A few months ago I was rear-ended on the freeway. For a few seconds, I was completely blinded by the sun as I headed west at sunset, so I was driving extra carefully and began to slow down. It was that moment when my husband loudly screamed my name over and over. Thinking I was about to hit the hidden car in front of me, I broke. The car who had been riding very close behind me, causing my husband to scream, slammed into me.
It was jarring, unavoidable, and not really my fault.
A memory arose for me as I was driving that day. I remember saying to my mom at the age of 15, while she was teaching me how to drive her stick shift, that I thought the most difficult thing about driving was when the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t see. I said, “don’t you think, Mom?” to which she replied a flat, “No, I don’t.” She wasn’t able to be validating or understanding. But for me, the sun was the hardest thing.
There were a few moments growing up that ended with me really doubting myself and my own warning signals, my own intuition, my own reality, and my own sense of self. I often traded my gut instincts for others’ instincts and also forgot to put myself into a pocket for safe-keeping. I was lost but unaware.
In many ways, it’s all coming back to me now. I’ve been told that we continue to encounter the same lessons until we learn them. Nowadays, I don’t ask people questions to hear that they agree with me. I know it’s okay to have a different experience. I can validate my own experience. This ability gives me the freedom to validate more easily the experiences of others. I know that your experience doesn’t need to mirror mine. I have compassion on those who have personality disorders, especially when they need others to mirror them completely in order to feel alive and whole.
My mom needed and expected me to mirror her – anything less seemingly felt like an affront. I tried my best for a long time. I remember once choreographing a dance to a well-known, popular song that I loved at the time. I loved the dance I had made, too, and I was so proud of it! My mom was not impressed. She disliked the song, and suggested I use another one that she liked from her era. I did. I loudly and also ashamedly blasted her song as I practiced “my” dance in my school’s dance studio. At the time, I felt like I had to do this. I wish someone had questioned me about my process or turned me around a little. (“Why are you choreographing to this outdated song of your mother’s?” seems like a fair question.) This experience was pivotal for me and marked a time when I began to quickly exchange myself for another version. This pattern repeated for so long. But… I’m learning that I am still the first girl, the girl who knew and picked the song. I am the girl who often gave myself up but now I realize I can pick up the pieces and reclaim myself again.
Sometimes I am conflicted about the need to thoroughly define myself: does it even matter if I defer to another person? Is it a real problem? Does it even matter that I know what I like? I believe it does. Without a clear sense of self, even my mistakes are inauthentic.
In this new “woke” state, I have recognized many times that I have been inauthentic — times that I have taken another’s words as my own thoughts when they weren’t, making decisions I would have done much more slowly on my own, acting harshly or abruptly when really I wanted to take some space or get more information.
I know that I cannot prevent myself from being blinded at times — forces more powerful than I am, like the sun, will sometimes get in the way. Sometimes people blindside me with their intensity, expectations, or criticism. At times I’ve felt unable to find my way. I believe that God wants us to be authentic and that He helps us to uncover our true selves over time.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12
Learning how to self-validate, often by examining the fallout of what happened when I didn’t, has been invaluable in my journey towards wholeness & authenticity. Please share if you can relate to times when you felt unable to be authentic and how this shaped your consequent decisions and sense of self.