“Girl power in my mind is to let girls be exactly what they are. Let them be angry. Let them be resentful. And rebellious. Let them be hard and soft and loving and sad and silly. Let them be wrong. Let them be right. Let them be everything—because, they are everything.” ~ Amy Sherman-Palladino
I was this way because it is what I was taught to be.
There was a time when I had a bright shiny light that beamed from me. I was curious and energetic—with the world to explore—and I did.
Perhaps I was too energetic. I was becoming overly wilful, and my curiosity had grown obnoxious. I was more trouble than you had time for—and so I had to be lessened.
My bright light dimmed.
I watched as men demanded—like children—to be waited on, catered to, and pacified.
The women in my life were drained until they had nothing left to give. So I dimmed, trying not to take even more.
As I grew, I watched as glasses of ice were shaken, “Fill my cup!”
You slaved to make them all comfortable, and they thanked you with anger and ire.
You suffered the same dimming that I was receiving.
When I announced, “I am not your waitress,” at five years old, you all thought that was funny. My light was still on, and that was refreshing, to all of you—so dimmed. But as I grew, I watched angry men puff up with hateful superiority, silencing you. Humiliating. Judging. Condemning.
I watched as you wilted but condoned—and I dimmed.
I listened when you said this was love. It became my model of love. My light dimmed a bit more.
Then you told me, “Men don’t like fat girls.” I learned that, to be loved, I must be beautiful, perfect. But I was not, and I was not loved.
My light is becoming ever dimmer.
I told you that I hated him, he hurt me. I said he was mean and that this was wrong. I told you I would never allow anyone to treat me like that, and that I would never forgive any man who treated me this way.
You told me I needed to try harder—that I didn’t see things clearly. I should be forgiving and grateful. He loved me and supported us. I learned that I needed a man. To accept whatever love I could get.
This is what love looks like.
Despite my clear understanding and my stubborn will, I did learn to be subservient, to appease, to put everyone else ahead of myself. To be “good,” I would have to put myself last.
As years went by with you giving and never receiving, you grew bitter and tired, and so I learned to take care of you. To protect you from him and the world you let run right over you—just like you had done with your mother.
Somewhere along the way, while I tried desperately to keep everyone else’s fires lit, I began to be bitter too—and then my spark went out.
I stumbled in darkness for a long time allowing myself to be doubtful of my sanity, and to be told who I was. I heard stories twisted, and my reality turned on its head. I was wrong about everything and then, I found I had allowed myself, and my children, to be abused.
I did shrink myself to fit into that box I had been taught to dwell in. It hurt as I realized I had willfully deformed my self-worth in an effort to be accepted—and even applauded.
Being nice and “good” was killing me. My spirit stunted—my voice muted.
Then one day, I had a moment of realization that cracked me wide open. The truth came rushing in on me as I read a pamphlet that described domestic verbal abuse. All my fire, stomped to nothing, suddenly reignited. From a tiny little pilot light, a roaring flame came bursting out. My anger surfaced and became resentment. My voice returned—booming. There was contempt boiling up inside.
My voice spoke clearly and firmly. With my words, I was freed, and I could no longer accept the rules or the box. Despite all that storm brewing—I could hear angels singing. As I became aware of the clouds of family karma, they began parting.
That box lid blew so far off, it can never be recovered. Tempered rage shook from deep inside my body, like an earthquake as I dared not to be “good” or “nice.” Truth flowed out like lava and scorched everything and everyone for a while. The fire I needed to begin forming boundaries, ultimatums.
I heard my voice saying the words that should have been said generations ago, “You will either treat me with humanity, fairness, and respect, or you will no longer be welcome in my life.”
The signs posted: You dare not walk here. The message was universal—meant for all. I will accept no less ever again.
I am working on the balance now. I have started allowing people to approach carefully. I am watching with diligence to make sure my boundaries are respected, but no longer scorching with anger. Boundaries, like old volcanic flows, have hardened into rock, and become my graceful strength.
I am growing a lush oasis. I continue to find my power by trying things I was too afraid to try before—connecting with people who build me up, support my dreams, and who are not afraid to let me be as big and bright as I want to be. They listen to me without fear when I use my voice. They respect my boundaries.
It is a struggle to find the pieces to replace old thoughts. I have to rewrite the faulty programming of my upbringing and release myself from undue shame and guilt that controlled me. Accepting my truth, I have had to mourn the fictitious life so carefully constructed in my mind—a reality I had only imagined.
The new lessons are far more empowering.
I do not have to be nice to people, especially people who are unkind to me. Walking away from people who hurt you is smart not selfish.
I am significant enough to have a say in how I am treated; I will take up space and be loved—no matter what I look like or weigh.
I am likeable. I can be the real me and still make friends. People will support and love me.
I now realize it is acceptable to be smart, talented, and unstoppable. It doesn’t scare people who love themselves. The world is a safe place for me to venture. I am capable and worthy of whatever adventure I seek to engage.
It is healthy to protect myself. When trust has been abused and lost too many times, it should not just be given back. I now know who I am again, and I will not let anyone confuse me.
So make no mistake, it is not ever going to be the same. I am fundamentally changed. My world-view verified, and my insecurity replaced.
If you want to be a part of my life, you will have to accept my change. I will not live as you think I should, nor will I continue to try to earn your love and respect. I will not apologize for chasing my dreams and outshining what you did not do for yourself.
You now have to earn a place at my table and in my life by respecting me. You will have to maintain that privilege every single time you are with me. No exceptions.
Be warned: I have restored my bright shiny light—I am a lighthouse. You are used to the dark and find it hard to handle the glare—but I now realize that is not my issue. I have tried to help you ignite your flame—I would love for you to find your light. Nevertheless, your light is your problem to solve. I will not dim or put out my light to make you feel better anymore, but you can watch as I illuminate my own way.
Author: Traci Burnam
Image: Yuliya Ginzburg/Unsplash
Editor: Lieselle Davidson