Years ago, I had a sharp, entirely uncalled-for reaction to a child-rearing decision made by my sister-in-law. She hadn’t asked for my advice; I was not kind, and she was hurt. I apologized and she forgave, but the hardness of my response stuck with me and, over days and months, it hardened some more until it felt like a stone in my gut.
I had a reputation in our family, in my work, and even with my friends, for being the one who said the tough things, who didn’t pull any punches, who was ‘brutally honest.’ I’d worn that role for years, with something like pride in my own steely spine and refusal to back down on anything. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt exhausted and terrible about myself.
There’s a quote from the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron about how, when we protect ourselves, that protection becomes “like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” I came across that while I was struggling through that period in my life, and a light went on. I’d spent so much effort trying to be the kind of person I thought I should be — trying to be more: more decisive, more resolute, more unflappable, and, ultimately, I suppose, more resistant to being hurt.
Once I stopped pushing so hard to be my idea of a ‘better’ version of myself, I felt free. I felt softer and stronger. I was more able to notice and tend to myself without needing to prove or fix anything, internally or externally.
Over time, I’ve come to accept and genuinely love who I am without caveats. Indeed, I am outspoken. I am tough. I am comfortable making decisions that others find difficult. But I hold those qualities lightly now — none of that entirely defines me; I don’t have to strive to be a certain way all the time. That shift came with approaching myself with more gentleness, and that opened up space for me to connect with more sensitivity and richness with others.
We’re never going to be happy with every response and behaviour we have in life; I certainly hope I’m always awake to working on something inside myself. But now when I look in the mirror, I see someone I like and love. I am enough — even on the tough days.
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