It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin. I still can’t say that I am completely there, but happily I have made tremendous strides in that direction over the years. I do find it sad that it took me until midlife to really accept myself. I sometimes feel like I’ve caused myself a lot of unnecessary pain and wasted a lot of my life by not learning some lessons sooner. But, we learn what we learn when we learn it. Still, I look around me and see all the people struggling with the same problem of not accepting themselves and I feel sad for them too. Especially when I see it in people who are much older than I am. What a shame to reach the end of your life having never accepted who God made you to be. I don’t want to be one of those people.
Put simply, I am an introvert. Though I enjoy a good conversation with an interesting person from time to time, I prefer…I need…to have a lot of time to myself. I used to feel guilty about that and even thought there must be something wrong with me. After all, look around you. Society constantly shows us people having fun and enjoying life in the company of other people; groups of people in many cases. We see this on TV shows, in advertisements and on social media all the time. We see this with some of our acquaintances and family members. Some people can’t seem to do anything or go anywhere without taking other people with them and they have to always be doing something with someone. Sitting at home with a book is not an option for them.
For example, my husband is an odd mix of introverted and extroverted. He is much more outgoing than I am: first to smile at people and say hello, finds it very easy to strike up a conversation with strangers. You get the idea. However, nowadays even he prefers to spend a lot of time at home doing things he enjoys doing rather than be out doing things with other people. He has gone out with other people to events (still does at times) and that has gone well on occasion, but mostly, he has slowly lost his taste for going out and doing things with people, preferring to stay home and work on his hobbies.
I should mention that he has had some bad experiences that have helped push him into losing his taste for adventure outside the home. One good example of this comes to mind. Though my husband has always been more of a people person than I am, he doesn’t enjoy group activities, preferring to do things with people one on one. In this particular instance, he invited an acquaintance to go to a car show with him. He thought it would be a good opportunity for the two of them to get to know each other better while enjoying a mutual interest. The day before the event, they spoke on the phone to arrange when they would leave and who would drive. The acquaintance told my husband that he (the acquaintance) would drive because there were several other people that wanted to go and his vehicle was bigger. This man had invited several other people without checking with my husband first! It turned out to be two couples and my husband that went. Instead of getting to know this other man better, my husband ended up being a bored and frustrated fifth wheel on a trip that HE initiated!
He eventually discovered that this was not unusual. This man and his wife don’t do anything without a group of other people around. Needless to say, he has not been anxious to invite this man to any more events or even spend much time with him. He knows he won’t enjoy it, so why bother?
We all know what we enjoy and what we don’t enjoy. Mostly by experience. It’s not as though I have never gone to any parties or events. I have. That’s how I know I don’t enjoy them. Yet I had years and years of listening to people try to talk me into going to something I didn’t want to go to. “Come on! You’ll enjoy it!”, “Don’t be so antisocial. Come and have fun!”, Or even, “It’s a bridal shower/baby shower for (insert a family member’s name her). You should go!”, said with a look that was meant to induce guilt and shame.
I’ve heard it all. They all act like I have never tried going to anything before in my life and believe that if I would only try it, I’d like it. Is it really so hard to understand that I don’t want to go because I have tried it, so I know I won’t like it? It must be, because I’ve heard a lot of the same attempts at persuasion and shaming over the years. But, that is society. If you don’t fit in with them and their routines, traditions and expectations, you will be treated to this kind of scene frequently. It’s something you should expect to happen but, more importantly, something you need to learn to stand up to, preferably without allowing it, or people’s reactions to your refusals, to upset you. That requires self acceptance.
In my case, eventually people finally realized their pressure techniques weren’t going to work and they stopped inviting me to things. I could feel bad about that, and I did for a while, but now I don’t. After years of feeling guilty and defective, I’m now just relieved to not have to go through the whole invite/refusal cycle anymore.
We get this pressure to do things we don’t want to do from a lot of places. Social media is a big source of it, with people posting the best moments of their lives for all to see and envy. Problem is, it’s not the truth. All those nice vacation pics don’t show the kids getting tired and grumpy on the way there, the luggage getting lost, the traffic jam that caused them to miss their flight, the dirty hotel room, the long lines at the park, and any of a host of other things that can and often do go wrong in life during a vacation. There is always more to any story than what people show or tell. Nobody and no event is perfect. Still, we can look at these things and feel left out, and that can lead to feelings of loneliness.
Personally, I handled the social media problem by getting rid of it. I got tired of wasting my time looking at things that either bored me (I really don’t care that someone had a cheese sandwich for lunch or that their dog pooped on the couch) or made me feel bad. However, though getting rid of Facebook and the like helped the situation, I came to realize that, ultimately, I needed to get myself to a place where I accepted myself and lived the life I enjoyed no matter what I saw and heard around me. How I feel about and live my life shouldn’t have anything to do with how other people are living theirs or what their opinion of mine is.
I mentioned in another post that I sometimes struggle with loneliness. I’ve always felt that was strange considering I’m a married introvert who prefers to have a lot of time alone. It took a long time, but I finally came to understand that I don’t really want what I thought I wanted. I don’t want a lot of friends. I don’t want to be out doing things with a bunch of people. What was happening is that I was being influenced by the things and people around me. Society tells us we should be a certain way and live a certain way and when we don’t, we can feel unwanted and left out, and that can make us feel alone and lonely. That’s what I think was happening to me.
I’m happy to say that, at this point in my life, my attitude is much improved. I realize now that I don’t want to be out doing all the things, with all the people, that society tries to tell me I should be doing. Fact is, I’m happiest here at home, curled up with a good book, working on my art, writing, sewing, building miniatures, playing musical instruments, spending time with my animals, and walking in nature and taking photos of the beauty I see all around me. I have so much that I enjoy doing. When I’m doing those things, I am happy. I’m content. I don’t feel defective, unwanted or alone. I started to notice that it was only when I turned my attention out there…to the media, social media, or other people’s opinions that I started to feel bad about my life because they were always, in some way, telling me I wasn’t okay as I am. I no longer listen to them.
I’ve gotten rid of all social media except a few Youtube videos from time to time when I want to relax or I need information on how to do something. I watch very little television. I only subscribe to helpful or educational magazines. I enjoy staying home, so I don’t have a lot of outside social interaction, but when I do, I take everything people say with a grain of salt. I no longer believe that other people are better or smarter than I am. I now know that everyone has issues that they are struggling with and no one is qualified to tell someone else how they should think and behave. They can give their opinion, but I don’t have to live my life by it.
I’ve come to see that when I am unhappy or discontented, it is because of something I am doing or thinking. My focus is on the wrong place and I am frequently allowing my imagination to create awful story lines based on what I see and here out there in the world, especially when it comes to thinking about the future. However, I find that when I mind my own business and keep my focus on God and my immediate surroundings, in the here and now, I don’t struggle nearly as much with being content with how God made me and what He has given me. In fact, I consider myself quite blessed.
As I said, though I am not 100% there when it comes to accepting myself, I am much more relaxed and content than I used to be. I no longer dislike myself. I no longer think there is something wrong with me. The pressure to be like everyone else is gone. I don’t feel bad about not doing things that other people think I should do. I know myself and I know what will make me happy. They don’t. God made me to be me, not someone else, and I owe it to Him to be me.
Everyone should be who they were made to be instead of trying to conform to other people’s expectations. After all, the only One we have to answer to is God. You owe no one else any explanations for how you live. Stop worrying about what other people think and whether or not you fit it. Be you. If you are true to yourself, you will be a happier person. Happy people are loving and kind people. If the world needs anything, it needs more love and kindness. You can set a good example for others out there who are struggling by just being yourself.