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Oh, For Shame! or The Life of a Lemming

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I admit it. I'm wrong! About a lot of things. But I'm tired of feeling ashamed because of it!

OK - hold the phone. Let's back this up a bit so you get an idea of where I'm coming from here.

I'm a pretty opinionated I wasn't always like this. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I haven't had much of an opinion at all. Or if I did, I was lead to believe that what I thought didn't really matter. No one ever said to me "your opinion doesn't matter" (in so many words) - but that is honestly what I believed.

I believed that if I didn't like NKOTB when I was in Grade 5 that the other kids would laugh at me. Sure I had a mad crush on Joey at the time, but I basically started liking their music because everyone else did too.

As I advanced to highschool and my peers became involved and opinionated about politics, pop culture, boy and drugs, I also stayed the course and followed step with what everyone else was doing and saying for fear of standing out or, in the worst possible case scenario, being asked to defend my position on something.

University was more of the same - I became an expert in writing the papers that the professor wanted to read, and giving the answers in class that my T.A.s wanted to hear. Socially I was no better - I went to raves because they were "cool" at the time, wore baggy pants and t-shirts and hung out with the wrong kinds of people - all because I lacked the ability to assert myself.

What I didn't realize about being a lemming, however, is that it had the opposite effect of what I wanted it to. Pretending to be the same as everyone else doesn't make people like you more (as I thought it would), in fact, it makes people like you less because you are no longer an interesting person with your own thoughts and opinions.

Now, those of you reading this are probably thinking that this behaviour is fairly classic. It's just bowing to peer pressure the same way all young people do. But in my case, this "lemming-ness", this desire to jump off a cliff because everyone else was doing it, went far deeper than the standard pressure from others to conform. I was so afraid of being shamed for my opinions, for being me, that I opted not to have any to avoid being chastised for my beliefs. I opted not to have a self because it was easier not to.

I wasn't born with this fear. In fact - if I look at my personality now as my "birthright" personality, I never should have had any problems with a fear of self-expression. I am loud and outspoken by nature. I am a proud person and I love being in the spotlight. I can be brash, but I am also humble and gentle when I need to be. And now I can honestly say that I am not ashamed of any of those traits. But I am still working on honing my abilities to be those things when I need to and want to because every so often the old feelings of fear and embarrassment will creep up on me.

So where did these feelings come from? Quite honestly, they came from being teased by my own parents as a child. I never felt comfortable at home talking about anything that was near and dear to my heart because of how it might be received. I remember my very first school-girl crushes - how tender and vulnerable a young girl's heart is at that point in her life. And how my mother used that for her own amusement with her friends who would then tease me about "being in love" and "who's the boy now?"...I was mortified. I remember shopping for my first bra - almost in a full B cup by the time it happened because I was chubby, and my mother telling me that we were going bra shopping because I was flopping around all over the place when I ran to the car after school. She then bought me 3 bras, wrapped them up like a birthday present and gave them to me to open in front of my family and younger brothers...I was horrified. When I first got my period I was at my babysitter's house for the day and had already endured her telling my younger brothers and her kids why I had opted not to go swimming that day. I had lived through her handing me a diaper-like pad while my brothers and their friends ran around the swimming pool singing "Jenn got her period, Jenn got her period". But the worst came when I finally got up the nerve to tell my mom. My grandmother was in town visiting, and though my mother didn't make the announcement at the dinner table, she may as well have as she hugged me and fussed around me about how I was now "a woman" in front of dad and grandma...I wanted to die.

After puberty, it became about my choices of friends. Always one to choose the outsiders (why not? I was one myself), my mother never approved of who I was hanging out with. They were always too loud, too silly, too immature, or not from the "right side of the tracks". Of course my opinions of my friends never mattered all that much. I was told who I was and wasn't allowed to fraternize with.

There was also my precociousness. My love of language and desire to try new words and phrases. I'm sure many people have experienced the embarrassment of saying the wrong word at the wrong time, or using it where it doesn't belong. But today that is still one of my biggest fears because of being laughed at mercilessly when I made a mistake. It's a wonder I wanted to learn anything at all.

Standard stuff? Maybe. All part of growing up? Sure. But I think it could have been handled differently. Because since all of these things were happening to ME, it would have been nice if I was actually involved in any of it. If my opinions and thoughts and feelings were ever cared about or taken into consideration. If I felt like maybe, just maybe, my life and my deeply personal experiences weren't being used as entertainment for someone else.

So I conformed. I became the same as everyone else. I used the same words, watched the same tv shows and lost my opinions. And I got fat because I also lost the ability to connect with myself. I no longer knew how. I ate in the closet to feel good about myself and because it was the one thing I could control that was my little secret. The one place I didn't have to conform. I didn't have to tell anyone and if I was careful, no one would ever know...except for my expanding waistline.

