How My Self-Destructive Behavior Saved Me

‘It’s better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not’

I can remember a time when it seemed the only way I could be loved was to be someone I was not. I learned early in my life I needed to act a certain way in order to be liked or accepted. Which only led to spending my twenties ‘shoulding’, ‘woulding’ and ‘coulding’ on myself. I thought the reason I was not more successful was because I was unlikable. In my brain, thoughts and questions manifested like, “I ‘should’ do this”, “I ‘should’ be making more money”, “If only I ‘would’ve’ said this”, “If only I ‘could’ be more creative”.

I was constantly comparing myself to other twenty-somethings; the ones getting married, graduating college after only four years (it took me 5 1/2), starting a new job, starting a family! They looked so happy and successful! At the time, I thought these were the adult things I was supposed to be doing. I thought these ‘adulting’ things were proof a person was ‘normal’, ‘successful’, ‘worthy’.

I consider myself very lucky to have come up through my twenties in a time BEFORE social media.

Back in the 1990’s, WITHOUT social media glamorizing everything and misleading people, I thought those twenty something peers of mine had their shit together! They were like idols to me. And I secretly hated them. I can’t imagine how unsuccessful and insignificant I would feel today comparing myself to another twenty-something’s perfectly filtered Instagram profile.

It’s not lost on me that I had many privilege’s growing up. White, middle class, sheltered small town in Wisconsin (no one goes to Wisconsin if they don’t have to). I had privilege; but I lacked self confidence.

My self confidence was wrapped up and defined by what I thought other people thought of me. I was constantly steering my communication, verbal and non verbal, in the direction of what I thought others wanted. I became quite observant of other people; listening to them, watching them, paying attention to their behaviors; I know, I sound like a stalker, but I was more like a chameleon. Changing my ‘color’ to fit the background I found myself. I was paying attention to what I thought the ‘color’ of the moment was, then I would change my ‘color’ to match. Hoping that would give me some self confidence.

I was damn good at ‘fitting in’; but I wasn’t fooling everyone. I certainly wasn’t fooling myself. If you’re really paying attention, you can smell a ‘fake’ person a mile away, I know I could. I was very envious of people that were comfortable in their own skin.

It took a long time and some pretty painful moments for me to become aware of the fact I was engaging in such self-destructive behavior. Once I had awareness, it took even longer to stop engaging in that self-destructive behavior. It took longer because I had no idea what behavior to fall back on! All I knew was how to be a chameleon; it was instinctual to me. If you took away my chameleon-like behavior I had no idea how to socialize!!

I’m not proud of this self-destructive behavior, but there’s no denying it. It’s a part of my past, so I might as well acknowledge it. The self-destructive behavior ended up teaching me a lot about my true self. The self-destructive behavior came from feeling like an ‘outsider’ in my family of origin, being told by family members to be a certain way and from being bullied by peers in grade school, middle school and high school. I constantly felt unappreciated and under attack; it was incredibly painful. So my amazing brain developed a coping mechanism that would keep me safe around other people. I became a chameleon so I didn’t have to experience the torture of isolation and rejection.

Mid-blog thought provoking questions:

When you first began reading this blog what did you think of the self destructive chameleon-like behavior? Did you judge me for it?

Did you relate to it?

Understanding how the behavior developed, do you have a different opinion?

What self-destructive behaviors did you engage in due to hardship?

Finally, as a late twenty-something I choose to get to know mySELF. I was done being fake. Because it’s fucking exhausting and extremely unfulfilling; but most importantly, I was ready to stop. After so many years of trying to be what I thought others wanted, I realized I had nothing to show for my hard work. It didn’t make sense to continue trying to be loved for something I wasn’t if I wasn’t getting anything out of it right? I was tired of betraying my SELF by trading her in for the chance of a high opinion or acceptance from someone else.

Little did I know at the time that before I could heal, I had to break.

If you would have asked me then “Do you really care about what they think of you?” I would have exclaimed “Fuck No!” in utter defense and disgust at the very suggestion that I invest any of my personal time and energy into what others might think of me; but the truth is I cared, I cared very much. In fact, I cared so much I dedicated ALL of my personal time and energy into what others thought of me; and apparently I also dedicated time and energy to disguising that self-destructive behavior from myself.

So, somewhere in my mid to late twenties, I started the long and painful journey of self discovery. I put my self-destructive behaviors under a microscope and studied them through different lenses. I put them on a sterile table and dissected them, surgically peeling away layer after painful fucking layer. It was unbearable; but my therapist said that’s how she knew I was doing the work of healing (fuck her).

The shame and embarrassment I felt about my behaviors was not a fucking day at the beach reading a self improvement book. It was choking down an enormous, uncomfortable piece of humble fucking pie. Let me tell you, taking accountability and being honest with yourself for your own self destructive behavior does NOT have an Easy Button. It takes a strong and courageous person to dive into their own shit, own it and consciously make a change.

I tried to give myself grace, but instead I was pretty hard on myself, pretty judgmental and critical towards myself…which only made suffering through my healing feel like watching a woman give birth in super slow-mo, painful and taking forever.

One day in the midst of slow walking through the painful marathon of shedding my ‘fake’ self and discovering my true self, I received magical advice at the most magical time. My kind and caring counselor said, “Jax, your brain and heart developed that self-destructive behavior as a means to protect you. Your brain and heart loved you so much it set up the only protection it could to keep you safe, even though it was self destructive it did its job of keeping you safe. So one day you could discover your truth and bloom. Be kind to your body for loving you so much that it sacrificed for you.”

I took her advice home and I unpacked every single fucking word. It was like going through a human shredder all over again; I was being so mean and disrespectful to myself for loving and taking care of me! SHAME. GUILT. EMBARRASSMENT. It was then I decided to actively love myself for doing the thing that I thought was best for me. That was the moment my self-confidence started to bloom.

Moving into creating myself and peering into the core of my truth, was NOT easy. Facing the fact I was playing the role of the kind of person I outwardly detested, a ‘fake’ person, was very humbling. However, I also knew, in order to fully have self awareness and begin healing, I had to admit to myself I was allowing myself to be who I claimed to detest…fake. That sucked. But this new self honesty I was experiencing was like fertilizer on my self-confidence….and I craved more and more.

Eventually my self-destructive behavior made sense to the part of my brain that needs to make sense of things. After being hurt over and over again by people at home and at school, lacking a support system or close friends, I learned being myself created more pain than if I just faked a persona. I realized it was more painful for me to be myself and experience rejection and isolation. Once that realization sunk in and gifted me validation and understanding; unwrapping and disposing of those self-destructive behaviors became much simpler. Self-compassion and Empathy go a long way.

The journey to my truth may have been painful and uncomfortable, but I’ve long since learned COMFORT and GROWTH do not coexist.

Now my story starts with: I USED to work very hard to be loved for someone I am not; and now, I love myself for who I am. And it feels fucking good to say that.

Today, when I see or experience ‘fake’ people, I offer compassion and understanding giving them space to be with their own behaviors and attempting to accept them for who they are. I personally know there’s likely a very good reason a person ‘fakes’ a persona; and that reason is often painful and unconscious. They need compassion and understanding to heal and grow not judgment.

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