The Christmas season seems to generate emotional intensity for many. When I was a teenager growing up in New York, I remember the stark black tree limbs covered with clinging snow, the crunch of frozen white crystals under my feet, and the bitter cold that seemed to intensify my feelings of loneliness.
I was shy and self-conscious. When alone, the awareness of my insecurities would take over and fill my mind with hopelessness and a longing to be center stage in someone’s life.
At that time, I had one older brother and five younger siblings, so company was never an issue. Privacy was. I had plenty of people contact; too much really. I was longing for quality connections. The Christmas songs, decorations, and the general spirit of the holidays all conspired to conjure up a deep longing to be loved, cherished, cared for, protected and romanced. In short, I wanted to be forever freed from the task of finding myself and fashioning a workable self-image out of the rubble and richness found within. My lofty, easy-way-out goals were forgivable and predictable, I think, given that I was just 16.
I loved the idea of romance. I had secretly decided that I had what it would take to be Cinderella. All that was required was patience. I needed to wait for my prince to find me. Living in Princes Bay, Staten Island, and attending a private girls school, my chances seemed limited. The sensuality of sights, smells and sounds of Christmas brought the fact that I was glaringly alone starkly into focus.
All that I am telling you today was kept buried in my heart. I would never have told a soul. I simply suffered in silence, sure that I was the only person that didn’t fit in and never would. I felt inept in relationships. I rehearsed too much before I could give myself permission to speak. The moment would pass and it would be too late to say anything. Then I would suffer through the awkward silence. I was careful about how I dressed so that I wouldn’t feel self-conscious. That worked for a bit and then all at once it would feel like I had been hit by an invisible ugly stick and all my confidence would drain out and be replaced by an overwhelming desire to melt and disappear into the floor.
I was hypersensitive to being looked at and instead of finding it pleasurable, it would trigger a barrage of critical self-judgments as though I was seeing myself through distorted mirrors in one of those horrific fun houses found at tacky carnivals.
These intense internal experiences were depressing, and more importantly, absolute proof that there was something terribly wrong with me. I felt doomed to a life of solitary confinement within my own personal nightmare. I had no words to express all of this and no one who was interested in hearing it anyway. In the meantime, I went to school, had lots of friends, was a cheerleader, took leadership positions in my class, went to dances and went out on dates, fought with my brothers, and was perfectly normal and presentable on the outside.
My mother used to call me a “street angel, house devil” summing up my battle between self-consciousness and self-determination, or what my parents called strong-willed and willful. Thankfully, self-determination won out.
Over the years, my understanding has grown that each of us is responsible to husband our own feelings, expand our minds into generous leaps of faith and learn to appreciate and savor the simple pleasures that surround us.
When I was young, I was a stranger to the resources of my own nature and instead linked my talents and energies to the task of fueling and supporting other’s dreams.
Personal solidity requires that we enter into a sacred partnership with ourselves. The hardest part of claiming ourselves is when those we love regard our shift in focus as a retreat from and a rejection of them.
The truth is that being soul-centered instead of self-centered requires the skill of being alone well. Giving yourself permission to be alone, luxuriously immersed in doing things of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence, is the breeding ground for greater quality relationships.
A chance to discover yourself creates a climate for full and rich inner development and therefore a deeper capacity, and eventually, deeper involvement and fulfillment with those you love.
Susan can be reached at: susanvelasquez.com