The Things We Tolerate

I can’t look at this little girl without wanting to hug her and tell her she is enough

As a child, I learned that I was something to be tolerated. This notion colored every relationship I had. If you think you are barely tolerable, inversely, you will tolerate a lot of abuse from others because you understand what a burden you are. I spent most of my life apologizing for being who I was rather than acknowledging what I had to offer. Over my years in therapy, this paradigm has shifted for me. I am able to see what my gifts and strengths are and to value them. Don’t get me wrong. I know I have faults and hang ups and annoying habits too. I simply no longer think they outweigh my positive qualities. What I taught my children about themselves now also applies to me: “You aren’t a bad person. You are a good person with bad moments.”

Part of the beauty of reaching midlife, if you’re lucky, is your priorities shift. You become less concerned with what anyone else thinks and more focused on what you need, want, and are willing to work for to make the rest of your life worthwhile. When I combine what I’ve learned about myself through therapy with what I’m learning about life by virtue of being of a certain age, it’s like having a FastPass at Disneyworld. I am ready to jump to the front of the queue. I’ve spent long enough working hard for others, bending myself into a pretzel to make sure I am bearable, while not asking often enough for what I needed for myself. I’ve come to the place where I acknowledge if I’m not worth the effort to someone, then I don’t need to stay with them. Tolerance works both ways. I am free to choose what I will put up with from others.

Lately I’ve been taking stock of the relationships in my life. I can put them into categories. There are the people who like me both for and in spite of who I am and the people who see my downsides more than my upsides. I suppose there are also some people who walk the line of liking me most of the time and yet expecting me to be something I am not the rest of the time, but I can deal with those more nebulous relationships later. My goal right now is to jettison the relationships that make me feel worse about myself, the ones where I do all the compromising and giving and they do all the “tolerating” and taking. Those relationships aren’t serving me. They never did. There is positivity in walking away from them if I can withstand the judgment and commentary from those I care about who will question my choice to do so. Can I be brave enough to stand confidently in my truth without reverting to old habits, wavering, and then capitulating in the face of dissenting opinions?

Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, but I am feeling a compelling pull to weed the garden of my relationships. I want a fresh start. The void left by the people I walk away from will be filled in time with new, life-affirming friends of my choosing. I need to trust the process, to know in my heart that eliminating those whose words and actions make me feel less will only bring me peace because, heaven knows, keeping them around has only mired me in self-doubt. I’m not something to be tolerated, and I don’t have to tolerate a life with those who think I am.

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.” ~Roy T. Bennett

Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait
Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait
My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.