One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was when I was in kindergarten. I must have been only about four or five-years-old. We were lining up to go out to the playground at lunch time and I was desperate to go to the toilet. A rather runny Number Two. I tried to tell the teacher, but she just told me to wait. I begged her to let me go, but she just told me to be quiet. And then I pooed my pants.
The shame I felt at that moment I can still feel to this day. I was so ashamed, in fact, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to my teacher. So, I just let the stinking mess sit in my pants.
Hours later, in the classroom, the teacher’s voice boomed out: ‘who has done the poo in their pants?’ My shame rose to my throat and enveloped me. I wished the floor could swallow me up. Now I was way too scared to speak out.
The teacher lined us up and went from one child to the next, conducting an inspection of our pants. I was one of the last in line. The minutes ticked by like hours.
She pulled up my dress, yanked my undies away from my bottom, as my friends (both boys and girls) looked on. ‘Ah, it’s you!’ she said. My humiliation was both public and complete.
When I was in Primary and High School I perfected the art of people pleasing. I was a master of camouflage, at fitting in. I morphed into whoever I needed to be to gain approval. I agreed with others’ opinions, rather than voice my own. I was the troublemaker to get brownie points from the rebellious cool kids. I was the empathetic listener who showed some interest in the nerdy ones. I managed to offend no-one and was accepted by all. But I never felt like I belonged. I always felt like the outsider.
I smoked cigarettes aged 14, because I thought it made me look cool and talked back to teachers. I played the tough girl act with ease and was always in trouble. But inside of me was a frightened little girl. I wasn’t even aware she was there. She was well hidden beneath an invisible cloak of shame. Shame that I wasn’t good enough.
As a teenager, I went into a relationship with a boy and when he left me I replaced him with the next one. When that relationship ended, I found his replacement too. And then I did the same again. It was the best painkilling remedy. The pain of abandonment numbed by each substitute guy.
By the time I met my Ex, I’d not been alone in years. And like the others, I needed him to blot out the pain of the boyfriend who’d left before him. The common theme throughout all, was my propensity to want to ‘fix’ the guys. Whatever their flaws, or at least the ones I perceived them to have.
It was subtle with the first boyfriend, but I graduated up in this behaviour, with each one. I had no idea who I was. But I was an expert on them and how to mould them into ‘better men’. Someone who would be perfect for me. If only they’d change X or Y.
When I met my Ex I don’t think I even liked him that much. But that didn’t seem to matter. The chemistry between us was intense and the strength with which it pulled me towards him was magnetic. My stomach was full of butterflies whenever I saw him. This made me sure he was Mr Right.
I now know that I mistook these physical feelings and the ‘fireworks’ for love. And once the drama kicked in, this notion was only cemented further. For it allowed me to play the role I needed to play. The Rescuer. His Savior.
My Ex blamed his moods on a difficult childhood. One I couldn’t know, as I had grown up a ‘spoilt brat’ with a ‘silver spoon’ in my mouth. His last girlfriend was unfaithful to him, he said. He was out of work because it was a run of unfair bad luck. Nothing was his fault. And I started to believe that because I could see the damaged boy beneath the angry man. But in my mind, he just needed me to help him heal his past and bring his charming side back out.
So, I did what I was now an expert at doing and morphed into anything I could, to try to please him. To show him I wasn’t ‘like all the other girls before’. To show him I had enough love to fix his damaged soul.
All he needed was for me to love him more, no matter what he did. To show him I’d never leave him or betray him, no matter what happened. And it worked. Mr Right came back. Those wonderful fireworks could go off again. And he’d bathe me in his sunshine once more. So, I stayed when I should have run a mile. It almost cost me my life.
It took me many attempts to leave for good. On average, it takes a woman 7 times to leave an abusive relationship. And that’s when I found that scared little girl inside, wrapped up in her cloak of shame. When I was alone for the first time in years, with no drama to hide the fact she was there.
I finally allowed myself to be still. It was hard at first. For stillness exposes the emotions we’ve tried so hard to push deep down. It exposes all the shame we have inside. The shame that we’re not good enough. The shame that we’re a bad person. The shame that we are unlovable. The same shame I felt in that teacher’s line up as a small child.
But until I embraced this scared, vulnerable child inside, I was never going to heal. I knew that. I had to face down this shame. I had to learn to stop that voice inside my head chastising me for everything I did. To learn I can do stupid things (and believe me I’m a master of that), but that doesn’t mean that I am stupid.
I had to understand that it was shame that was making me desperate for validation. And seeking to appease and please, even someone who abused me. The feelings of shame made me feel vulnerable and vulnerability scared me.
Even if I showed my Ex my vulnerable side, it was later used as a weapon against me. So, there was no trust. Without trust, you can’t be vulnerable and true to who you are. Without vulnerability and trust you can’t forge a deeper connection with someone. I was never going to be able to do that with him.
But allowing myself to be vulnerable took huge courage. When I first met the man I’m married to now, I tried hard to push him away. Here was someone who was kind to me and who’d never hurt me. So, I knew it was safe to show him the real me, including that scared little girl inside. But I wasn’t used to that.
For a long time, it filled me with fear. What if my flaws repulsed him? What if he walked away? So, I pushed him away. Now I was the one creating drama. To try to cause the break up I feared, before he abandoned me. But one day, he said to me ‘you know, I’m not going anywhere’.
It took time, but little by little I got more comfortable with it. I let go and let him see the real me. And by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with each other, we built trust. Trust then led to the deep connection we still have today. And is what liberated that scared little girl inside. She threw away that cloak of shame and now comes fearlessly out to play.
Originally published at www.beingunbeatable.com