Stop Calling Me A Nice Girl
I’M NOT A NICE GIRL. People laugh when I say that because it sounds ludicrous that I would need to convince someone that I’m not a nice girl.
But let me tell you why referring to a woman as a “nice girl” isn’t always a compliment:
There was a debacle with one of my neighbors not too long ago. I was out with one of my dogs and my once-friendly neighbor felt that I was too close to his property line and began 1. taking pictures and videos of me, and 2. yelling at me for coming too close to his home.
I was not only stupefied that a man whom I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with in the past was yelling at me, but I felt threatened that photos were being taken of me without my knowledge or consent. With my history of assault, the last thing anyone wants to do is approach me angrily and start snapping photos of me. Cue PTSD symptoms!
But I’m not the silent woman I used to be. If you’re coming into my space in a way that is uninvited, I will let you know. If you are not listening to me when I tell you to back off, I will become louder than you to make it known you are not welcome in my space. So when my neighbor started with his shenanigans, I held my ground. And by “held my ground”, I mean I let him have it –
-Not in a “sir, you’re making me uncomfortable” type of way. More like a “Unless you want a stalking charge, get those photos of me off your phone and get the hell away from me because I know you aren’t screaming at me that way.”
But what does that mean about me? That I’m a bitch? Apparently so, because as my husband came out to assist me, this man turned to my husband and said (pointing at me) “I don’t know what happened to her. I thought she was such a nice girl.”
And I LOST IT. Not explicitly, but implicitly. I knew I had been triggered and it was time for me to exit the scene and let my husband take over. But believe me you, I did not walk away without stating firmly “I am not a nice girl.”
If setting boundaries makes me mean, so be it.
If letting you know that I don’t want you taking photos of me makes me mean, so be it.
If digging my heels into the dirt because I refuse to shrink in the presence of your unwarranted rage makes me mean, so be it.
If correcting you on what my name really is instead of hearing you call me “Amanda” for the 9 millionth time makes me mean, so be it.
If I ever gave off the impression that I was “too nice” to do any of the above, then I will gladly be labeled as the “mean” one. But to be honest, none of what I did makes me a mean person. It makes me be seen.
“Nice girl” really isn’t a compliment in this context. It’s degrading and oppressive, as if I’m not allowed to have a voice and stand up for myself since I’m such a nice girl.
What in the hell does niceness have to do with setting boundaries?
I cannot wrap my brain around this for the life of me. All I know is that I’m not a nice girl. I’m a multi-faceted woman who is so much more than “nice.”
Since that incident with my neighbor happened, I have found myself going back to when I was around 14 and would babysit my two little cousins. Their mom, who was also my cousin, gave me the best advice that I never understood at the time but live by now. Before she would leave me with her little ones to head off to work, she would say to me “If anyone comes to the door or comes anywhere near you, act crazy.”
I would giggle, but I didn’t really get it. Sometimes, the only way women are feared, respected, or taken seriously is if they “act crazy” – and by crazy, I mean engaging in all of the actions I mentioned above that would seem perfectly acceptable if a male were doing it.
What my cousin meant was “Don’t take anyone’s shit. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Don’t let anyone make you feel threatened.”
Besides, the only time I ever get mad or “act crazy” (by the way, I am not endorsing the use of the word ‘crazy’) is when I feel unheard, unseen, attacked, misrepresented, or taken advantage of. And in the words of my girl, T-Swift…
There’s nothing like a mad woman.
YOU made her like that.
Not A Nice Girl
The Loss of the Living
I never thought I would have to write a post like this. Lord knows I don’t want to sit with the feelings that come up as I write, but I know I need to.
There is a special kind of grief many of us experience that is unlike any other type of grief in this world. It is the loss of those who are still living – those who, at one point in your life brought you comfort and joy and peace, but no longer do.
When you love somebody with all of your heart, when you trust them and allow yourself to be fragile and vulnerable in front of them, when you feel enveloped in safety by them, it is an indescribable type of pain to lose them. I do believe that there is a type of trust that, once broken, can never be rebuilt. When the trust is first broken, we get the urge to try to figure out how we can fix it, justify it, or rationalize it. Sometimes we even try to blame ourselves for the broken trust. This is because at the end of the day, when we are betrayed by somebody that we love, our hearts ache just a little bit less if we can find some way to take the blame for it.
