I read the message. My heart started pounding, I felt slightly sweaty, a knot was building in my stomach. Nauseous. I felt like a child again, caught doing something I shouldn't be. Except I wasn't (I never had, I was far too good). My crime? I had made a choice that someone else disapproved of.
I was angry. Embarrassed. Scared. These emotions show up as a fight response for me. In my head, I planned all the things I'd like to say to them. How I'd show them, make them feel bad instead. They would regret this!
Or would they? The reality is though that I didn't, and I wouldn't, because I'm such a people pleaser. Despite being offended, I never want to upset the other person. I won’t show they've upset me. Instead, I either change my choice in line with theirs or I tell them I've changed my mind, but really, I'll do it in secret. I usually start to doubt myself.
Not this time though. I am a 41-year-old woman and I make my own choices and take responsibility for them. I am not afraid of other people and their perceptions of me. (It's taken me a long time to get here.)
It can be hard to trust yourself
If like me, you've spent a large proportion of your life trying to please others, to fit in or always ensuring you toe the party line it can be hard to trust yourself.
Over the last ten years or so I've been working towards understanding and trusting myself. I didn't even realise I was doing it at first. However, the last four years have been wholly conscious, where I've done a lot of shadow work (more on that another day).
I didn't trust myself because I knew I'd be rejected
After much work on myself, I came to realise one of my biggest challenges was that I didn't trust myself. For so long I'd been told what to do, what to believe. I constantly looked around at what other people were doing. I admired their courage but felt I couldn't do it myself. This caused no end of issues for me. There were folks in my life with whom I had no boundaries. There were people I hid myself from in case they didn't like the real me. I was scared of being myself in front of others because I knew they'd reject me; they'd told me that they would. My inner critic was shouting loud and clear.
But I was unhappy, living in fear of being found out, worrying about upsetting or disappointing others. I was tired of lying, remembering who knew what. But how to change?
How I learnt to trust myself
As I said above, I accidentally started learning how to trust myself. By which I mean, it wasn't the intended outcome. I just wanted an outlet for my feelings. A private space where no one would comment or judge me.
I started with journaling. My journal was somewhere I could completely be myself, share my opinions and feelings and not be afraid. I hid my journal and used it when everyone else was asleep. Sometimes I wrote pages and pages, other times a few notes. I meditated before on some occasions and I wrote furiously when emotions were high. I said what I really thought and didn't hold back.
This process helped me formulate my thoughts. I didn't listen to my intuition directly, I didn't think about that at all. I didn't need to trust myself because it was just me, myself and I.
Sharing my opinions with others
Once I'd started forming my own thoughts and opinions (in my thirties!) in my journal, I started tentatively sharing them. Mostly with a couple of really trusted friends. I am grateful to those people who encouraged me to form my own beliefs and values in a loving environment. I was able to ask those questions that seemed basic or silly. In addition, I realised how often other people felt the same or had experienced similar. I wasn't alone and maybe, more importantly, they didn't think my ideas were bad, rebellious or stupid. In fact, they often agreed.
From there I sought out people similar to me. I read around topics and researched. This came to a head when I was pregnant with my eldest. There were certain things I wanted to do as a mum including breastfeeding, reusable nappies and gentle parenting. These options weren't entirely 'out there' but they were still not mainstream.
Big life events are often the catalyst for change. For me, I now had responsibility for someone else, I suddenly knew my own mind when it came to looking after them. My intuition was getting stronger - and I knew I could trust it.
It's OK to have a different opinion
Over time I've met people with whom I have differing views. I have learnt two BIG lessons. The first is that I could have a different view and that was OK. The second is life is full of opportunities to judge and be judged. You can't please everyone and nowadays I abide by the rule "as long as it's not hurting anyone, it's none of my business" mantra. There's too much judgement without me adding to it.
"Love is the answer to all the questions,.at least in my heart" Jack Johnson
I've had to let some people go in my life because our views are so opposing but on the whole, it's been done with kindness. There are also folks who have decided that my views are too different to theirs. This has hurt (a lot in some cases) but I don't want people in my inner circle who don't accept me for who I am.
On one hand, I still feel mean and guilty but then I remember I'm not responsible for other people's reactions. But that doesn't mean I can't treat them compassionately whilst still holding my boundaries.
I've found it easier to hold boundaries for my girls, to treat them with unconditional love and respect and teach them it's ok to have their own ideas, beliefs and values, even if they're different to mine. In most cases, we can have a talk about it and I'm open to having my mind changed and admitting I've made a mistake.
I think in the 80s/90s we were told to respect our elders but back then that really meant agreeing with them. Or at least that's what I found. It means I didn't know what I thought, I couldn't have a meaningful conversation and I was scared to disagree. I think we handle it better now.
As I chatted through this post with my friend we talked about informed choice and educated decision making. The beauty of hearing other people's opinions is that they give us a different perspective. This might strengthen our own resolve or might sway our own thoughts as we discover more information. This is where we can tap into our intuition and ask ourselves: what do I think? We can foster this critical thinking in others by asking them what they really think too.
Process your fears
In my experience the biggest barrier to trusting yourself is fear. By acknowledging what you’re feeling and exploring it you can make the fear smaller. You can start small e.g. do I prefer my cream on top of the jam or underneath? It sounds silly but these things can cause great debate! It’s OK to do things differently and to state your opinion. Observe what it feels like in your body - for me, when I trust myself, I feel calm, I know in my bones it’s the right choice, even if I feel nervous voicing it.
Each time it goes well you will strengthen your intuition and make that fear small. You can trust yourself to make good decisions which opens you up to creating more opportunities. A win-win situation.