The truth is, I had lived most of my life like that elderly neighbor everyone has, who hides behind her curtains and peers out at you but never actually engages in conversation. I was taught early on that I couldn’t really trust people (or situations) and before I learned how to differentiate between anxious and non-anxious thoughts, I basically thought the world was out to get me. Not in a Mel Gibson Conspiracy Theory movie type of way, but more just in a I always felt like people had ulterior motives for being nice, wanting to help or even saying hello kind of way.
My lack of trust stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know what I wanted. How do those two even relate you ask? Let me tell you ...
I came from a family where I was taught early on that my needs were not first priority. There was always a lot going on and as the eldest child, I felt it was it was my responsibility to keep everything running smoothly. This could have been real or imagined but either way, it shaped the way I saw the world. I quickly learned to put my needs to the side in order to ensure that everyone else was OK.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I realized that I was treating the outside world just like my family. Everyone and everything else was more important and I was making sure that the outside world was “OK” before turning to my needs (if ever addressing them at all). I was walking around pissed off at the world, being drill sergeant hard on myself, and constantly turning to people and things that didn’t fill or even begin to light me up (though I convinced myself they did at the time).
I didn’t know how to make it stop, but I did know that I kept getting more and more pissed off at the smallest things (like other drivers not putting on their turn signal on my way to work) and felt like the hole inside of me was growing larger (and emptier) by the day.
Although I have been introspective for most of my life (which was compounded by the fact that I was a psychology major during undergrad) it wasn’t until I started working with a coach of my own that I realized just how much I was attempting to please other people, strangers really, and most (or ok maybe all) of the outside world.
Various situations would come up and she (my coach) would ask me what I wanted to do. I would reply with “well, what’s the best option?” She wouldn’t let me have it and instead would flip it around again, “what do you want to do Emily?” After multiple rounds of this, I realized what the problem was. I was relying on other people’s opinions (mostly old thoughts of family members I could imagine judging me for doing X or not doing Y) to “help” me make decisions that were crucial to me, my business, and ultimately my wellbeing.
This realization stopped me in my tracks. I was letting ghosts rule my life. I was letting stories of the past and holographic images of distant family members impact my future.
What was wrong with me?!
The problem was I didn’t know how to draw any lines in the sand because I hadn’t strengthened my ME muscle. For so long (really as long as I can remember) I had put other people’s wants, wishes, opinions, and desires before my own.
They say once you have a new thought your mind can never return to its previous ways and boy was this true. Once I came to the conclusion that I was going to put myself first in everything I did, I was like a two-year-old who learns how to say “me” and “mine” for the first time. I quickly began a daily routine of checking in with myself.
In the beginning it felt like every minute on the minute but as I got stronger in my knowledge of what I liked and didn’t like, I was able to keep a pretty good vibe with myself and only really have to check in during bigger decisions or new situations that I hadn’t experienced before.
So here’s the kicker. The more I checked in with myself first and the more I made sure I was being the truest version of myself in all situations, the less angry I was. The fewer outbursts I had. The less the traffic bothered me (road rage begone!). The more I softened up. The smaller that giant gaping hole began to feel and the nicer I was to other people (but more importantly, to myself).
What was the magic sauce you ask?
As I began to first define, then set, and finally embody the things and situations that lit me up, the less I relied on other people for my happiness. The less I needed other people’s approval of me in order to thrive. And most importantly, the more I was able to create a life that I wanted to live because I wanted to live it, not because I was too afraid to say otherwise.