Zelophehad’s Daughters

Finding Myself

Posted by Seraphine

Recently, as I’ve sat pondering the mess that’s been my life for the past year, I noticed a common thread. For awhile now, I’ve been allowing other people to invade my boundaries, to dictate how I will act, to affect my life in negative ways without directly standing up for myself and my needs. Instead, I’ve been withdrawing further and further into myself, hoping the barrage from the world around me would stop.

A few examples:

*In my office at work, because I haven’t wanted to deal with the gossip and backbiting, I have emotionally withdrawn, refusing to engage my co-workers unless absolutely necessary. Because I don’t engage with my co-workers or present aspects of myself that they can respond to, I am cut off in an environment where I could be professionally collaborating, potentially finding support, etc.

*The administration at my school, because they have to balance myriads of concerns, made decisions this past year that negatively impacted my life on a number of fronts, and for months, I let this happen without much protest. It wasn’t this past spring that I was able to find the courage to stand up for myself in a direct way.

*In my recently-ended relationship, I spent so much time trying to change myself for the other person (work on my weaknesses, etc.) that I forgot the parts of myself that I love and value. And I was in so much pain over everything that was happening that it was hard to be comfortable in my skin.

So, why do I do all of these things? Why do I allow myself be demolished as I try to work around others’ needs and demands?

I do it to protect myself, to prevent others from getting angry at me, to avoid conflict. I do it because I’m afraid: afraid of what the consequences might be if I put myself out there–mostly, afraid that I’ll end up even more battered if there’s more of me exposed.

But this is no way to live, and I’ve been thinking for a month or so now that I need to regain my sense of self, remember why I’m a fantastic person, and open myself back up to the world around me. I need to come out from where I’ve been hiding and be myself with no apologies.

I realized this a few months ago, but through blogging about my difficulties, it’s occurred to me (from y’all’s comments) that I can apply this to my spiritual journey as well. I think it’s time for exploration and for finding myself, rather than yelling at God and trying to get him to make sense of my life. I want to figure out who am I spiritually and religiously. Will this person fit inside the Mormon church? What kind of relationship will this person have with the divine?

I’m going to do a lot of reading, thinking, and writing. I’m going to keep being Mormon for the time being–I’ve found power and love and peace and knowledge here previously, and I’m not ready to give up on the possibility that I will find fulfillment in this faith tradition in the future. I have to figure out what I want to hold on to of the things I already have. But I think it’s also time to push the boundaries a bit too–read some theology, attend other faith services on occasion, and figure out if what I do believe about God and the world are beliefs that are best compatible with Mormonism or with some other faith tradition.

I’ve been so shut down in order to minimize the pain in my life for so long, and I’m going to open myself back up, stretch, and look around.

22 Responses to “Finding Myself”

  1. 1.

    We’ve been through a similar experience with a family member — in our attempts to “change ourselves” to “meet his/her expectations” (whether valid or invalid), we’ve found ourselves increasingly uncomfortable with who we were changing into.

    So we decided to just forget it. Said family member can accept us or not; it’s his/her choice, not ours. Any future discussion about expectations is a two-way negotiation, but we’re not budging on certain things.

    The happiness we’ve gained in telling a family member to, in effect, shove off, has led us to evaluate other friendships and relationships. I can’t tell you how liberating that is.

    We decided long ago that, based on our testimonies, we’re not negotiating on things of the Church. One friend — who could really have been a great, lifelong friend — became increasingly hostile to things of the Church and our stances on certain matters and social habits. He’s not really much of a friend anymore — it became increasingly clear that he wanted to base our friendship on our taking a more relaxed view of the gospel and the Church (two separate things here), and we picked them over him.

    Anyway, I wish you good luck. Just like we periodically need to clean out our physical closets and throw things out, we need to do this in our lives.

    (Although, I think the term “faith tradition” is problematic and unfairly puts the gospel and the Church on the same level as everything else, but it’s your closet to clean out, not mine. :) )

  2. 2.

    i don’t really have anything profound to say, but i wanted to say that i know the feeling. the feeling of wanting to let your real self out from hiding; to celebrate who you are; just to let yourself be. it’s what i’m trying to do, too. and for me it also has to do with exploring faith traditions other than mormonism–right now buddhism. not that i necessarily believe i have to separate myself from mormonism; just that i know i need to find better ways to cope inside mormonism if i’m going to stay. and i think i can find some of those tools elsewhere.

    good luck.

  3. 3.

    I always think about stuff like this as a states of matter thing. Do I want to be a solid- rigid, unyielding, yet clearly defined and tangible. Do I want to be a gas- taking the shape of wherever I am, spread so thin as to be invisible, and completely un-touchable. Do I want to be a liquid- semi-accommodating and malleable, yet with clear boundaries between myself and my surroundings, sometimes still, sometimes changing.

    Of the three liquid sounds most reasonable to me. Yet, I often find myself ‘evaporating’ (to take the analogy too far). For some reason picturing these things helps me when I’m in social situations.

  4. 4.

    Seraphine, This post really hit home to me today. I have a relationship with a family member where I have always seen myself as the bad guy. Today I decided to challenge that notion and accept that we are both good and bad at different things. We both need to improve in some areas, and be more forgiving in others.

    Starfoxy, I do like your analogy. Honestly, I’m probably too much of a solid, but I always admire people who are more accommodating. It’s a good way of looking at things (and it’s not binary!)

  5. 5.

    I wish you the best of luck in finding your self, whoever that turns out to be. It’s clear that you already enjoy talking about her a lot!!

  6. 6.

    Seraphine, I went through this almost two years ago. And in emerging from it I learned so many beautiful things about myself and God. I also made some mistakes, occasionally trusted the wrong people, and sometimes opened myself up in ways where I later had to retract a bit. It’s all about testing the waters, and it’s OK to allow myself that room.

    I wish you the best as you move toward this new awakening.

  7. 7.

    Seraphine I could have written this post. The past 5 years have been incredibly difficult as I’ve struggled to find myself again. It’s terribly disheartening to be as old as I am and to still have no idea what I want to be or what I’m about. I, too, spent much of the last 28 years trying to mold myself into someone else’s idea of perfection and exhausted myself emotionally and physically.

    I, who am an extrovert and always felt solid in the gospel, have withdrawn so completely that I’ve become a fellowshipping project LOL.

    I have no words of wisdom, only a feeling of sisterhood and actually some relief that someone else has experienced some of what I’ve gone through and expressed it so well.

    Even here on the bloggernacle, I struggle with identity. Am I the old broad who says funny and sometimes shocking things, the token illiterate among the educated and erudite, the iconoclast, the moron? Perhaps all. Perhaps we all are.

    But know that I feel immense gratitude for your courage in voicing your thoughts and struggle.

    Do you think we’re experiencing menopause, midlife, empty nest? Do you think that’s it? Maybe I’ve hidden a lot from myself as I’ve been busy raising (and so spectacularly failing) kids and dealing with that part of life. So many questions.

    I have decided to remain in the church and as active as possible because I do have a basic testimony, if I now believe that a lot of the “style” of the church has no meaning in eternity. For the sake of my kids and grandkids. For as long as I can hold on. Hopefully my lifetime.

    Thanks and God bless Babe…

  8. 8.

    Wow, I feel like that’s me right now. I guess I’m going through a crisis of faith sort to speak. I’ve really closed myself off to my religion and God right now. I just told my hubby that I can’t back to the temple for awhile because it’s just too hard right now and some of my feelings about being a woman in the Church etc. He was pretty shocked, but accepted my feelings and tried to understand. I think for right now, I have to stay a bit closed off. I’m a bit angry with God right now and so I just need some time to cool down before I start trying for that peace again in whatever that may be…so i’ll still hit sacrament, etc, but hopefully one day soon i’ll get to the point where I want to talk to God again and figure it out! Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one who feels this way! Good luck and I’ll enjoy knowing about your journey as well!

  9. 9.

    queuno, I’m hoping that I find the process liberating as well. And you’re right–using the term “faith tradition” does put the church on parallel with everything else. But right now, for me, that’s where it is. (The only reason I’m not running as fast and as far as I can from the church and God is because of past spiritual experiences that I can’t just dismiss.)

    amelia, I like your approach–there’s definitely a huge part of me that is Mormon, and I’d love to figure out a way to stay, but I think I’m going to have to adjust my relationship to God and the church if I do–I like the idea of finding different tools (potentially outside the church) to do so. Thanks for this idea.

  10. 10.

    Starfoxy, I love your “states of matter” concept! Being a liquid seems most appealing to me too–I think I’ll see if imagining this helps me at all. Thanks!

    Jessawhy, I think there are very few relationships where one person is solely the “bad” guy, so I think it’s great to challenge situations where that’s how we’re being labeled (or be more aware of situations where we are casting ourself in the “good guy” role). Good luck with your attempts to redefine your relationship–it definitely is not an easy thing to do (at least, I find it quite difficult).

