This is dangerous, more dangerous than last week’s nighttime adventure. This is me, talking about how I’ll never be Shania Twain. Someone I know loaned me her autobiography recently. Frankly, I have never been that interested in Shania (no offense, Ms. Twain, but you have plenty of people who are interested in you and you say in your book that you don’t like being the center of attention anyway.) but I thought, “Why not read it?”.
Welllll, let me just say that the foreword was so full of beautifully-presented true life and death wisdom that I started to feel a sensation that was much more frequent in my younger days than it is now: the sensation of wanting to shrink and shrivel in the face of Better Than I Am.
Unfortunately, I grew up doubting my lovability, which was at the root of much of the pain (and often ensuing bad decisions & their consequences) that I’ve experienced. My childhood eyes observed three phenomena that became truths in my mind.
1) Being beautiful/sexy would get me attention and therefore love. Talent might be good, but without looks, not so much.
2) Being a victim of some sort, either physically or psychologically, would get me attention and therefore love.
3) Striving for perfection is reasonable, and if I could actually get perfect, love would be a slam-dunk.
Now, I always knew that I was decent looking, but no exceptional beauty. I learned this early, in first grade, when I laid eyes on a gorgeous-like-I-have-to-stare-at-you-gorgeous classmate of mine. I knew I wasn’t and probably wouldn’t be that. The victim thing would have been my fallback, but I didn’t know how to do more than fantasize about being deathly ill in the hospital, surrounded by my adoring family who was sorry for not making me the center of their world. Being perfectionistic paralyzed me, and stopped me from putting forth true effort. If I put forth effort and fail, how stupid would I look? Very, in my mind.
As I got older, I dabbled in attempts to be beautiful, be a victim, be a beautiful, perfect victim (the ultimate, right? eye roll.). It didn’t get me what I wanted, but I swore I saw it repeatedly working for women around me. That made me feel even more unlovable. As attractive as I was, and even as I wore my pains on my sleeve (forget the perfectionism because I was so so far from achieving even an appearance of it in any area of my life), I couldn’t manage to inspire the love I sought.
Old roots of insecurity/neediness still dwell inside me, so when I picked up Shania, I had some thoughts. “She is very beautiful. She looks younger than I do and she’s older than I am. Wow, she’s had a lot of bad things happen in her life and it sounds like she reacted in a far more grown-up way than I ever would have (or even would now). But look, she’s humble at the same time. She wants to encourage people. Oh my gosh. That was a lovely metaphor. And of course, I know she is super musically talented. Shoot. She is beautiful, she is a victim, AND she is perfect. Therefore, she is so much more lovable than I am. This is terrible. I am not her.”
-MENTALLY INSERT OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD SOUND OF A NEEDLE SCRAPING ACROSS A RECORD-
“Wait. This is wrong. Is my husband Shania Twain? Do I love him? So much. Is my family Shania Twain? No, and I adore them. Are my friends Shania Twain? [sorry again, Ms. Twain] I am grateful to say, no. All of these people make my life rich with love, and I am not sad that they’re not Shania Twain. And you know what? I don’t think they’re disappointed in me for not being Shania Twain. Right! They love me. They love me. ME. Even though Shania is Better Than I Am.”
As I read her story, I will feel secure. I can, because I am truly loved. Does this also mean that I don’t have to feel threatened by others who out-do me? YES, IT DOES. If I keep being myself and evolving gently and positively within my relationships (as opposed to becoming a narcissistic, evil jerk), I will be loved for the remainder of my life. It can take years for love to sink in, but when it does, it’s, it’s…what word can possibly describe it? I’ll ask Shania (whose name is Eileen) and smile and nod confidently when she gives me the perfect word.