How many of us have heard the accusatory words, “You would be…if only…”? The words imply not only that you’ve done something wrong or that you’re not quite good enough, but that the person stating their opinion knows exactly what would cure your deficit and make you more acceptable in their sight. Even if stated in a loving manner, these words, more often than not, hurt us.
So many times, I have reflected on myself, my friends, my family and the countless conversations about what each of us would change about ourselves, if we could. Some of the changes are purely physical-my spider veins, his skinny legs, her love handles. Or the conversation might center on emotional strength-my weaning patience, his lack of commitment, her intolerance for diversity. Perhaps the issue is deeper-Am I enough? Is he stronger than he thinks? Is she capable of moving in the right direction? All point us to a place of questioning ourselves, our intentions, our efficacy, and our innate ability to make smart choices. What makes the situation sticky? It is our insistence that the opinions of others really don’t matter to us. But should they?
Many of us have suffered in familial relationships where we have felt the discouraging sting of not being accepted fully because of how we act or look on any given day. Experimentation or just “being ourselves” is often discouraged, and we are reminded that how we look and act represents “the family,” “your people,” or “the legacy.” I’m not a parent, but I can imagine the agony any parent might associate with the actions or activities of their offspring which may cast a disparaging light on the family. As an educator, I’ve often attended parent-teacher-student conferences and heard the very words, “We didn’t raise you like that.” The admonishment is just as embarrassing to hear as it is to make; the implication is that you would be pleasing to me if only you did what I raised you to do which is always the “right” thing.
In romantic relationships, control often is exercised by one partner or the other when stating those disapproving words, “You would be…if only…”. While we know that we teach others how to treat us, if someone you love disapproves of you, it is not only hurtful, but unsettling to your sense of well-being. Unfortunately, insecurities may settle in and become the basis of our future dealings, which may, in fact, cause irreparable harm if the relationship is new, developing, or uncertain. Sometimes, the actual words may not be spoken, but a disapproving glance, the silence associated with an anticipatory acceptance, or the communication of distaste to others builds resentment and detachment in romantic relationships.
In friendships, we say that we want transparency and honesty; however, when we hear those words, “You would be…if only…,” we feel judged. Unconditional acceptance, while it is desired, is not truly expected from our friends. We hope that verbal criticism is constructive, in our best interest, and extended in love. What happens when it’s not? What happens if your friend criticizes the fit of your new dress, and you disagree with her assessment? What if the issue is semi-permanent, like your new platinum blond hair against your cocoa brown skin? The criticism takes on a whole other feel. Not only is your new hair color an issue, the skin you’ve always been in is now an issue. Or is it still really about the hair? Can you truly be a friend if you withhold judgement when your friend is traveling a slippery fashion slope? Can the friendship survive a dose of honesty that is based on an opinion?
Truly loving yourself comes from being self-aware and forgiving of your flaws. It means that larger than average nose you inherited from your dad’s side is loved. It means those curvy hips and thighs you got from your momma are cherished. It means those teeny tiny boobs you were born with are yours to adore. It means that propensity you have to use strong expletives to signal disapproval is managed. Can you be proactive and physically modify that less than perfect nose, those challenging hips and thighs, the small breasts, your fussing and cussing side? Sure! When you encounter another, who attempts to place a value on your connectedness based on how you act or look, you may re-examine your flaws. This re-examination can be healthy, particularly if the flaw causes dissension or a disagreeable nature that prevents others from connecting with you. Sometimes change is what we need.
Now that I have made the best hair resolution for me, which just so happens to be the decision to never again chemically alter my natural hair, I needed to get through a period of uncomfortableness with what my hair represented, not just to me but to those I choose to love. Every day, I grow more certain that I could be anyone except me if I don’t learn how to balance my perceptions. Before I big-chopped, I had all of the lengthy conversations in my mind about the image of me. Although I’m just six months into my journey, I’m still amazed when my friends or family ask me about coloring my hair, cutting my hair, or “styling” my hair. Yes, I’m always pleasantly surprised when anyone says, “I love your hair, Andi!” I’m even more thrilled to hear, “I love that YOU love your hair, Andi!” And even if those words are never uttered by those I love, deep down inside, I continue to expect the freedom from judgement…I expect the “You would be…if only…” thoughts to remain somewhere dangling in their own head, and more appropriately, on their own hair.