I have always prided myself on my toughness.
I’m 5’2, but people tell me I seem taller and bigger.
In my senior year of high school, one of my teachers suggested that I not look prospective employers or interviewers directly in the eye because my gaze was too intimidating.
I ignored him, but the message stuck.
I liked being intimidating. I liked being more than I appeared. I liked my tough-girl image. It fit well with my vision of myself: a riot-grrl, non-conformist, artist and activist who didn’t let anyone walk all over her or push her around.
The problem was, and still is, that at my core I am a sensitive soul.
I take things very personally.
I tend to take things far more personally than they are intended. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I’m pretty thin skinned. Not a great combo.
It’s resulted in more misunderstandings than I can count.
I’ve felt hurt when people attack me online, which has happened more often than I’d like. I’m opinionated and confrontational. And human. Sometimes I say things before my better judgment pipes up.
I’ve felt betrayed when students stop coming to my classes, in favor of another teacher or another studio. I believe diversity in teachers makes us better yogis. It still stings.
I’m disappointed when someone removes themselves from my newsletter or stops following me on facebook or instagram. I unfollow people and pages all the time on social media, as well as remove myself from newsletters that I don’t read. When someone does it to me, it feels judgmental.
Looking at the list, it’s a bit silly.
Motherhood has softened me, somewhat.
Except that I am just as susceptible to my sensitivity as a mom. Maybe even more so.
When Milly tells me how much she misses her daddy when he’s at work, I feel a little bit of a stab through the heart. I know she misses me when I’m gone, too.
When Milly refuses food that I’ve made for her, I feel snubbed by her picky toddler palate. Especially when it’s food she directly asks for then changes her mind about. Typical toddler behavior that I interpret as a personal attack on my cooking skills.
When Milly declares her love for everyone but me, my heart breaks a little bit. Saying that she loves other people doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me. I know that. I still feel rejected.
I’d like to think that my toughness protects me from these feelings. But it can’t. It doesn’t. My toughness isn’t just an exterior show I’m giving to everyone. I am strong and resilient. I’ve lived through some painful experiences. I am a survivor. I’ve been knocked down and gotten back up and kept going.
I’m still susceptible to feeling hurt, wounded, betrayed, attacked, snubbed, or rejected. I’m human. I’m vulnerable. And while I acknowledge that my vulnerability is part of my strength, it can also be my downfall.
So I’ve come up with a few important actions to help me in those times that my vulnerability takes over and I find myself trapped in my most emo-feelings.
1. Don’t pick fights.
This seems like a simple one, but it’s a difficult one for me to resist. It’s one thing to be confrontational. It’s entirely another to make a dig at someone just to rile them up or get under their skin.
This is also known as “don’t say things online I might regret. Especially to strangers.”
Instead, choose how I want to be seen and heard. What is the message I want to send out into the world? Is it positive or negative? Connective or confrontational?
2. Live in the present, not the past.
This is another tricky one. Especially when it comes to students who stop coming to my class or people who stop following my newsletter or social media.
Here’s the thing I remind myself when I feel down about those things: I am not currently lacking. My classes are well attended. I teach workshops all over the DC-area and beyond. I have not been completely abandoned. The people who WANT to be in my classes right now are taking my classes right now. And the people who don’t aren’t.
And that’s ok. Because I WANT to teach the people who WANT ME to teach them.
It’s that simple.
3. Acknowledge the joyful, positive “mom-life” moments.
This is a new habit I am taking on. Every time Milly tells me I’m her best friend or every time Milly asks me to read her a book or sing her to sleep, I am going to write them down. I am going to record those moments for my own memory. The other mommy-moments tend to stand out. The ones when she is raging at me for turning the TV off or for putting the toilet seat down for her instead of letting her do it herself. It’s so much easier to remember those moments because they cause me pain. We are more conditioned to remember the pain over the sweetness. So I am going to choose to acknowledge both, but emphasize the sweetness so I don’t forget that yes, Milly sometimes calls for me in the middle of the night when she has a nightmare, too.
These are just small stepping stones to allow myself to not take everything so personally and allow my vulnerability to be my strength. Instead of letting my toughness be a drawback, I want my resilience to be an asset. This doesn’t mean I can’t still be a rebellious, outspoken, unapologetically honest mom, yoga teacher, activist, and artist. It simply means I get to be more in control of how that spirit is unleashed into the world.
And that’s a powerful thing.