The only things I was fairly adamant about were:
1. I hated exercise and always would, and
2. I couldn't ever lose weight because I was destined to be fat

So here I sit today, a lot of personal work later, re-learning how to connect with myself, discovering who I really am and caring for that little girl who has been so ashamed and embarrassed in the past - adamant about many things, highly opinionated, blog-writing and bossy (sometimes), and this is what I think:

1. I LOVE exercise - and I will not be embarrassed about admitting that I was wrong about this in the past (even though I know my mother will call me out on my complete distaste of it before - because that is what she does).
2. I can and I will lose the weight. All of it. Because I don't need it anymore.
3. I am an interesting person BECAUSE I have opinions. Like them or lump them, my opinions are part of who I am and therefore they are VALID.
4. I am pro Obama, I like Lady-Gaga but I think she's nuts, and Real Simple is the best magazine on the shelf.
5. Raves are horrid and I never want to attend another one in my life - which is good cause I think that fad is finally over now.
6. Lemmings are cute, but dumb.
7. I will LISTEN to my children - their thoughts, their feelings, their opinions. And I will empathize with their hearts and minds before I make comments that could hurt or shame them.
8. I am still terrified about feeling like I don't know something in a crowd and my first instinct is to nod and say "oh yeah, I like that" or "oh yeah, I know what you're talking about" but I am consciously working on admitting when I don't know something or when I do have an opinion about something.
9. I will be friends with people I like and who like me - regardless of which side of the tracks they come from.
10. Joey is still the cutest New Kid emoticon
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • WYND10
    LOVE this. Be your beautiful self. It's glorious to see. And I was always a Jon fan. :)
    2783 days ago
    Wonderful blog! Very honest and fearless - I especially identified with not wanting to seem like you don't know something in front of a crowd - like the latest band or show or whatever. I was always like that too - "Oh yeah, I love (insert band name that I've never even heard of)!" So silly. Anyway, great job!
    2789 days ago
    I just love how you evaluate things and how you get to the heart of the matter and you are so eloquent and fearless.

    Keep on singing out loud. I just love it.

    2789 days ago
    A fun read! I'm pro-Obama as well... in fact, I think I'm probably the only person in the state of Idaho who voted for him. (In fact, our city became infamous when schoolkids began chanting "kill Obama" on the bus.) When I say something positive about our president, I get looks of horror and the occasional "Don't you realize he's the Anti-Christ prophesied in the Bible?" (Yes, seriously.)

    2790 days ago
    It takes a strong individual to do the soul searching you have obviously done and come out stronger for doing it!
    I am so impressed by your ability to share this!!
    2790 days ago
  • MMS354
    Yikes, you had me cringing at those early days. But I'm thinking that all those embarassing moments and tough times have molded you into a really fascinating and strong person. You sound like the kind of girl I'd like to hang out with!
    2794 days ago
    Wow. So well put, my friend. Thank you so much for reminding me that as a mother I need to really watch what I say. My oldest is 9 1/2 and she still thinks boys are "icky", but I know puberty and first loves and boobs and training bras are just around the corner. Just one seemingly innocent joke or comment from a parent (or anyone, for that matter) can affect a child for life. I still remember being in Jr. High and struggling with my homework, feeling overwhelmed with everything and WANTING to do well, I just didn't know where to start. So, I just didn't do my homework at all (seriously, I think I had undiagnosed ADD but in the 70's and 80's it was called "lazy"). My Dad, out of frustration, lost his cool one night and called me "stupid". Just one time. I never ever forgot it and for a long time I believed it. I know that he never meant it and he was really proud of me.
    So thank you for yet another amazing blog! I will focus on keeping my mouth closed and my ears open when with my children!

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    2795 days ago
    You need to be proud of your opinions and not be ashamed for not thinking the same way everyone thinks. I am pro-Obama too. I was working at a cabinet company when he was running for president. I let everyone know I was voting for him even though everyone else was for McCain. I have always marched to the beat of a different drum so I didn't have a lot of friends in high school. Be pround and loud about who you are. Your opinion counts.
    2795 days ago
    Doesn't it feel GOOD to get these things off your chest!? It's obvious you are DETERMINED to do everything you can for your overall health & wellness. As parents we all make mistake and DON'T even realize it. Some more than others.....Try to have a soft heart and PUSH ON with your awesome goals in life!

    My Dad was an alcoholic/abuser, BUT he did spoil us on Christmas and taught us extreme work ethics.....learn from the negative and embrace the positive!

    PS- I LOVED NKOTB SO MUCH.....I knew I was going to marry one of them, but I had to break their hearts and marry my husband! emoticon
    2795 days ago
    So refreshing. You are doing awesome work, inside and out.
    2795 days ago
    You are really making such wonderful strides. I admire your strength and dedication!

    It is almost liked we lived the same life...Not only did my parents not care about my opinions, or what I had to say, my dad's favorite saying was, "put your hands in your lap, put your feet on the floor and shutta your mouth"....If your looked the phrase "Children are to be seen and not heard" in the dictionary, there would be a picture of my parents standing there!!

    Number 7 touched me the most, because I vowed, that if I did nothing else as a mother, I wanted to raise a confident child, who did not care what people thought about what he looked like or how loud and silly he was...I listened to everything he had to say as a child (sometimes I tuned him out) but I always cared...He is struggling today with the normal transition to adulthood, he is 22, and he was spoiled, sorry, I can't or won't take that back, but I know when he looks in the mirror he LOVES the person he sees...

    Thanks for letting me share in your means a lot to me!

    2795 days ago
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