When I was a little girl, I was painfully shy. I hated meeting new people because I was so sensitive, easily hurt, self-conscious and I was always afraid of when the next panic attack would strike. Around the age of twelve, my mother sat me down and said, “If you don’t learn to open your mouth and stand up for yourself, people will walk all over you for the rest of your life.” That scared me into forcing myself to be more willing to be out there amongst my peers. At first, I treated it like being an actress. If I acted like I was comfortable around people, eventually maybe I could trick myself into believing it.
In a way, being an actress in the sense of trying to fit in with people backfired because my sensitivity to what they thought of me intensified. That sensitivity is something that I still struggle with today. I still find myself very concerned with pleasing people even at my own expense so they are sure to enjoy my company. The truth is I have some deep-rooted problem with thinking subconsciously that I’m not interesting and I’m not worth keeping as a friend, so if I work extra hard at pleasing people, they won’t want to cast me aside. If you want to get all psychologist on the situation, it probably has a lot to do with my father abandoning me as a child. Everybody tends to blame themselves when they are seemingly dumped at the wayside for no good reason. Approaching my friendships and relationships with fierce loyalty has become my way of ensuring that I won’t get abandoned for no reason again. It still happens occasionally, though, and it wounds me so badly that I put the mask of an actress back on so nobody guesses that I suffer so much. I don’t want to look weak but deep inside, I feel like I am weak if I express hurt or disillusionment over the loss of a friendship or a relationship.
As I’ve gotten older, and now pushing thirty, I have seen the big quandary. I could revert back to my childhood shyness, never stick my neck out there for people and live the rest of my life hiding in the shadows, alone yet safe from being hurt. Or I could put myself out there as I have since my mother’s advice and continue getting hurt by people who don’t take friendships and relationships as seriously as I do. It takes a lot for me to really invest in people and I feel like it’s probably my mistake for thinking people will reciprocate. The rate at which people will lie, stab each other in the back, use each other, gossip, and so forth, makes my head spin and I find it to almost be crippling when I unknowingly let wolves in sheep’s clothing into my life. People close to me make comments sometimes that I’m too sensitive for this world and I expect too much out of humanity. In my mind, qualities like honesty, loyalty, tolerance and generosity should be required in this world or we are all doomed to live selfishly and superficially forever. This is not to say I think I’m perfect. Far from it. I slip and fall at times, but I do try to be the best person I can be. There is a lot to be said for people who try in anything in life.
I notice that in tight-knit communities, whether it’s the living history (reenacting) community, the New Kids on the Block fan community, the paranormal studies community, or whatever, people tend to get more bloodthirsty and cutthroat the closer they are to each other. I don’t quite know why that is, but if someone has any sort of reputation at all — good or bad — they become a target of people who wish they had notoriety of their own or envy something they have or simply beat up on them because of their own insecurities. I see it happen every day and it baffles me at how people can speak so hatefully and throw daggers at people’s hearts.
In my case, I’m well aware of the things people say about me. That’s the thing about gossip and negativity — it eventually gets back to the person you least want to hear about it. The things that do get back to me are so hurtful that I can’t imagine what hateful things don’t get back to me. I don’t even know where people get the things said and assumed about me because 99% of it is absolutely not true and the gossip typically originates with people who don’t know me and never bothered to know me. It used to be so upsetting that I would cry and lose sleep over it because I couldn’t understand why people would do that and I thought I had to find a way to erase it. I thought it was up to me to make sure people knew what were lies and what was truth but I didn’t know how. Once lies are out there, it’s like throwing a stone in a pond. It ripples and ripples and nobody can control it anymore — not even the people who threw the stones. A lie, a piece of gossip, is a very powerful thing. It’s not a game. It messes with people’s lives and causes more anguish than anybody realizes, except maybe the target.
