Lately I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection. Looking in the mirror can often be difficult when you don’t like what you see. I suppose everyone has parts of themselves they don’t like, but I find that my inner voices tend to work overtime when things feel uncertain. Therapists would say the best thing to do is to sit in the discomfort because that’s where the real work begins.
Even as a young girl, I carried a persona of being a “tough girl” or a “Tomboy”. That trope has followed me through adulthood. Some might say that being a strong woman is a good thing but it often is the thing that women can be judged for in society. Women are supposed to be nurturing and soft—they’re supposed to stay small and accommodating. When you’re viewed as strong, you’re often seen as having hard edges that keep people at a distance.
As I look in the mirror, I see what others may see but underneath my hard edges is the little girl that overcompensates to cover up my insecurities and pain. I see the young girl that was so sensitive to criticism that she built up a defense to protect her tender heart. I was raised to always care what people thought of me and the way I looked which left no room to care what I thought of myself.
Everyone wants to be liked and respected but the sensitive ones often can’t handle it when others criticize or shed light on their flaws. We internalize their perception while simultaneously building up a wall of defense. I tend to push people away at the first sign of disrespect because I refuse to have anyone hurt me. My internal softness can’t handle it so my outer hardness acts as the protector.
I see this playing out so clearly in my relationships, especially “romantic” relationships. I struggle so much with being vulnerable that I portray the role of a woman that can take ’em or leave ’em. At the first sign of rejection or even distance—I put up the tough girl persona. My defense mechanism is in full force. I make excuses as to why this person may not be right for me, instead of being brave enough to open up a dialogue about what I need from them.
A stark contrast to what is happening on the inside. Inside I’m second-guessing myself. Inside I’m feeling like a small child who thinks they’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not young enough, and not kind enough. Inside I’m feeling that I’m unlovable because I’m responsible for keeping every man at a distance so they can’t hurt me. What an awful way to live.
My tough girl protector reminds me that I deserve better. That voice reminds me that I am worthy of love just the way I am. “Screw them if they don’t live up to my every expectation!” The inner strength that knows my self-worth and won’t allow me to settle for anything less.
What I’ve learned is the balance of softness and strength is exactly what we need to find. We need softness in order to be willing to open our hearts and the strength to remain vulnerable. Those two things in unison are what I’m striving for but I find myself always putting up the defense. I’m a work in progress. We all are I suppose. If we’re not working on ourselves then we’re either a narcissist, a sociopath, or just an asshole. If you’re always pointing the finger at someone else and seeing all their flaws then you will never be able to fix your own.
Being in a relationship (of sorts) is showing me the parts of me that I have to work on. The parts of me that need to heal. The person in your life may not be the right one for you, but they are ALWAYS here to teach you something about yourself that you needed to learn. I’m grateful for another lesson. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow. I can look in the mirror and like what I see, but also see the parts of me that need some work. The growth comes when you are self-reflective enough to do the work on yourself instead of expecting others to change for you. If you find yourself in unhealthy relationships, it’s usually because you have some unresolved issues within yourself. I see that now so clearly. You attract the people that will hold up the mirror so that you can see what needs to be healed.