my back patio to make each other laugh when she emerged.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“To integrate with [my friend’s name].”
That surprised both of us.
“That just came out,” my friend said. “I always think about how nice it would be if she could come back so I could do something with her. But she doesn’t want to be a tool. She wants to be part of me.”
You’re meant to be your authentic self. That makes you happier than anything.
My friend loved this character because she channeled their repressed rage. The character could demand respect my friend didn’t think they deserved. Everything my friend was told they couldn’t do as a child, this character did: loudly and with relish. It was liberating.
“Does the idea of integrating with her make you happy?” I asked my friend.
“Yes. That’s what I really want. I don’t know how, yet. But I know I will do it.”
And just like that, a dam broke. By the time my friend left the next morning, they had a million creative ideas and motivation to start doing things differently.
“I guess life really does begin at fifty,” my friend said with a laugh as we said our goodbyes.
Why do we wait so long to become our authentic self?
How many people wait until middle age to live their most authentic lives?
Do you still have parts of yourself that you’re quarantining or keeping from public view?
When we try to make ourselves more ‘acceptable,’ the parts we don’t like don’t stay hidden. They haunt us.
But there’s nothing wrong with these parts. And just because we don’t value them doesn’t mean they don’t have value. Not being authentically ourselves—flaws and all—is a good way to get stuck.
Creative challenge: Integrate lost parts of your authentic self
Your challenge this week is to look inward and see if there’s any aspects of yourself that need to be loved, accepted, and reintegrated.
Spend 10-20 minutes free-writing in a journal without judging what comes out, using these prompts:
- I am embarrassed of …
- I feel shame around …
- I hate when I …
- I hid these parts because …
- If I let these aspects out, I …
- I no longer need to hide these parts of myself because …
- I commit to …
Let me know how it goes! Share your thoughts and experiences by replying to this email or tag @trulykristi on social channels. 🙂