When I was a little girl, I was dubbed sensitive. I’d get upset when I was teased, and I was incredibly soft spoken. In those days, I was painfully shy and timid; the kind of child who’d stay away from sports because I wasn’t good at them, and stay away from other children because I couldn’t understand them.
I was warned often by well-meaning adults that I was too sensitive, and I’d need to toughen up. The world was a hard place, you see, and they needed to equip me with the tools necessary to deal with it. If I stayed soft and sensitive, I’d get walked all over.
And so, at periodic intervals, the well-meaning adults in my life would tease me. They would poke fun at various things, mixing it up as certain things became more and less important in the formation of my character.
One of the big ones? My weight. I was a chubby kid, and I’m a fat adult. I was teased about my weight often in an effort to get me to do something about it. The idea, I imagine, was to motivate me into making better eating choices and starting to exercise.
Now, a decade later, I understand the reasoning and I can separate my weight from my worth as a person. Ten years ago, as a preteen who prized the opinions of the adults in my life above all else…well, I couldn’t separate it.
I would cry when I was teased; well into my teens, and every time this happened, I would hear the same bit of advice: You need to toughen up. The world is cruel; you need to be less sensitive.
I didn’t learn to be less sensitive. I did learn to stop crying, but only by turning the hurt and sadness into anger. That anger is still something I’m dealing with today and having festered for such a long time, it’s a lot easier to trigger than the hurt used to be. You could even – ha! – call it sensitive.
I also learned, erroneously, that I didn’t look good. I can’t count the number of times I was told I’d be so pretty, if only…
If only has never come, and these days, I look in the mirror and find it difficult to like what I see there. There are elements of my features that I like, but it’s far easier for me to glance at my reflection and think “If only…” then it is to think “We’re working toward it.”
I don’t cry when I get teased anymore. I shut down, feeling anger that I still bury down somewhere above that hurt that never got to be let out, and let it all sit. It’s unhealthy; far more so than the rolls and bulges I’ve examined so often. But, you see, I was never taught that suppressing emotion was unhealthy.
I have started learning to be less sensitive. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of that was learning to stop putting so much faith into the opinions of every person who so often counselled me on exactly what was wrong with me.
Surprisingly, that doesn’t seem to be what they wanted.
If I sound bitter to you, that’s because I am, at least a little bit. I know, intellectually, that these people in my life were trying to help me. I know that they had good intentions. But that doesn’t help the little girl I was who so desperately wanted the approval of her loved ones, and didn’t have the words to explain to them that they were hurting her.
Again, I know they had good intentions. But that doesn’t help.
If you’ve got children who look up to you, be mindful of what you say. Be mindful of the fact that teaching your children by teasing them and belittling them does have an impact. You may be one of the lucky ones who’s managed to move past it, or never had it affect you – I am eternally happy for you if that’s the case.
Remember that not everyone is you. Not everyone will take these criticisms with a pinch of salt, and not everyone has a strong, innate sense of self worth. You have precious lives counting on you – be a responsible adult and watch what you say instead of forcing little children to bury their emotions to suit you and your fears.