I’ve done some pretty self-destructive things in my life.
I’ve starved myself for a few days at a time hoping to get into a size 0.
I’ve binged on sugary sweets and junk food for weeks when that didn’t work.
I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths to avoid meeting other people or just talking on the phone.
But the most self-destructive of all was the thing that made me act in those ways.
The most self-destructive thing I’ve ever done was to believe someone’s else opinion of me.
I was born in Italy, the land of delicious food, couture fashion and outgoing people. We Italians have a reputation for being loud, making friends easily and starting up small talk with everyone we meet.
I’ve never been like that. I’m shy. Quiet. An introvert on the far end of the introversion scale.
I didn’t know anyone else like me. No one else knew someone else like me.
Surely, there must have been something wrong with me? That’s what concerned neighbours, teachers and friends asked my parents. Obviously, I wasn’t normal.
I believed them. What else could I have done? In my small town (these were the pre-internet days), I had no example of any other shy introverts, no model to look up to, no idea anyone else like me even existed.
The second I believed that lie was the second I hit the self-destruct button in my brain.
I had always found it hard to make new friends, but now I began avoiding every opportunity to meet other people. I didn’t want to go to my schoolmates’ birthday parties. I hid in my room when someone came to visit my family. I would look the other way and hide if I saw someone I knew in the streets, at the supermarket, wherever – God forbid they would spot me and come over for a small chat.
Needless to say, I was rolling down the spiralling road of depression at high speed. Before I knew what was going on, my grades dropped. I spent all my afternoons in front of the TV, and later the internet, because I had no friends to hang out with. I let job opportunities pass me by because I didn’t want to do anything that forced me to spend too much time with other people.
Oh, I knew this was unhealthy. And, at times, I tried to do something about it. I thought things would be different if I looked life a supermodel so I went on the diet-and-binge yo yo. But I didn’t become thinner. I was just hungry and dizzy all the time. I had no energy for anything.
I thought people would like me if I helped them. So I said yes to every request, no matter how inconvenient – or even harmful – it was for me. I gave, gave and gave while they took, took, took. But they never really liked me. They just used me.
I thought people would like me if I were the perfect little girl who was seen but not heard. I swallowed every complaint. I never protested when someone was rude to me or treated with disrespect. I never voiced my wishes or told anybody what I wanted – only what they wanted mattered.
I allowed someone’s else opinion of me put limits on what I could and could not do. I exchanged my freedom for approval. I destroyed myself in the hope I would be accepted by a bunch of strangers who never really cared about me.
That’s the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn in my life. The most life-changing too.
Other people come and go. They leave. They die. They enter your life for a moment and then they’re out again, without even saying a word.
You’re the only person who will be with you every second of every day.
So do what makes you happy. Proud. Fulfilled.
Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “what would I do today if I didn’t care about what other people thought of me?”
The only thing that matters is that you can look yourself in the eye and say, “today I did my best. Today I was kind, compassionate, creative. Today, I have no regrets about how I’ve spent my time and lived my life.”
Can you look yourself in the eye and say that?