I had a difficult time standing up for myself when I was younger.
I was about 7 years old when my parents and I traveled to another state for a family reunion on my grandmother’s side of the family.
I was somewhere I had never been, meeting distant family members I didn’t know. Most of them spoke spanish. I was bored.
My cousins and I realized there was a playground not far from where our parents were socializing and eating, but still out of eye sight and ear shot.
I felt my mother’s hesitancy when we asked to go. I was with my younger cousin so I wasn’t alone. And still, she paused before she agreed.
The liberation was refreshing. We felt like we were getting away with something and yet I still felt a heaviness in being alone and in charge of my cousin who was about 5.
We swug on the swings and moved to the merry-go-round when another set of kids showed up with their mother.
They didn’t speak English and I did my best to judge body language and tone to determine whether they were kind and safe or not.
Their mother was older. She sat off to the side while her girls, one older than me and one about the age of my cousin, played on the playground with us.
Then it happened. My intuition told me to abandon ship. I jumped off the merry-go- round and the older girl began spinning it faster from the side of the ride. She had a technique, pushing each bar that went by with more and more force so that it sped up with each turn.
My younger cousin was still on board. She was frightened and having trouble getting her bearings as the ride spun faster and faster. I looked at the girl and she had a smile on her face. Content that she knew exactly what she was doing.
Her little sister was to the side of the ride, feet on the ground just inches from the spinning wheel. I had to save my cousin so I leaped onto it with the best timing I could manage between the bars spinning by. While my body flug itself through the air, I didn’t make it onto the ride without swooping my backside beyond the scope of the metal spinning play structure. I hit the little sister as I spun with the momentum of the ride and I knocked her down with the force of my momentum as I jumped onto it to save my cousin.
I hurt myself in the process but I flung the small girl to the ground crying. Of course it was unintentional, but her mother jumped up from the bench she was sitting on and her older sister stopped pumping the ride to run to the aid of her little sister.
As the ride slowed, I managed to get my cousin off and we started walking off as I rubbed the side of my face where I had struck the little girl with my body.
I was afraid, confused and terrified to be alone without a familiar adult to comfort me and help us. I had my cousin by the hand when the older girl approached us. She pushed me from behind and I started crying in innocence trying to explain but knowing my efforts were futile because they didn’t understand.
The mother and daughter exchanged words I couldn’t decipher and when they were done, she came at me again pushing me down onto the ground. I peed my pants and lay there in tears, pleading my innocence while she hovered over me.
My cousin ran off and came back with my mom and other adults. My grandfather, who spoke Spanish, spoke with her mother. When he came to share what he had learned from his conversation it was contradictory to the story I had told my mom. My grandpa was ashamed and apologized. My mom believed me and held me under her arm as we walked back to the party, me still in tears.
To this day, I have not been good with conflict.
In high school, a classmate in a Raiders jacket, with dark eye make-up and big hair kicked me from behind. “You Poser” she shouted in my face. I cowered and ran to the bathroom to cry.
I’ve never been one to name-call, shout at someone accusingly nor assume the worst of the intentions of others. When people are mean to me, I shut down. I cry. I can’t speak. I am stunned.
When we had parties when I was young, if I did something wrong and my dad shouted at me, I ran to the bedroom and cried into a pillow. In retrospect, I was waiting for someone to notice I was missing… my mom, to come find me, comfort me, and coax me back into the party.
I wanted to know I was important. That my feelings mattered. Understood for the injustice that I had experienced. Somewhere inside, I knew I didn’t deserve being treated that way. I wasn’t a bad person.
Today, I still have trouble dealing with conflict. It brings up old wounds. I must’ve started a pattern way back when with my first experiences because I called in a series of unhealthy relationships where I was verbally abused with all of my worst characteristics and traits shoved in my face over and over. At one point I really believed I was a bad person. Because who knew me better than this person whom I spent most of my days and time with?
Fast forward to doing some internal digging. I eventually came to forgive myself for my faults. When I shared what I was learning about myself and my growth with people I thought loved me and they retorted with, “I’m glad you finally figured out what’s wrong with you,” I knew those were not the kind of people I wanted to be around anymore.
I began identifying and leaning onto those who would shine the light on my better qualities and kindness. Who would comfort me when I was down on myself and helped me to turn around my thinking so that I could begin again and trust myself to do well in the future.
I gathered tools and gained wisdom to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. I learned to discern who to share with and give my time and energy to and who I needed to step away from and hold boundaries with. I learned to say “no” without feeling guilty. To speak up for what was true for me without feeling ashamed for the sadness and anger that would rise up.
I’m still learning to express myself in compassionate ways, knowing that holding compassion for myself and the road I’ve been on and the wounds and trauma I still carry, is most important.
I love hearing the stories of how other women have stood up for themselves fearlessly. Historically, it’s not uncommon for women to be harmed physically and emotionally for speaking up for themselves, their truth and sharing their feelings.