You know those moments when you project being the image of confidence to the outside world, but you’re actually putting yourself down on the inside? I’ve done that. You probably have done that at one point or another.
This behavior of externally putting on a certain image or feeling, but actually feeling the opposite inside is normal. This behavior could be called a variation of imposter syndrome or self-gaslighting or putting on a shield etc.
I think this habit of making yourself smaller than you really are is something that is rooted in childhood. I thought about when I started doing this to myself, and I found that I couldn’t remember how it started (it was that long ago), but I remember when I would do it.
As a child, I was pretty outspoken, I was quick to argue (much to my parent’s chagrin), and I loved to weave together the most elaborate stories. I had no problem holding conversations with people, and saying what I thought when asked for my opinion. People were surprised that a child with severe hearing loss was so boisterous and confident.
I took these behaviors with me into adulthood, and everything was fine…until it wasn’t. I spoke on my hearing loss in general day-to-day conversations, in the book I published during university, in various speaking engagements, and in my previous blog posts. I spoke a lot about how ‘my disability doesn’t define who I am’ and ‘who cares if I have hearing loss?!’.
After I spoke about it, people would come to me and say, “you’re so confident when you speak about it” or “I wish I was as confident as you in disclosing my disability.”
It was nice to hear these things, but it also caused a small pang of discomfort in me as well. I wasn’t sure why, and honestly, it took a long time before I was ready to really address the root of that discomfort.
Brené Brown explored this in her book, Daring Greatly, where she shares that as children grow and experience life’s hardships, they find ways to protect themselves from being hurt by putting on armor.
“As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection -- to be the person whom we long to be -- we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.”
Once I read that, the cause of that pang of discomfort I felt when people praised me after I spoke about my disability became clearer.
Don’t get me wrong, I am more confident about my disability than I ever was before. However, I never acknowledged those moments where I would be projecting confidence, but in actuality, felt very unsure inside.
Let’s delve a bit deeper into that by looking at the above passage again. Brené says, “as children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons..” Using myself as an example, when I was a child, someone made fun of the way my voice sounded. That hurt. Then someone else did it again. That hurt too. In response, I steeled myself, put on my metaphorical armor and decided that I wasn’t going to speak unless it was necessary, and when I did, it would be the ‘clearest sounding voice ever’. My weapons were not speaking unless I had to, practicing how to speak properly, and pretending that what those people said about my voice didn’t matter.
Then I grew up, and I started talking about my hearing loss a bit more. For all intents and purposes, I acted like I was just fine with how my voice sounded. I really did think that was the case, but then when I tell myself to post an Instagram story of myself talking about my latest blog post - I come up with countless reasons about why I can’t do it. Or when I get excited, and my words start to blur together as they come out of my mouth - I get annoyed with myself for ‘slipping up’.
These moments felt like I had two different versions of myself in my head. One version of myself is larger than life - she preaches confidence, and speaks loudly and confidently. That’s the version that I show to the world - with all my armor on to protect me. The other version of myself is small, tucked away in a corner and tight lipped. That’s the version that I try to hide - no one is allowed to see her. When I project the version I show to the world, there’s that pang of discomfort that is telling me that’s not how I truly feel.
When Brené says, “as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection -- to be the person whom we long to be -- we must again be vulnerable.” I had to think about these two versions, and it was then that I realized that neither of them are versions I want to put out in the world. They both are two extremes. I needed a balance.
I had to ask myself, ‘how do I be vulnerable again?’
I still don’t know all the answers to this question, but the first step I took was figuring out that my way of being vulnerable is to make sure that what I put out in the world is aligned with who I want to be and is true to myself and my values.
The next step I took was recognizing that the smaller, more diminished version of myself is my response to the hurtful comments I received as a child, and the larger than life version was my way of protecting myself from how much those comments hurt me.
My disability and how I spoke about it became my armor!
I acknowledge that those comments did hurt, and it was okay that they hurt. I also acknowledge that I do want to put myself out there in the world, and to speak - and to be okay with any stumbles that come my way.
I have faith that I will not put my armor back on (as much as I love my Period television shows, and sometimes wonder what it would be like to live in Medieval times…), and instead embrace the vulnerability that comes with being my true self when it comes to my disability and also who I am outside of it.
What armor are you wearing that you want to shed, and what is your first step to being vulnerable?