Everyone has a fear. Something that they avoid at all costs even if it means that it will take them longer to reach their destination. For me, about fifteen years ago, my fear was the hallway. Let me explain, I wasn’t afraid of hallways in general but I was afraid of the hallway at my high school. This hallway was filled with the constant reinforcement that I was different, unaccepted and unworthy. This hallway was an echo of what my thoughts were already screaming at me. “you’re huge, you’re ugly, you’re unattractive and you deserve to be ridiculed”. Each time I walked through that hallway those thoughts were amplified in my mind and I only wanted to dash through the hallway and run for cover.
The hallway was a scary place for me because it was one of the many places where I was a target for teasing. During the break to switch classes, a group of guys would stand on both sides of the hallway and one of their favorite past times was making comments about my weight just audible enough for my ears to capture it. I hated that hallway. I hated being seen. I hated being noticed. Since I hated being noticed and I was over secretly crying every day, In my clever adolescent mind, I developed a solution. I would no longer go through the hallway. I would spare myself the ridicule and walk around the building instead of through the hallway. I took the long way around. I carried all of my books to avoid using the lockers which were located in the hallway and I split up from my friends because they used the hallway to get to class. As I walked around the building to get to class, I couldn’t hear the boys’ comments anymore but I could hear my own. I could hear my thoughts taunting me because I was not thin, well liked, pretty, alluring or outgoing like my friends. My thoughts were doing more damage than the boys ever could. My thoughts were teaching me that I had to remain unseen, hide myself, and avoid people in order to be safe.
I would like to have a nice twist to the story and say that I marched through that hallway and stood up to the antagonists of my story. However, I did not gain the confidence to stand up for myself until much later. I just continued to take the long way around. I continued to avoid the things that I feared would hurt me. Some days I avoided going into the cafeteria and just went to the library. Avoidance became my go to defense. This defense worked pretty well for my adolescent life and while it didn’t spare me from all teasing because let me tell you, bullies are going to do their job. They are some persistent individuals. Avoidance probably spared me from the amount of teasing I would have received if I didn’t separate myself on occasions. However, what I learned to be effective in that moment could not be the tactic that I continuously used. However, it became a pattern and my automatic response to difficulty.
This part of my story is important because although it occurred over 15 years ago, that young girl who was afraid to walk through the hallway and took the long way around to avoid her fear stayed hidden inside of the adult version of me. She stayed hidden until there were new experiences that frightened me and then she would show up and remind me to avoid uncomfortable situations to avoid ridicule. She would show up and tell me that I needed to shrink myself or fade into the background to protect myself. She would show up and tell me that I needed to avoid relationships to avoid being hurt and rejected. She would show up when the opportunity for new experiences would present themselves and she would tell me that being hidden was the best way to avoid pain. That young me protected me during adolescence and for that I am grateful but the adult version of me could not thrive until I healed her. I had to heal that younger version of myself and let her know that she was worthy of being seen and that no one on this earth has the power to dim her light. I had to heal young me and tell her that despite her size, appearance, confidence or awkwardness, she was worthy of the greatest things that life had to offer and that she could not receive them if she remained hidden.
The clever tactic of taking the long way around to remain hidden and to dodge ridicule worked for that moment. That’s the thing about core beliefs. They are effective when we use them in a particular situation of the past. They make sense during that time. The problem with negative core beliefs is that they are rigid and don’t apply to every situation. I took the core belief with me that I needed to stay hidden to be safe but further down the road, that core belief caused problems. I may have needed to avoid the antagonist at that time because I was not yet strong enough to face them but remaining hidden is not something that I am committed to doing for the rest of my life. Going unnoticed is not something that is going to allow me to thrive or live the life I want to live. It will not help me reach my goals, find love, or live my life colorfully and vibrantly. Staying hidden does not serve the world when I have so much to offer.
There is a metaphor that I often share with the individuals that I work with when we begin to challenge core beliefs. I tell them, imagine that your situation in the past is Alaska. It was cold, frigid and you needed sweaters, coats, toboggans, boots and scarves to survive so you packed it in your luggage. Now imagine taking all of those things to Jamaica. Do you need those items there or would you need to pack a different attire? Those items made since when you were in Alaska but if you take them to Jamaica, your vacation won’t be as nice. You have to pack according to the climate you wish to be in. With that said, I choose to be in Jamaica and I’m leaving those core beliefs attached to Alaska behind.
When we choose to hold on to negative beliefs and thoughts, we are choosing to continuously take the long way around just like I did as a shy teen when I avoided the hallway. When you take the long way around, you may be missing out on new experiences, opportunities, new people and a life that requires you appear and not be hidden. I want to challenge you to show up, walk through the hallway, and avoid going the long way around.
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