Do you remember when The Greatest Showman was all the rage? That movie sort of took the world by storm and had everyone singing (and some of us dancing) to those songs all the time.
Now, as a woman, I’m willing to bet that the words the bearded lady sang resonated pretty deeply with you. They did for a lot of us.
She bursts into a room filled with people staring at her (and not in a nice way) and boldly declares “this is me” with a take it or leave it kind of attitude. Wow. That’s gutsy.
She owns her strengths (“I am brave”) and her weaknesses (“I am bruised”) and shouts the words so many of us long to feel, “I am who I’m meant to be. This is me.”
Now I could tell you all the things you expect to hear—that it’s wonderful to love yourself and that being yourself really matters, no matter what others think of you. And those things are true. But you already know that. (It’s the doing that’s hard.)
What I really want to point out though, what I really hope we can learn from the bearded lady’s experience is this: she didn’t wait around for someone else to make her feel good or to give her permission to feel worthy.
Actually, maybe she did wait around for that for a while. But when we hear her sing this powerful song, she’s kicked that reliance on approval from other people to the curb and decided that no one is going to make her feel good about herself but her. That’s powerful.
Let’s talk about this and how it relates to you and me
All of us want to feel loved and accepted by the people in our lives. In fact, we are born with a need for connection with other people, a desire for close relationships. I love that about us, don’t you?
But because we want to feel connected to others, we often do things that we think are going to create great relationships for us. The problem is, a lot of the time, the things we are doing are actually hindering our ability to connect with others, without us even realizing that’s happening.
Let’s talk about what some of those things are:
Stick around here long enough and you will hear me talk about two big concepts that most of us fall prey to and that can really damage our relationships: emotional fusion and self-silencing. I’ve described in detail them for you other places on this site, so I’ll just define them briefly now.
Emotional fusion means relying on other people to make you feel good about yourself, merging your own sense of identity with someone else, or making other people responsible for your emotions.
Self-silencing means that you worry so much about what other people think that you stifle who you are and keep quiet so that you don’t cause any trouble, or you care incessantly for others to prove your worth.
OK, fine, those sound important on paper, but they also might seem a little vague and hard to relate to yourself. Like. what do they look like in real life?
Here are some examples:
What if I have an ideal in my mind of what I am supposed to look like, whether that’s a certain weight I need to weigh or a certain hair color I’ve got to maintain? If I am trying to get my body to meet those ideals, is this because I am trying to prove my worth to others through my appearance (hint, the answer is probably yes).
What if I’m a perfectionist who is always trying to get everything just so? Clean house, perfect pantry. Gourmet meals. No criticism from anyone else. Whatever my particular vice is. Am I trying to prove to someone (even if that someone just lives in my head) that I am someone who should be loved? I am so good, so perfect, that you’ve just GOT to love me.
What if I run myself absolutely ragged trying to do everything for my family—get the kids to practice, make dinner, change the laundry, plan the birthday party, help at the school, nag about homework, sign the permission slip, change a diaper, break up a sibling battle, order the groceries—only to feel guilty if I take a night or even a minute to myself and tell everyone else “no?” Or maybe I feel all kinds of angry inside about all this, but I keep it bottled up in there because to do otherwise is unthinkable. Could this be because I’ve convinced myself that good moms can do it all and if I want to feel good about myself, I’ve got to show others that I can do it all too?
What if I am holding my tongue in a disagreement, even when it really matters to me? (I’m not talking about carefully thinking through what you want to say or being reasonable even in conflict. I’m talking about being afraid to share your opinion on something because the other person might not like what you have to say.) Am I carefully trying to make someone love me by downplaying my real thoughts and feelings?
This list could go on and on and on. We all do it in our own ways.
The point is, so often, our motivation for the things we do is to try to earn love or to prove our worth to someone else. We want their validation; we crave their approval.
But guess what? This limits our ability to really connect with other people. You can’t be authentic if you’re stifling yourself. You can’t really be you if you’re tip-toeing around to avoid criticism. You can’t develop yourself if you’re worried about what someone else might think.
And that’s why I love the bearded lady. She realized that no one else was going to make her feel good about herself. It was time for her to put that reliance on the approval of others away and to step forward as who she really is.
And boy did that feel amazing.