Sometimes I still get upset when I hear about this or that person talking about me. I’m not made of stone. I may act like things don’t bother me but I do feel pain and I’m not an ice queen. Sometimes I want to go on my Twitter account or on my blog and say, “So-and-so is saying such-and-such about me but it’s not true!!!” What good would that do? I would exhaust myself trying to clear my name in these cases and it wouldn’t help anything because at the end of the day, people are going to believe what they want to believe. Unfortunately truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. People are happy living in their distorted worlds. Those of us who are easily hurt and extra sensitive simply have to grin and bear it.
I have spent the whole of my life trying to find a way to be myself while living in a world populated by those who try to get ahead by stomping on and climbing over people like me. There is no easy answer. Nothing really clicked until a friend gave me this piece of advice:
Negativity is none of your business.
Basically, that means the way you react to negativity is a choice. You can lose sleep and cry when people try to tear you down or prove that they don’t value your friendship as much as you thought they did, or you can release it into the universe, remind yourself that it’s not your doing and you are not responsible for the actions of others. My need to be validated, loved and accepted by other people is a flaw that I work on every day. The cold hard truth is not all of my friends will have good intentions. Some will abandon me when they think something better comes along. People I don’t know are going to spread lies and try to make me look bad and I can’t control that. I’m not the only one. Anybody who sticks their neck out there is going to get the same treatment whether it’s right or wrong.
Defining my self-worth has to stop with what other people think of me. I’ve known this for years. Even if my best friends, or people like John Deppen (a living historian I admire), Jonathan Knight (a singer I admire), Diane Monroe Smith (an author I admire), anyone else who inspires me, or any random people on the street all came up to me and said, “Jessica, we hate you. You’re a terrible person,” it doesn’t define my worth as a human being. It would be their hang-up and the negative energy they created. Where does that lead?
Negativity is none of my business.
People who listen to gossip and devalue friendship for the next best thing? They’re making negativity their business, inviting it into their lives and devaluing themselves as human beings. Take my advice and work on eliminating bad energy from your lives. Life is a flicker of time and if you are treating people badly, it’s going to eat at you and reflect back on you when their lives are over or maybe sooner. Being more thoughtful and receptive to the idea that what you put out into the universe comes back to you because one day it will all be over and you don’t want to regret things. I promise you that loving each other and investing positive energy into lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down will bring you more rewards in the end. If people just put a little more energy into things beyond me, me, me, we would all be much better off and happier.
So if I’m working on not defining myself by what other people think of me, how do I define myself?
I’m a woman with a big heart.
I’m a daughter.
I’m a granddaughter.
I’m a niece.
I’m a sister.
I’m a child of God.
I’m a staunch proponent of reincarnation and life after death.
I’m Cherokee, Choctaw and Lakota, and proud of it.
I’m descended from royal families of England, France and Spain.
I’m a loyal and true friend.
I’m a lifelong historian and reenactor of the Civil War.
I’m a Blockhead for life.
I’m an award-winning fine artist.
I’m an author of three books and multiple short stories.
I’m a spiritual intuitive who has helped hundreds of people.
I experience psychic visions when people touch me.
I probably know more about you than you think.
I sing really loud when no one can hear me.
I hate objectifying men but sometimes I can’t help it.
I love laughing about stupid things because life is hard.
I’m fighting my anxiety disorder and winning.
I would never change my quadriplegia.
I’m emotional but good at hiding it.
I feel pain for other people.
Those things define me. No matter what people say about me or what friends might ditch me for empty things, I am all of those things and much more. So are you. We are all beautiful, complex people and it shouldn’t matter what other people think as long as you know what’s true. I lie down at night and I do pray for the grace to forgive people who assume and judge me without knowing me but I never wish harm on them. I know who I am. I know what’s true and what’s not. The distortion of other people’s needs and insecurities can’t hurt me so long as I know I am doing the best I can with my life. I do mourn the loss of people who I thought were close to me though. That can’t be helped.
The next time anyone feels the urge to tear someone else down to pull themselves up, I hope they will one day look in the mirror and ask, “What defines my self-worth?” It’s a harder question to answer than people think.Read More