Cinderella Runs Deep

Cinderella Runs Deep

Still searching for my true identity at this age? Not anymore.

Writing a blog and making YouTube videos have been courageous steps for me. Why? Even though I’m an exceedingly open and honest person, there was one thing I always wanted to hide: my self-centeredness. Not that a person can really hide such a thing, but believe it or not, I spent most of my life trying.

Being centered is a virtue. And, in fact, there is really no other way to be centered than around self, but to me self-centered had another meaning. At a young age, I dubbed it bad, selfish, and exclusionary — as in leaving somebody out on purpose (suspiciously like the portrayal of the mean stepsisters in Disney’s Cinderella). I could be nothing of the sort and had to be the opposite (Cinderella) because that’s what worked to get the prince, or so I thought.

However, through the years I developed a new respect for self-centered behavior. In children. I even teach that establishing a clear sense of self is a good and necessary thing for them to survive and thrive as an individual who is part of a greater whole. It creates problems only when kids feel they have to fight for the right to “be” or prove who they are. When they have established who they are and have a firm grasp on their identity, self-centeredness is no longer an issue. They can consider other people’s wants and needs without feeling like it threatens theirs. We call this maturity.

So recently a new thought popped out: “Sandy, if you are still struggling with being self-centered at this point in your life, you must have a very fragile identity — still fighting for the right to be you.” I got a big nod from myself on that one and knew it was true and important, but I didn’t yet know why.

So I consulted master coach, Eva Sim-Zabka, listener extraordinaire. Her unique validation skills were just what this self-centered person needed to figure things out “all by myself.” She noticed right away that even though self-centered and exclusion came up at the same time for me (“self-centered=excluded”), they are not necessarily related. Since being “left out” has a very child-like, physical world ring to it and “self-centered or selfish” is more conceptual, we looked for where they might have first become associated in my childhood; actually more than associated: collapsed.

That was easy. It was age 8 when I moved next door to this one little girl with red hair, braids, and freckles. As Eva listened, I recounted the years of our triangular friendships — first with a best friend then later with a first love where this same girl kept being chosen over me. Eva voiced my stifled years of distress and the pattern became clearer — self-centered was always associated with someone being left out.

Seems that when my best friend first invited the red-haired girl over instead of me, I felt left out and decided that, for her to take my place with my best friend and not care, the red-haired girl must be self-centered like Cinderella’s stepsisters. With that decision, I actually turned her into a mean stepsister in my mind and lost touch with who she really was.

I also tried to be nicer and more inclusive than her at all costs, (more Cinderella-like), to get my best friend to choose me instead. I remember being puzzled each time my friend chose her and thinking I must just be the wrong person. In effect, right there, I excluded me. Of course, the same scenario came up over and over throughout my life.

Over time, I became quite a martyr. I never allowed myself to feel jealousy or hatred. I worked hard to stay friends with the red-haired girl, and as we grew older, even became a mediator between her and the boy I liked to keep them together when they would have fights. Pure Cinderella, or so I thought. But in giving up the right to express what I liked and didn’t like, unlike Cinderella, I gave me up.

I sat with that level of awareness overnight, and the next morning I really “woke up.” I saw that even though as a kid, I watched the stepsister strategy work better at “getting” the friend and the boyfriend than my Cinderella one did, time and time again I remained steadfast. If my identity had really been fragile, could I have held onto it as firmly as I did with the costs as high as they were? No. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t have constructed a better test than that to gain the kind of proof I needed that my identity was not fragile at all. But until now I couldn’t see it.

Here’s why: saying what I like or want and making choices was off-limits to me most of my life. When I realized that my identity wasn’t fragile, I also realized that I chose it. What I mean by that is, I liked my identity. Pure and simple — when I saw Cinderella, I wanted to be like her. It had nothing to do with “getting” the prince after all, or I would’ve changed strategies when I saw it didn’t work. It was actually just that I liked Cinderella and wanted to be like her.

And with that breakthrough, two things happened. I instantly got back the image of the little red-haired girl at age 8 as I first met her — smiling and actually looking like a friend, not a mean stepsister. Plus, I finally got to fully claim who I am. I am nice, inclusive, generous, open, and honest because I like to be, not because it works or because I have to be in order to avoid being selfish, but because I choose it.

So now, as it turns out, I find I actually am the kind of person I always wanted to be. I no longer have to fight to protect my fragile identity, I just am. Simple as that.

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