  11. 11.

    chicky, I don’t think you can be a blogger if you’re not a person who likes to talk about yourself to a certain extent. Still, I think the reason I’m blogging about my experiences has less to do with the fact that I like to talk about myself (and there’s definitely a part of me that does) than because this is the kind of experience that I find people don’t talk about much. When people talk about crises of faith, it’s usually when they’re on the other side, not when they’re in the middle of them. Generally, people have a difficult time responding when you’re in the middle of a crisis of faith, but I thought the bloggernacle would be a place where I’d find a certain amount of support and understanding, which has totally been the case.

    alisa, thanks. One of the best things about blogging about my experience is hearing from others who have been through similar experiences. Even if I take a different path from others, it’s been nice knowing there are others out there who get it and who have found joy/peace of some kind.

  12. 12.

    annegb, thanks for your supportive comments. I don’t think I’m in a mid-life reflection/crisis quite yet (I’m still a bit too young, I think), though I’m not denying the possibility for anyone else. :) Good luck with holding on.

    Kaylana, sometimes you have to shut down. I’ve been through periods in the past year where I’ve stopped talking to God altogether because it was too painful. I’m currently talking to him, but it’s more a “here’s where I am” kind of monologue, rather than an attempt at dialogue. I’m hoping to get back to the dialogue stage at some point, but I don’t think you can force something that you’re not ready for (and I’m not ready for that yet). Good luck with your own journey!

  13. 13.

    I’ve ultimately concluded that it doesn’t really matter whether I “fit” in the LDS Church or not.

    These are my people.

    The end.

  14. 14.

    I spent so much time trying to change myself for the other person (work on my weaknesses, etc.) that I forgot the parts of myself that I love and value

    I’m glad you saw that now instead of later.

  15. 15.

    I wish I had something useful to say. I just wanted to let you know that I’m rooting for you, s. This strikes me as an encouraging new direction; good on you for taking the reins a bit more and standing up for yourself.

  16. 16.

    Oh, sorry, Seraphine, I think I got you mixed up with someone else…..well, your post is an awesome one and everything else I said applies. (dying brain cells as we speak)

  17. 17.

    I’ve been so shut down in order to minimize the pain in my life for so long, and I’m going to open myself back up, stretch, and look around.

    I can relate to being “shut down in order to minimize the pain.” I have found that when I try to release my true self, or at least what I perceive to be my true self, most people run away. So I remain in my little Kalola world where I occasionally open up to those with whom I feel safe being myself. It’s a very lonely existence.

  18. 18.

    Seth R, that’s an interesting way to look at things. Since my crisis is more one of faith/belief/trusting God, the whole “fitting” into the community thing is less applicable, but it’s always good to think about issues of community.

    Thanks, Stephen and Kevin.

  19. 19.

    annegb, thanks and no worries!

    Kalola, I can *definitely* identify with the loneliness. I think some of my current decisions are being motivated by the fact that the loneliness for me right now is worse than the scariness of putting myself out there. But it is still scary.

  20. 20.

    Seraphine,

    Within 30 minutes of reading your post yesterday (Aug. 3) , I happened upon a line that I thought spoke directly to your concerns.

    (A new reader of this site, I’ve heard so many good things about it, I finally had to see for myself.)

    The quote is from Elaine Pagels book, Beyond Belief,
    which is a study of the Book of Thomas, one of the many ancient texts found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945. I understand, of course, that the Book of Thomas is not yet canonized to stand beside the other books of the New Testament, though older and
    possibly more reliable than the later works now considered standard. But one need not accept the following quote as scripture to appreciate its value.

    So–from the Gospel of Thomas: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’ ”

    Isn’t that powerful?

    Best wishes as you bring forth what is within you, Seraphine.

  21. 21.

    I’ve ultimately concluded that it doesn’t really matter whether I “fit” in the LDS Church or not. These are my people.
    With each generation, we have an opportunity to transform the status quo into something else.
    In striving for the most ethical religious environment for all members in our faith, let us strive to hold everyone, especially ourselves, to maintsaining the higest standards and to recognize every child of God as a unique individual. Wishing for better ethics is the first step. With that social justice lens, you may find many ways to express hope, love and honor for the uniqueness of individuals and their worth as equal souls. They are your people and you are theirs and you can bring them hope by speaking truth to power and being the example of the attributes you wish to see in the larger group. Seth, as a male, you are in the elite privileged group and can attain a leadership position of influence. You have no barriers due to gender to stop your spiritual progress. You are our hope and our light to show that it is important to treat all souls with equal respect, have full and complete access to opportunities, and to be assumned to be competent to achieve in any area.
    Asking for that simple change in attitude is the first step in a journey to improve the Church that we dearly love. Thank you for not being satisfied with a status quo that oppresses others. Thank you for wishing to improve an organization to better honor our Lord.

  22. 22.

    Oops! I didn’t blockquote Seth’s phrase in #13′”

    “I’ve ultimately concluded that it doesn’t really matter whether I “fit” in the LDS Church or not. These are my people.

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