“A proper grown-up communicates clearly and assertively.”
This is something I have heard many people say.
By that definition, I wouldn’t have classed as a proper grown-up for most of my life.
There was a time when I couldn’t even ask someone for a glass of water. I know that might seem crazy to some people, and for a long time I did feel crazy for it.
Why couldn’t I do the things others did without even thinking about it? Why couldn’t I just say what I needed to say? Why couldn’t I just be normal?
Those questions would just feed into the shame spiral I was trapped in at that time in my life.
But the question I should have been asking myself was not how I could overcome being so damaged and flawed, but how my struggles made sense based on how I was brought up.
Because based on that I was perfect and my behaviors made perfect sense.
I was the child that was taught to be seen and not heard.
I was the child that was given a mold to make herself fit into no matter what.
I was the child whose feelings made others angry and violent.
I was the child whose anger got her shamed and rejected by the person she needed the most.
I was the child that got hit again and again until she didn’t cry anymore.
I was the child whose needs inconvenienced those who were in charge of taking care of her.
I was the child whose wants were called selfish, attention-seeking, or ridiculous.
I was the child who was made wrong for everything she felt, wanted. or needed.
I was the child who was called a monster for being who she was—a child.
I was the child that grew up feeling unwanted, alone, and entirely repulsive.
So why would that child ever speak? Why would that child ever share anything about herself? She wouldn’t, would she? It all makes sense. I made sense. It was a way of living. A way of surviving.
I had been taught that I didn’t matter. That what I wanted or needed and how I felt was something so abhorrent it needed to be hidden at any cost. And I did it to avoid getting hurt, shamed, and rejected. Even when I was with different people. Even when I was an adult.
That pattern ran my life. I just couldn’t get myself to say the things I wanted and needed to say. It felt too scary. It felt too dangerous. It was too shame-inducing.
So if you struggle to express yourself and feel embarrassed about that, I get it. I did too. But I need you to know this: It’s not your fault. It was never your fault.
And yes, life is harder when you didn’t get to be who you were growing up. When the only way you could protect yourself was by being less of you. When you could never grow into yourself because that would have gotten you hurt. When you couldn’t learn to love yourself because that was the biggest risk of all.
But today, that risk only lives on within you. In your conditioning. And that’s where the inner healing work comes in.
For me, that meant getting professional support to help me learn how to safely connect to myself and my truth, and how to banish the critical, demanding, and demeaning internal voice that told me my feelings, needs, and wants were wrong.
It meant learning to regulate my nervous system so that I could get past my fear and be honest about what worked for me and what didn’t. This was a major turning point in my relationships because I started to represent myself more openly and assertively, which meant that my relationships either improved dramatically or I found out that the other people didn’t really care about me and how I felt.
It also meant opening up emotionally and learning to understand what my feelings were trying to tell me. Since I’d learned to avoid and suppress my emotions growing up, I knew it would be challenging to truly get to know myself.
I had the great opportunity of reparenting myself—giving myself the love, affection, and attention I didn’t receive as a kid.
And that’s what ultimately allowed me to finally feel safe enough to express myself.
The relationship I had with myself started to become like a safe haven instead of a battleground, and my life has never been the same since.
Everything on the outside started to align with what was going on inside of me. The safer I became for myself, the safer the people in my life became, which allowed us to develop deeper, more meaningful and intimate relationships.
So I know that that kind of change is possible. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. I know that it is possible because today I am the most authentic and expressed version of myself I have ever been.
Just look at everything I am sharing here with you. That’s a far cry from asking for a glass of water.
Today I no longer choke on the words that I was always meant to speak. I speak them.
Today I no longer hold back my feelings. I feel them. I share them. Freely.
Today I no longer deny my needs and play down my desires. I own them. I meet them. I fulfil them.
Today I own who I am and I don’t feel held back by toxic shame in the ways that I once did.
Back then I would have never thought this was possible for me.
I hope that in sharing my story and my transformation you will follow the spark of desire in you that wants you to express yourself. To share your thoughts and desires. To express what it’s like to be you. To finally get to meet more of you and eventually all of you.
That’s what you need to listen to. Not the voice of fear or shame. Not your conditioning. Not anything or anyone that reinforces your inhibitions or trauma.
You were born to be fully expressed. That was your birthright. That is the world’s gift.
Just because the people who raised you didn’t understand you as the unique miracle that you are, that doesn’t mean that you have to deprive the world, and yourself, of experiencing you. More of you. All of you.
It’s never too late to open your heart and share yourself in ways that feel healing, liberating, empowering, and loving to you.
About Marlena Tillhon
Marlena is a highly experienced psychotherapist and success coach specialising in healing inner trauma and breaking unhealthy patterns that stop her ambitious clients from having the success they know they can have in their lives, relationships, and careers. You can find her on Instagram or Facebook and receive her free training and gifts on her website.