A wonderful little book has just arrived on my desk called What it Feels Like to be Me, by Jenny Salaman Manson (O Books), in which a handful of people from all walks of life, and all ages, have written about themselves, and tried to answer the question of what it feels like to be them. The ones I’ve read so far have talked about their childhood, their memories, their family life, their place in the world; all of which come together to create an image of a person – but is that really who they are? It’s a tough question to answer. For inevitably, how other people view you is never the way you really feel about yourself.
I experienced this for myself on the week spent in Italy at The Hill That Breathes last month. Specifically, it was on the last day, when John and Gaia, the proprietors and retreat leaders, had taken us on a special trip to the beach to make up for the fact their pool was undergoing maintenance. After a couple of hours swimming in the gloriously warm and shallow sea, and sunning ourselves, we all gathered into a circle on the sand and John instructed us to take it in turns to say one thing we would leave behind when we left the following day, one thing we were taking with us, and one positive thing about ourselves that we had discovered while there. Then, others in the group had to say positive things about the person who had been speaking.
When it came to my turn, I told the group how I had decided leave behind stress and anxiety about what to do I life; that I would take with me the relaxation methods I had learned (chi gung etc) and the intention to build more quiet time into my life; and that what I learned was that it was OK to be me, and that I was actually doing OK and was fine as I was.
My wonderful roommate Gaynor was the first to speak, and she said that hearing me say that I felt OK with myself was the best thing she had heard all week! This surprised me, but no doubt came from our intimate and in-depth conversations over the previous six days in which I had divulged certain concerns and worries about my life at that time, as I had been going through a difficult patch. Next, one of the guys in the group said I was a very thoughtful person who thinks about others (in reference the day I took two plates of sliced melon down to the pool where most of the others were sunbathing, to which I received many heart-felt thanks and praise – though I hadn’t done it to be liked, just because I thought it would be a nice gesture). To hear someone else – a virtual stranger – say they thought I thought about others almost made me want to cry, as I rarely view myself as altruistic (this is due to the fact that over the past seven or so years I have grown to form an opinion of myself as rather self-centred – largely based on comments from a couple of people close to me, which I felt unable to refute at the time). So, to hear this vas very touching; and having just read the book I mention above, I can think back to my own childhood and I recall that I did have a giving nature; every time I visited my grandparents we would always go shopping and I would want to go into Woolworths to buy some chocolate for my parents (a Toblerone for dad and Bourneville bar for mum); and every time I went on a school trip I’d always bring back silly little trinkets for everyone. Perhaps I was have not been so giving in terms of my time, or emotions, or energy, but I showed my love, and maybe still do, by buying and giving little things.
How other perceive us
Anyway, the next comment I had was from one of the women about my age, who said she thought I was very strong and independent. And there is truth in that. But it always amazes me to hear people say they think that, because it is often not how I feel. I can easily come across as independent and strong, but that doesn’t mean there are not anxieties, weaknesses, fears, and sadness at times. So though this was a positive comment, it made me really think about how other people perceive me, and how this varies so much from how I see myself, and how I feel inside.
I have also been told, probably about four times now, always by men (and not on this holiday, either), that I come across as aloof. This was even written on my school report; I didn’t even know what it meant and had to ask my mum. This too always amazes me as I try to be outgoing, approachable, friendly, even to people I have only just met, so to hear someone say I give off an aloof, stand-offish vibe is not only puzzling but also somewhat upsetting. Because I really don’t get it; inside there is a whole other story going on that somehow is being translated and interpreted in a whole other way on the outside.
And this book – What it Feels Like to Be Me – is beautiful and revealing, because it’s real people, trying to really, truthfully describe who they are and how they really feel, as well as how others probably perceive them. My bet is that no one feels the same inside as the way people perceive them on the outside. Lots of people build up walls of protection, or end up with behaviors and traits that are probably nothing to do with who they really are, but more to do with other people’s expectations of them that they have somehow internalised and come to believe. I don’t know where I am going with this; I have no answer to anything or advice to give, except for maybe to go ask people how they view you, as their answers may surprise you and cause you to stop and think a while.
What Katy Louise Did...
- Katy Louise
- Katy Louise writes about health, wealth, happiness and relationships, and the spiritual insights she gains along her path. She is currently editor of Top Sante magazine (www.topsante.co.uk). Prior to that she was editor of Bodyfit magazine (now Your Fitness www.yourfitnesstoday.com) and the launch editor of Soul&Spirit magazine (www.soulandspiritmagazine.com). Katy is also a certified Fitsteps and STOTT Pilates instructor. She is the go-to girl for all matters relating to health, wellbeing and spirituality.