But the fact of the matter is that not all relationships are able to last; and just because two people love one another dearly does not mean that they are meant to be in each other’s lives forever.
There’s not nearly enough attention given to the loss of loved ones who are still alive – the ones who continue to move on with their lives. One of the most painful parts of parting ways with a loved one is knowing that life continues beyond this relationship. You will both laugh again, you will both continue to build relationships with others, and the memories of what happened will eventually fade. You will no longer be at the forefront of each other’s minds, and one day, other thoughts, feelings and memories will take precedence. I am not talking about a specific type of relationship here. This could be a romantic relationship, a friendship, or any individual who you trusted and loved deeply.
I have to admit, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have the answers for how I’m going to move through the ending of a relationship that I held so dear to my heart. I’m not being specific about who I am referring to because despite all that has happened, I still maintain a respect for this person that I don’t think will ever go away. It has been difficult to move forward while still trying to process what happened. My world as I knew it for the last 3 years has changed in ways that I still don’t understand. It hurts more than I can describe. And that’s okay. My pain only further confirms how special this person was to me, and it’s okay to be deep in grief. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awful, it’s excruciating, but over time it will pass. Just because feelings are uncomfortable does not mean we are incapable of sitting with them.
There have been moments of full-on transparency with some of my patients this week who pointed out that I did not seem like myself. I even had a session with a client where I needed to pause, remove myself, let myself burst into tears for 30 seconds, and regroup. This is what grief looks like – allowing it to pass through you when it comes up, but not letting it ruin your life or your day. All I can do right now is show up for both myself and my patients, whatever that may look like, even if it means needing to take a moment for myself throughout the day. After all, when I’m not busy being a therapist, I am simply another human being – my heart breaks just the same as anyone else’s.
If you’ve ever experienced this type of loss, I hope you can relate. I hope my words can provide some comfort and some insight. It’s okay to be devastated over the loss of someone who is still living. Yes, it’s easier to be mad at that person, it’s easier to try to make that person out to be a monster in your head, it’s easier to blame ourselves, because it helps us to avoid the grief. But the grief is still there. It’s to be expected. Let it come in whatever way it will.
As for me, I will hold this person close to my heart and soul as I continue to process what happened. It’s an ache for which there are no words, only tears.
My favorite poet, Rupi Kaur, has said it best:
“They did not tell me it would hurt like this
No one warned me
About the heartbreak we experience with friends
‘Where are the albums?’ I thought
There were no songs sung for it
I could not find the ballads
Or read the books dedicated to writing the grief
We fall into when friends leave
It is the type of heartache that
Does not hit you like a tsunami
It is a slow cancer
The kind that does not show up for months
Has no visible signs
Is an ache here
A headache there
Cancer or tsunami
It all ends the same
A friend or a lover
A loss is a loss is a loss”
–the underrated heartache by Rupi Kaur
I could easily (and I will one day) record an entire podcast episode on gaslighting and the damage that it does to one’s psyche. However, let’s take a moment to talk about it on the blog.
Gaslighting is one of the number one problems that I see when people come to me for therapy. Those who have been subjected to gaslighting often come into therapy confused, scared, and fairly certain that they are “sick”, “mentally ill”, or “crazy”.
By definition, gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation that can be very subtle but oh so insidious. It is an attempt to make someone question and doubt their own memories, thoughts, feelings, and their perception of reality as a whole. It is not something that occurs only with romantic partners, but rather, this form of psychological abuse (yes, it IS abuse) can show up in friendships, with family members, and even from colleagues in the workplace.
Metaphorically speaking, gaslighting looks a little bit like the following:
You: I know how to ride a bike, I don’t need help.
Abuser: Okay cool! You’re right. You got this!
Abuser: ~puts a giant rock ahead in your path, watches you hit the rock with your bike and crash~
You: What the heck? That rock wasn’t there before. I take this bike path all the time!
Abuser: Hmmm, maybe your memory isn’t what it used to be. I’ve never seen that rock before. You must be imagining things. I mean, I know you said you knew how to ride a bike but it looks like you really do need my help after all. It looks like you’re not as independent as you thought you were…Come here, let me rescue you. I’ll help you clean yourself up and maybe next time you should listen to me. I only want what is best for you.
