Releasing the past in order to find myself

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Some days I feel stronger.  Most days I don't.  Lots of days I'm depressed and sad and exhausted.  Just so plain tired.  But sometimes I feel a bit stronger.

Upsi commented the other day on my conversation about my dad that she was impressed that I could say something.  Truth be told, so was I.  I actually had to stop myself, collect myself, gather my courage and circle back around to his statement (He was talking about writing both me and my sister off because he couldn't get a hold of us.  However, while my sister is just ignoring him unless she needs him, I'd made several attempts to get back to him.  I felt he was painting us both with the same stroke and it felt very unfair.).  After I stated my piece, I felt winded.  I shook.  I trembled.  I felt a bit surprised at myself.   I didn't get any validation back from my father, but at least I didn't get nastiness in return.  The thing was, it took all my energy and strength to say something to him.  Something, that in the grand scheme of things, shouldn't have been that big of a deal.  But I had almost felt my knees buckle.  And the whole thing challenged me so much, that later in the phone call, when he said something that bothered me equally as bad, I couldn't say anything.

His second comment bothered me for days.  And that seems to be more the "normal" course of my interactions with people.  Someone says something hurtful, or mean, or spiteful and I'm left dumbstruck.  Unable to say anything.  These incidents would wear on me, drain me, and I would still be hurting by a lot of them, many years later.

I've recently been thinking about why these things bother me so much.  Comments that were said so far in the past often feel like freshly opened wounds.  Why?  Why couldn't I let it go?

One such incident happened almost 14 years ago.  I had been dating my (now) DH for about a year.  We were at a party in his honor.  Around 50 of his family and friends were in attendance in a smallish room.  My (now) MIL was sitting at a table with her sisters a bit away from where I was.  Suddenly there was uproarious laughter.    Someone asked what was going on.  Oh, nothing, nothing they said.  But they kept laughing.    The whole room was now paying attention to the table.  We pressed again to know what was so funny.   MIL spoke up and said "Oh, was just telling them how I read a study that laughing could increase your breast size.  And I told them that (DH) must not make Jessie laugh very much!!!".  This was followed by more cackling and laughing.

I was humiliated and embarrassed.  I had been held up as a public joke in front of 50 people.  It stung, I was mortified, but I stood there laughing too.  I was really still just a girl and I had no idea how to react.  It took me a long time to sort through my feelings on it.  At first, directly after the incident, DH dismissed it as "just a joke".  It hadn't felt like a joke to me.  Over the years, I would circle back to this example when discussing my MIL with DH.  I would point to this example as her being harsh.  A few years later, he said, "Well, if it bothered you, you should've told her you are sensitive about your chest."  But the things is, I'm NOT sensitive about my chest.  While I'm no where near top heavy and I'd been insecure in the past, I had come to terms with my body as it was.   It wasn't about me or my chest.  It took me several more years to come around to the fact that what bothered me is that I felt she had bullied me.  She had used me as a punchline to get herself a couple of laughs.   She had humiliated me in front of tons of people for her own fun.  I had felt like the "new girl" in a room full of popular girls in the lunch room.  There they all were pointing and laughing at me.  She had taken a moment where she was comfortable, surrounded by people she knew, to put me down.  DH has come around to understanding why I was so hurt, but we both struggled with why I was still so upset about it.

And recently, it dawned on me.  I was really angry at myself.  I mean, I was angry with her too, deservedly so.  But I really was mad at myself.  I was mad I stood there.  I was mad I took it.  I was angry that I didn't stand up for myself.  And in this incident, and many more like it, I find myself agonizing over it for days (or weeks or months).  Replaying it in my head and beating myself up for not responding differently.   I'm angry that I've allowed people to treat me like shit over and over and I just take it.  When I was a child, I didn't have a lot of resources to protect myself, but as an adult, I should've been able to defend myself.  I should've stood up for myself.  I should've valued myself more than to allow someone to treat me like that.

The times I've stood up for myself have never been easy either.  I sometimes have obsessed for days about saying something, hoping I wasn't mean, hoping I wasn't offensive.  Shaking with my anxiety. Wondering if I had had a right to say something.   But after a few days, I'm able to let it go. It's those times when I don't stand up for myself that I'm haunted.

I want to stand up more for myself.  I want to do it in a way that's respectful (not for their sake, but because that's who I want to be), dignified, and maintains my integrity.  I want to put a stop to being bullied.  I want to learn to speak up.  I don't want to live with my regrets or my feelings that if I don't stand up for myself, I'm devaluing myself.  If I can't defend myself, who will?  I want to be stronger.


  1. But you couldn't have stood for yourself precisely because of the lack of resources and role models. I truly think that standing up for oneself is a learned skill and it requires practice. Why do people have fire drills? So they know what to do when there's an emergency. Except that our parents never did that for us. So when our "emergencies" (someone overstepping our boundaries, making a rude remark and so on) happen we don't know how to react. Still, we can all learn together.

    1. You are right. I think I can be a little hard on myself. This is a skill that requires practice.

  2. Consider that you might have stood up for yourself by acting like it didn't hurt you, and laughed. Why give her that vulnerability as well? The room might have fell quiet as you fell apart. To me, you did the right thing in that moment. If she matters enough to you, perhaps talk with her at a later date, when it suits YOU, not her!

    1. Trisha, that's a good point and something I will have to think about.
      Regardless, I should've confronted her at some point. I think, even at that moment, I wished I'd just said something about it not being very funny. She has a habit of picking on people's physical appearances for a laugh and I think it's childish, bullying behavior. When she does it now, I refuse to laugh, but I want to get to the point where I tell her I think it's not very kind.

  3. Hugs Jessie, Bullies look for those they consider vulnerable. Perhaps what you resent is that feeling of vulnerability? (IMO you don't want to be hard.) My counselor was totally dismayed when I told him I could count on one hand how many times I stood up for myself, I was 45 at the time. He took on the task of teaching me to stand up for myself by pushing me to standup for myself with him. I don't recommend starting with a dragon to learn how to stand up for yourself. How about in a grocery line if someone tries to step in front of you saying, "Excuse me but that is not ok?" I learned with people that were safe and wouldn't eat me. I am also learning that as my confidence grows bullies mean less and less to me. The bully is trying to score a hurt reaction. I now practice comebacks for stuff I know will come up again and again. (Bullies really are very predictable.) The other day someone 'playfully' hit me. I automatically said out loud, "Don't hit me." I will also plan not to be next to that person. I am learning to standup for myself more and more. Hugs, learn what you can from what happened before, have comebacks ready, and practice with safe people first. You can do this. If you feel I am trying to fix things and disagree with me, delete this. You can start with standing up to me if you feel my comment is not ok.

    1. Oh, Ruth, I agree with you completely. Most of your suggestions I've actually been implementing recently. I've been trying to stand up to the periphery people in my life. And I've been working on steeling myself and having comments ready so I don't feel like I've been surprise attacked. I'm working on it...but as you know, it's hard work.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughts.