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This story, and others like it, for that matter, is a hard one for me to tell. Namely because it involves divulging personal feelings surrounding people who've left a few scars emotionally, as I am the type of woman who has never wanted to give these types of people the time of day. However, in my healing process, I have found it necessary to call attention to these things in an effort to help women find (and keep) their own voice.
Growing up, and going through the ebbs and flows of girlhood, we hear a lot of things whether it be from our mothers, sisters, cousins, brothers, etc, that affect our confidence as women. I didn't really understand the effect of these things until the end of my high school years as I transitioned into college. I was already fragile, as we all are. High school does a number.
I was updating my status on Facebook not too long ago, when I saw a picture of a person and it brought back a less than savory memory. To be honest, she was my first brush (outside of family members) with what I now know to be narcissism.
As young women, we're all trying to figure shit out up until the age of 27. Then we get a grip, or at least it seems like it. While in college, I met a girl. We hit it off, quick. I felt like we would get along and could tell we had a lot in common, initially anyway. I quickly got a different vibe when I accidentally let it slip that I couldn't walk in heels due to having mild Cerebral Palsy, and since her younger brother had passed away as a result a more severe form, she downplayed my honesty because she'd never met someone who'd overcome some of the physical barriers people with Cerebral Palsy face.
Let me make something very clear, she never shamed me for having CP. Downplayed it yes, shamed me, no. I just noticed a shift in her attitude shortly after I revealed it and frankly, because of her reaction to that and a few other things, there was a shift in my attitude towards her as well. she was covert (as most narcissists are), a lot of the things she said were sly but, ironically, they were not things I had never heard. So naturally, I let it slide. That's something most women do. We let things slide either because we don't know how to address them or we don't want to address the problem at all. We may not even realize there is a problem.
I guess hearing things like, "You think you're perfect" or "You're not all that" was normal until I started to really come out of my shell a bit as a woman. Then I realized how degrading those kinds of phrases were and coming from another woman nonetheless. We hear them so much, that when we go to articulate how they make us feel, we are told that we are overreacting, or it's not as serious as we have made it out to be. Most women struggle with ways to articulate how they really feel about others and themselves (which is the point of this article) so they say these less than smart phrases, in most cases, to make others feel the same way they do about themselves. Obviously, back then the phrases felt demeaning. Now that I am older, I want to offer a different perspective (or state the obvious):
Simply put, she was struggling to articulate her feelings. It could have been that she was jealous, it could have been that everything she would say to me had been shoved down her throat as well. Heck, any number of things. In fact, now that I think about it, she never had anything nice to say about anyone, which is why I would eventually distance myself from her. Having to deal with a person like that in the prime of young adulthood really forced me to pay attention to things that are not being said, just as much as the things that are being done.
So what was she (and others like her) really saying? Let me break down some of the phrases that not only other women use toward women, but some men as well:
- You think you're all that: You're confident (and I don't like it).
- You think you're perfect: I'm trying to figure out what everyone likes about you. I also feel imperfect so I'm going to shame you for being everything I'm not at the moment.
- Okay, Miss 'Holier than thou': How dare you be so positive and optimistic about everything while I'm trying to be negative.
- Who do you think you are?: I can tell you have high self-esteem.
- You're not that cute: I wish someone had told me I was beautiful.
- You have so much potential: You're not good enough.
- You're acting Bourgeois/You're stuck up: You have high standards (and I don't).
- There's something about you that I don't like and I can't put my finger on it: Nothing I say or do bothers you the way I thought it would.
I wonder just how many women, either young or old, have heard these phrases and realized, like I did, that they have played a part at one point or another in the shaping of their self esteem?
Thanks for letting me heal with you :).