You: ~left feeling confused, frustrated, guilty, ashamed for thinking you could do anything on your own, angry but unsure why, lacking in confidence, etc.~
The gaslighters in your life want you to think that they want the best for you. They tell you they love you unconditionally, but believe me you, there are conditions. They tell you they want you to grow and flourish and be the best version of yourself, but as soon as you start to do that, they pull back, throwing in confusing and hurtful comments, insinuating that you don’t really know what you’re doing in life, that you aren’t quite ready to “fly on your own” yet, that maybe you aren’t as great as you thought you were. They may also send you hints that you are too needy, but when you stop needing them, they ice you out or retaliate in ways that leave you feeling hurt beyond your wildest imagination.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, please know you are not alone. More importantly, please know that you have nothing to be ashamed of if you had no idea you were a victim of gaslighting. On a personal note, it took me 4 years to realize I was a victim of gaslighting. I believed wholeheartedly that this person had my best interest at heart, despite being hurt over and over again and despite feeling confused and worthless after every conversation. I was told every single time that my feelings were a result of my own issues – a manifestation in my head (BULLSHIT).
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that is so popular among abusers because it’s nearly impossible to identify and it can cause damage that can take years to recover from. With that being said, recovery IS possible.
So for all of us who have fallen victim to the gaslighters in the world, let’s keep on telling each other:
-It isn’t our fault.
-We have done nothing wrong.
-We have nothing to be ashamed of.
-We have every right to be mad as hell.
-We will survive.
-Joy exists on the other side.
–Abusers never win in the end.
I Met Myself on the Mat
If you have not picked up on this by now, the amount of down-time I let myself have is minimal. I consider myself to be a homebody and always say things like “I cant WAIT to relax tonight.” But let’s be real – I never relax. I don’t know how to relax. A few weekends ago I sat down to watch Hamilton (which by the way, if you haven’t seen it, drop everything you’re doing and go watch it right now because it’s amazing), and I had a really hard time focusing. I found myself on my laptop, working, while watching the movie, because it felt too unproductive for me to just sit there and enjoy the show.
Now, please don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s a good thing to be busy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Chronic business is often an attempt to avoid difficult emotions. This is especially the case for me. I keep myself so busy that I constantly feel drained; but the second I have down time I start to panic because I don’t know how to sit with the feelings that come up when I am still.
For the reasons above, I really hated the practice of yoga when I first discovered it. I tried going to yoga classes on and off for years, but I couldn’t stand to sit with the feelings that would come up when I was on the mat. The last time I took a yoga class was when I first started uncovering repressed memories of trauma. I quit because I got sick of never being able to pace my breathing or move through the poses in a mindful way. And don’t even get me started about the savasana at the end of each practice. I’d rather endure torture than sit in savasana with nothing else to do but simply be.
It has not been until recently that I gave yoga a try again. Over the last 6 weeks or so I have been trying to regularly incorporate the practice back into my life because I am working on trying to “be with myself.” This might sound strange, but many of us trauma survivors spend a whole heck of a lot of time running from ourselves. The yoga mat itself is a scary place for me because I know I’m stepping into myself every time I step onto that mat. Yes, I sweat, I shake, I stretch, I breathe – but most importantly, I feel. There’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide, there is just me, as I am.
What I have been surprised to find is that over the last six weeks, any time I try yoga, I have been having these moments where big feelings spill over me in the middle of a pose. To be clear, the feelings don’t hit me like a ton of bricks. They don’t knock me out and send spiraling into a crisis. Rather, they spill over me in a way that I’ve never been able to experience before. It’s grief and anger and immense gratitude. It’s disappointment and sorrow mixed with joy and hope for life’s next adventures. It’s fear and guilt and shame but also laughter and chaos because life is so beautiful even in its darkest moments. When I’m on that yoga mat, I sink back into myself, owning every part of my history.
While I’m not yet at peace with so much of my past, I have made major strides in being able to sit with my memories without the urge to run. So for those of you who have tried yoga and didn’t enjoy it or couldn’t sit with yourself, don’t write it off just yet. Yoga will be there for you one day, when you’re ready to feel your emotions instead of running from them. Lately, yoga has been a life saver in helping me to heal outside of my therapy sessions. For the first time ever, when I meet myself on the mat, I like myself, depression and all. That woman on the mat is brave and strong and loving and smart and has a purpose in this world. She will not, can not ever be tamed. Thank you, yoga, for allowing me to tolerate, and even like myself. And thank you to me, for being brave enough to step back onto the mat after years of running.