Discovering who you are – despite your labels

For the month of February I am exploring selective mutism. On Friday I wrote about suppressing emotions, and the importance (in my opinion) of temper tantrums. Today I will look more deeply into suppressed emotions – and also the idea of suppressing self, because of a misunderstood quality, description or label.

We understand our world through words and descriptions

Every child, ever, has been described by someone in terms of their behaviour. It is how we relate the way we understand our world and the people in it to others.

Cheeky, funny, naughty, annoying, friendly, clever, serious, will-full, playful, happy, sensitive, quiet … I could go on forever.

Sometimes these descriptions can easily be brushed aside. Other times – and especially when the description is repeated many times and by many different people – it can become a bit like a label that the child feels they have no choice but to live up to.

What is wrong with me

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the feelings I felt when I was described as ‘quiet’. Ultimately, when people questioned my behaviour, I didn’t see their concern or desire to help. I didn’t see the meaning they associated with the word ‘quiet’ and I didn’t see how they associated it with me.

All I saw was accusations.

“What is wrong with you?” I heard. Over and over and over.

And when people described me, or used the word quiet, I never heard quiet. I heard ‘wrong’.

I didn’t like it. It didn’t suit me. I battled against it.

In doing so, I unwittingly battled against myself.

What happens when we suppress ourselves?

17287467_sI thought it would be better to push myself away and fit in than to remain ‘wrong’ for the rest of my life. And so that’s what I did. I became someone who looked like I was here – but I actually wasn’t. I hid myself away and pretended to be more like everybody else. Without meaning to, I was actually living up to the promise that my ‘Quiet’ label had given me. I didn’t like it, but in trying to push it away I was actually making it more real.

It was a painful way to live. Always on the look-out, waiting for someone to notice, waiting for the accusations, waiting to be exposed. It is like a metaphorical way to be on the run from the police. There is no safe-haven, no matter how strong you build it. There’s always the possibility that somehow, someway, the disguise will be exposed and the true self inside uncovered.

There is always stress present; always anxiety. Always a need to plan for every possibility; to be more prepared than you need to be, just in case.

Stress is draining. Stress is exhausting. Stress for many years can make you sick.

What happens when there’s nothing left?

I have no idea how many times my walls have crumbled – and I have quickly built them back up again, desperate for the safety of an outer shell; something like a castle, that could absorb the blows and somehow help me to feel safe. Rebuilding my walls became a habit, and so I was never exposed for very long.

Eventually, the inevitable happens, and there is no more strength left. No more building material. No more ability to hide.

And here I stand; exposed and vulnerable … and more me than I have been for the past thirty-some years.

It is scary, and it is difficult, and sometimes I get confused about who I actually am – but in a funny way I feel better now than I ever felt when I was surrounded by my protective walls. I feel extremely vulnerable, and also extremely empowered. I know that hiding doesn’t work – and so the only way now is to head in the opposite direction.

One step at a time

My first step was my children’s books. Through the character of Katie-Jane I could reveal a little of myself and the ways I have felt, relating to the themes of the stories. With each book it became easier, plus I got to do the things I loved at the same time. As a child I felt very much misunderstood in my thoughts and feelings, and I long for children to know that they are not alone, or wrong, however it is they may be feeling. My motivation for writing was to provide a way for children to feel seen and heard – without having to reveal themselves more than they were ready.

This past few weeks of blogging I have stepped it up a notch (or three!) It has been amazing to help me get even more in touch with myself; to uncover my fears and share the way that I feel. I have been boosted by many, who have read my blog and been able to relate to my experiences. My natural instinct to build up a new wall is changing. I am walking out of the rubble that surrounds me, and trying something new.

I cannot thank you all enough for reading my blog and relating to me. Your comments, shares and votes of confidence have been life-changing. I’d love you to comment again, or share this post if you can relate to what I write. I realise that I am not alone anymore. Thank you!

Am I a Chameleon

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  • Jenn

    All your posts have resonated deeply with me! Although I have not experienced SM, I know how it feels to dread having my voice heard. I know how it feels to push all my emotions down because I couldn’t express them, how it felt like a knife in my heart when someone called me shy. I am very familiar with those cold walls around me to keep out the pain, and I now know that horrible, wonderful feeling of vulnerability and finally letting myself be seen. Free from the walls it’s like standing in the sunshine.
    So thank you for making your voice heard, even on the other side of the world! I feel like I’m not alone, either. What you’re doing reminds me of a part of a poem by Marianne Williamson:
    “And as we let our own light shine
    We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we’re liberated from our own fear,
    Our presence automatically liberates others.”
    You are an amazing, courageous woman!

    • Kat

      Thank you for your lovely comment Jenn. I love that poem! YES to letting our own light shine and liberating others 😉

      It’s so lovely to hear that you can relate to what I’ve said – and that you’ve found your way through those protective walls of your own xx

  • Lynne O’Neil

    Really enjoyed your comments. It is my ambition to do what you have done and share your insight and knowledge through children’s books. Well done for all you have achieved. I am a teacher and want to help children with Selective Mutism in their Early Years Education . I want to understand how earlier detection of SM can be realised and to support nurseries and pre schools to spot it earlier. I live in Buckinghamshire in England. I have joined Twitter this week for the first time to attempt to widen my understanding of SM and your website was the kind of thing I was looking for . Thank you for that . Your book illustrations are so eye catching. Enjoyed reading your thoughts and ideas. Best wishes Lynne

    • Kat

      Thank you for your comment Lynne! It’s very cool to hear about teachers like you – trying to widen your understanding of sm … thank you for all you are doing, this will make a world of difference for many children!!
      I’m pleased you have enjoyed reading my thoughts – hopefully they can help you to understand sm even more 😉