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By: Tara Fuller

Sometimes I think, “When will I be enough for myself?”

I have these twisted up contrary feelings of pride versus disappointment, self-hatred versus praise. It’s confusing to live in my head. What I’m working on is knowing that I belong to me and I am accountable to those distorted thoughts. I am allowed to be proud while also knowing I’m still a work in progress. I’m allowed to know I don’t always fit in, but the people who love me love me do so for a reason. One thought does not need to win over another, especially when both might be true; BUT, giving my distortions room to fester is detrimental to my well-being.

I never realized how much of the narrative I created about myself was because I didn’t think I had found my people. My squad was fierce and loyal, so that was a falsehood. The person I needed to get to know in my squad, my ultimate person, was ME. The internal crew that gets me through every day. The voice that says, “Keep going. You got this. Just one more hour of peopling, one more meeting, one more email.” That member of the squad was left to its own devices and, as it turns out, unchecked internal dialogue is not the smartest or healthiest idea. For me, it has led to some betrayal of self.

We’re not often taught to curate and maintain healthy thoughts. Frankly, how would we know we need to work on our thoughts? We’re the only one who thinks them, so, no one can tell us whether they are problematic or not. Unless, and this is the key, we’re vulnerable enough to share them.

What I have found is that when I share some of my weirdest, wildest, saddest or darkest thoughts, I’m suddenly not alone. Other people say, “Yeah! I’ve thought about that, too.” Or, if they can’t relate, they become curious about how I see myself and begin to understand me in a more intimate way, which allows them to support me differently than before.

I have learned that so many of us are walking around feeling like outsiders not knowing where we fit in, armored up, and trying to squeeze into places that don’t bring us joy. This feeling can be the result of or lead to negative thoughts about who we are. It can aggravate our insecurities and put this slideshow of shame and rejection on loop in our minds.

For me, I am learning some of the outsider feelings come from deep-rooted beliefs I hold about myself, which were upheld by people who treated me like me I didn’t belong or even directly told me so. Looking back, I believe those actions and words came from a place of their own fear of rejection, their own lack of belonging and feeling lost. That does not excuse the behavior, but it helps me operate from a place of compassion. We are all looking to connect to others in some way and if that is met with rejection, we put up walls to guard us from experiencing anything like that again. The problem is these walls against pain can keep out the opportunities for joy and belonging, too.

On the flip side, building bridges of connection with others sometimes doesn’t feel possible when our thoughts are at war with each other. When harm has been done, how do we know who will honor our bridge and who might seek to tear it down? If someone triggers fear in me, how can I trust them to be safe?

The responsibility shouldn’t be placed solely on us to seek out new friends or trustworthy companions. Because after some time, the armor feels so heavy that we would rather isolate than connect at all. This means it is also the responsibility of those on the outside to peek in and call us out of our fortress of fear and join them. There is a way to honor boundaries and kindly approach those who seem disinterested. How powerful it would be to drop our assumptions about someone based on their demeanor or lack of smile or perceived apathy, and instead, invite them to join us and give them an opportunity to connect—it may be the one thing they’re needing, an invitation.

In the fast-paced nature of technological connections, I have found it imperative to find some calm internally. My mind races at a cheetah’s pace and when it goes unchecked, the language I use toward myself is unkind. The work feels like it will never be done, but I know each step I take creates space for me to thrive, create meaningful connections with others, and free myself of my armor one piece at a time.

 

Learn more about Tara Fuller and her programs on Belonging, Leadership, and LGBTQ Issues at campuspeak.com/speaker/tara-fuller