I want to give you a little history lesson. It’s different from the type of history lesson you hear in school, or watch on a documentary. This history lesson is about a girl who didn’t love herself and how horribly things can go wrong, if we don’t instill a strong foundation of confidence in our girls.
I used to know this girl, a sad little girl from Tennessee. In fact, I thought I knew her better than anyone…but the truth was, I really didn’t know her at all. This young girl, she didn’t feel valued or accepted as a child and on into young adulthood. She never really fit in, didn’t have any real talents. She was plain looking, tall and magnified her flaws. She was skinny and a rule follower for the most part, but a bit sneaky. Quiet, with strict parents, so hanging out with the “in crowd” wasn’t possible. As adults we realize that these things are incredibly normal, and that her parents rules kept her out of quite a bit of trouble, but as a child these things seem life altering. She longed to be accepted and longed to be liked.
That never really happened for her through high school, the feeling of acceptance. Even with her family, she felt like a bit of an outsider. Not that kids were mean to her, or that her family treated her differently. She just felt how she felt. Feelings are what they are, even when they’re not truth. Even though this sounds INCREDIBLY lonely, there are a lot of girls who went through this same scenario. Not because it’s true that they were unloved, unworthy and unaware of their value, but because perception is, after all, a person’s reality.
After high school, she went into the Air Force and moved to Washington DC. To her, this was the perfect time to “reinvent” herself. With her new found freedom, she could be whoever she wanted. And so she did just that. Only, the problem was that she didn’t really know what SHE wanted, other than to be accepted, liked and befriended. She didn’t know her WORTH couldn’t be found in what others thought of her. Her plan was to do whatever the people around her wanted. In her mind, if you made the people around you happy, then they would want you around. They will ACCEPT you.
Accept her, they did. She didn’t always feel good about actions she took, places she went, the people she was around. But, she was she everything that she WASN’T back in Tennessee. So, she continued to do whatever it took to please people.
She didn’t know how to say NO.
Or at least, she told herself that NO wasn’t an option. Because saying NO meant that she might upset someone and if she upset YOU, you wouldn’t like her, wouldn’t accept her and she’d end up being that sad little girl from Tennessee again and no one wanted to be her. Not even HER.
YES became a way of life.
The sad little girl from Tennessee was now the young, outwardly liberated woman who everyone knew. She was still a sad, but she was liked. To her, this meant everything, the sadness and emptiness was just a part of who she was. So when the day arrived that a guy from Brooklyn asked the girl from Tennessee to marry him on a whim after just 4 months of (not even exclusive) dating, true to form, she whispered “YES”. Even though every bone in her body screamed NO, she got dressed in her friends clothes, went to the Justice of the Peace with the guy who did not love her. She said “I do” while her mind screamed “You Don’t”. But she did not believe in herself enough to be able to say NO.
She allowed an unknown person named Stephanie bind her to a guy in a red hoodie and jeans at exactly 10:34 a.m. that morning, because she couldn’t figure out how to stop being the girl who couldn’t say NO.
She remembered the exact moment she looked at the time and realized that her fear of saying NO was ruining her life, but the spiral had begun and so there she was… married at 20 with no family, friends or love in that room.
All because her entire self worth hinged on what other people thought of her and making them happy, at the expense of her happiness.
So three weeks later, when he quit his job and told her that she would work to support them, she was shocked and upset- but she said “YES”.
Then, we he rarely came home on weekends, she couldn’t find the strength to say no. So she said nothing, a silent “YES”.
When she finally tried to talk to him about how this marriage didn’t seem anything like her parent’s marriage…the drugs, the partying, the late nights, all his antics… he beat her so badly that she could not move from the bed for days, she was embarrassed. She blamed herself. Then the apologies came and he begged her to stay because it would never happen again. She believed him and she said “YES”.
However, that was just the beginning of the cycle of abuse.
Him: A slap. A punch. A threat. Being choked. Hair ripped from her head.
Him: It Won’t Happen Again.
Him: Please Forgive Me.
When she became distant from her family, from her friends, from her coworkers…and everyone asked her if she was okay. “YES”.
When the SCANDAL broke that her “friend’s” baby was actually by her HER husband, and he begged her to believe that it was not- please stay? “YES”.
Then, a few months later to the hospital she went, afraid of what news the doctor had for her. “Am I pregnant?”, the word that would lead her on a trajectory of change. “YES”.
She carefully planned her escape.
She was afraid.
And interestingly enough, the one thing that gave her the final push into action; in a fit of rage he kicked her four times in the stomach. With each blow, she said NO.
NO. I can not stay here.
NO. I will not allow this child, if I can save it, to think that this is Life.
NO. I will not allow this child to become so broken and not know that they are miraculous, a gift worthy and capable of incredible things.
NO. NO MORE.
And so I left, and with help, love, acceptance and forgiveness from my family and myself, I was able to start building a relationship with myself.
The sad girl from Tennessee, the girl who couldn’t say NO, was me.
That time in my life feels long gone and just like yesterday, at the same time.
I hate that I had to endure so much just to start on the path to love myself. The story does not end here, of course. The REAL story, actually begins here. There were years of internal struggle, chipping away at the hardened shell of a person that was left standing…softening me, allowing me to trust others, and to love again. Even after LOVE, in both marriage and as a mother, I still struggled to define who I was, what I liked and when to say NO.
Today, my experiences attribute to not only who I am as a woman, but also wife, mother and friend. I am very much attune to who I am, what I am worth. I am committed to making sure that young girls recognize from a young age that beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder, it is in the love of self. It is found in being confident in your abilities.
They say that history tends to repeat itself, but in this case I assure you it will not. Amazing things happen when you learn to accept YOURSELF.
The “baby” that gave me the courage to leave is now an almost 13 year old girl, who is incredibly confident in and is a MASTER at saying NO to the things that go against who she is, what she stands for; even to her parents- albeit it respectfully.
A recent study found that a girl’s self esteem peaks at the age of 9. Doesn’t that take your breath away? From the day my mother and I sat in an ultrasound, just a couple of months after I’d returned to Tennessee and the technician said “It’s a Girl”, I’ve known that the single best thing I can do to parent her is to not just tell her that she’s amazing, beautiful, valuable and worthy… but to make sure that SHE knew it and could feel it in her bones. To make sure she felt that greatness was in her DNA, in the very thing that makes her, HER.
My girl has not surpassed the peak of her self esteem. To that I, confidently, boldly and PROUDLY say “NO”.