“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz
I was a chunky, shy little girl who was attached to my mom’s leg. She was my protector and served as a source of unconditional love.
As I left my mom’s side and went off to school, I encountered many new faces that introduced me to criticism and judgment.
Being judged by your physical attributes as an adult, in a society that constantly strives for physical perfection, is hard enough, but understanding those judgments as a little girl can be quite the challenge.
At such a young age, I had no way to process the mean words tossed my way, so I built a shell around myself and often wished I could become invisible to avoid hurting. I tried to carry on as if others’ words could not impact me.
What I quickly learned as I went through life is that we all encounter many people along the way who will attempt to tear us down and break our spirit. What I couldn’t realize then is that it’s truly up to us to decide how we allow others to make us feel and whether or not we allow them to shape us into a person we are not.
That little girl in a shell grew older, moving on through middle school, high school, college, and the career world post graduation.
I encountered each day, each year, and each new opportunity with the same feeling of insecurity that formed in that little girl so many years ago.
Even with all of the growth I’d experienced as I went through relationships, graduated college, lived on my own, and accomplished many goals, I somehow still felt like that vulnerable little girl who wished to remain unnoticed and wanted to crawl into a shell to avoid judgment.
What makes the feeling worse is that those judgments don’t end when we leave childhood. They are simply just beginning. We will always encounter critics along our journey through life.
When I began college, I joined practically every activity related to my major. In my personal life, I went on dates and tried to play the confident girl with a smile.
After I graduated from college, I had to go on job interviews and pretend I was self-assured. Once I got the job, I had to give presentations, speak at meetings, and continue to fulfill my role with confidence.
I pushed myself to achieve and continue moving forward, but I never felt truly fulfilled. I still remained insecure and began to question why I felt that way, why I was always stuck in my own head, and why I seemed to carry that shell on my back.
Ultimately, I realized that I felt insecure because I was carrying around the words and judgments I’d heard at different points in my life as if they were written into the code of my DNA.
I allowed people who held no significance in my life to take from who I am and hinder the person I have come to be.
We have all had someone say something that does not reflect who we truly are, but sometimes we give it so much power that we allow it to define us.
Because we are human, it is not always easy to instantly deflect how certain words make us feel, but we can search within ourselves to recognize when they become detrimental to who we are and how we live our lives.
Have you ever let judgments or criticism from your past hinder who you are in the present? Have you allowed those words to impact what you are truly capable of? Now is the time to take back that power.
Bring Those Feelings to the Surface
It wasn’t until I was 25 years old that I could dig deep enough to peel away the layers I had built over the years and be honest with myself. Those layers masked the pain that had followed me wherever I seemed to go.
If we are not honest with ourselves, it’s easier to remain in that shell and continue on as if those feelings don’t exist. We then relinquish our control and convince ourselves that maybe we are that person as we continue on the same path.
Share Your Feelings With Someone Close to You
Oftentimes, we find shame in the criticisms and judgments we’ve faced, so, we keep them to ourselves. After all, they’ve already hindered us enough. Why expose such raw feelings?
Saying it out loud to someone who genuinely cares and supports you can minimize some of the vulnerability you feel from those who have been so quick to judge you.
It can be therapeutic in not only bringing it to the surface, but in sharing it with another person who can be there for you and serve as a support system.
Surround Yourself With the Right People/Eliminate the Wrong Ones
While I did not have a choice to be surrounded by those kids in school, I have discovered the power in surrounding myself with positive people who have my best interests at heart.
It’s not always easy to let go of people we form relationships with, but if those relationships enforce the negative feelings we are trying to release ourselves from, they only become counterproductive.
People who truly care about us and deserve to be in our lives will not attempt to bring us down or carry the same judgments the people of our past have carried.
Remind Yourself Who You Are
It’s easy to get so caught up in what others say that we begin to see ourselves in that light. Don’t lose sight of who you truly are and the unique qualities you’ve built within yourself.
As I go about my days, form new relationships, take on new challenges in my career, encounter obstacles, and celebrate accomplishments in life, I take the time to remind myself of who I’ve come to be on my own terms, not who other people have deemed me to be.
I find that the more I change my old habits of thinking as that little girl with the shell, the easier it is for me to truly be the person I’ve chosen to be.
It took me a long time, but I was finally able to recognize that the little girl with the shell is not who I am today. She will always be a part of me, but I cannot allow her to dominate my days or I will not be living up to my full potential.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey so far, it’s that people can only take from you what you allow. If you allow others to define who you are, you are giving them the power to dictate where your path will lead.
Photo by craigCloutier
About Jamie Hufnagle
Jamie Hufnagle is a Philadelphia native and writer with a passion for love, life, and her little dog, Webster. With an ultimate goal to write a book in the near future, her career includes technical writing, greeting card verse, magazines, poetry, short stories, and original blog posts on a variety of life topics. Connect with Jamie on Facebook or LinkedIn.