Abraham Maslow has a quote that goes something like this,

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, [..] you treat everything as if it were a nail.”

This quote perfectly sums up my approach to life from my late teens to my early twenties. After years of abuse both at home and at school, I emerged with thickened skin to the point of armour.

Actually, scratch that. Have you ever seen a baseball bat that’s encased in barbed wire and nails? Consider that a pretty accurate visual representation of the persona I chose.

I felt so vulnerable and untrusting that I overcompensated with aggression and knee-jerk defensiveness.

Ultimately though, I realized the repercussions of showing up to the world with such a rough exterior. Sure, I could win arguments and was the dominant one in almost every group setting, but being this way felt like an on-going uphill battle.

Outside of being outright draining, this persona also attracted the wrong people and put me in the wrong situations. I realised this through lots of introspection and journaling, and when I did, one word kept emerging as what I wanted to be instead. That word was ‘lighter’.

Taking the weight of the past off my shoulders

After seeing the toll that the weight of the past’s pains and angers had, especially on my closest relationships, I chose to do something about it. Something that would bring me closer to that elusive feeling of being unburdened.

The first thing I did was distance myself from the people and places that made me feel unsafe. Anyone or anywhere that made me feel like I needed to flex upwards on my defensiveness was out. And trust me when I say, this is so much easier to type right now than it was to execute. I found myself removing family members and friends alike. It was a highly intuitive process that set the tone for me being able to comfortably strip away my rough exterior layers.

There’s a quote that puts this entire process into words beautifully,

You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick.

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Learning to be confident in my strength

But, I learned that it wasn’t enough to just leave the people and places that made me feel like I had to be something I wasn’t. I also had to leave the version of me behind that was in those circumstances in the first place.

This part took some time for me to get my head around. Especially because my first instinct was to say none of it was my fault. Which, to be fair, was partially true. My parents abused me emotionally and physically from a young age, and in school, a bully just really had it out for me.

Still, instead of thinking of all the things that I couldn’t control, I focused on what I could. Why? Because being victim to circumstances was a big part of the feeling of helplessness that I so poorly disguised with aggressiveness in the first place.

So, I found my next step in unburdening myself to be one of character building. I taught myself internal strength so that I knew history would not repeat itself. This strength came by way of keeping small daily promises to myself that were based on principles, integrity and discipline.

The more competent and steadfast I felt in my identity, the more confident I felt that I would always be able to do what’s in my best interest and protect myself.

Visualizing letting go

The final part of this process was both the most fun and the most impactful. I couldn’t tell you where I first heard of the technique, whether it was in a podcast or a book, but I can tell you that it changed my life.

During my meditations, when I would get to a place of steady focus, I would shift into visualize myself getting physically lighter. I would imagine weight being lifted from my body, letting me float effortlessly. I would concentrate on the feeling, letting myself feel the freedom and the joy.

Another visualization technique I would use was to imagine the people in my life that I had any pain or sadness attached to. I would then imagine taking scissors and cutting the cord between the two of us, letting them peacefully drift away.

Both of these visualization practices have allowed me to shed the layers of defense that I put up. Nowadays, I find myself laughing more, connecting deeper and enjoying life more fully.

I am myself. My delicate, sensitive, kind self. I share this because this process of being lighter has been a worthwhile journey. If you feel like you’ll benefit, I hope you take the journey, too.

Your friend,

Ivy Gill

This post is a part of a series on my life experiences, written to help others who may relate. Find more of my writing here.

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