I’ve quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on this blog before and I’m sure I’ll do it again after today; she was a woman after my own heart and I have benefitted from her wisdom on many occasions. A quotation I keep coming back to is this:
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
It took me several years to understand this and accept its truth. Other people’s opinions had shaped my self-image all my life, at such a deep level that I didn’t even realise it was happening, and the idea that I played any part in the process seemed alien and unfathomable. But gradually it became clear to me I’m not the person that, in a doomed effort to fit the mould I felt I was expected to fit, I was trying so hard to be. This was bewildering at first but began to feel more and more liberating, as I came to understand why it was that I felt so stuck and as if my life had run into the sand. The reason I was finding it such an immense effort was that I was was trying to live a life for which I’m not suited: it was the story of the square peg and the round hole. Once I shifted my energy into creating the life I do want and for which I am suited, suddenly things began to fall into place.
Hand in hand with this insight came the revelation that I can choose how I feel. Before, this had always seemed to me the sort of insensitive, trite suggestion people with no inkling of how I felt used to make, in a misguided attempt to help me ‘cheer up’. Snap out of it, get over it, choose to be happy. Even now, the crassness of this advice induces a surge of fury and frustration in me – so let me reassure you, this is not where I am coming from at all!
Choosing how I feel is not about denying or discounting my suffering, it’s not about putting on a brave face for the sake of everyone else. It’s about realising the extent of my power. Not only do I not have to squeeze myself into a shape I don’t want to be, I don’t have to berate myself for not fitting the hole carved out for me by others. No longer struggling to be round, I can embrace and enjoy my squareness. From here, it’s but a small step to acknowledging that other people cannot ‘make’ me feel anything. Their behaviour and attitudes towards me may have more or less impact on me, depending on the relationships and situation, but in the end I am the one who decides how I feel. If being sad, angry, scared or happy fits the circumstances, then there we are. What I’m talking about is feeling negative emotions, such as guilt and shame, when there really is no reason to. Just because somebody is criticising me, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me or that I have failed in any way. Of course, if I have made a mistake, I need to own up and apologise, but making a mistake does not mean I’m inferior. I am not inferior, I am just as good as everybody else. Anyone who pretends otherwise has their own agenda and I am not going to buy into it.