By Madeleine Eames
I will never forget
the moment in Grade 11 Chemistry class when my lab partner accidently
knocked against my face, scraping away the carefully applied makeup
and messing up my face. He laughed and went on with our experiment.
I felt exposed,
revealed and ashamed. He had uncovered a piece of the real me that I
meticulously tried to hide every morning before leaving the house.
I was good at
‘putting on a face’. I was always nice, helpful and strived for
perfection in everything I did and the world supported it and
rewarded me for it. Until I couldn’t anymore.
Even as I began
drinking and partying way past acceptable hours, I kept a smile on my
Even as I sunk into
the depths of an eating disorder, I kept a smile on my face. I didn’t
know how to be otherwise. But I did know that if I kept up an outside
appearance of everything being perfect, then it was. Until it wasn’t.
Nothing seemed to be
right. I wasn’t thin enough, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t
fit enough, I wasn’t enough. But my mask presented something very
Then began the
never-ending search for ‘if only…’. If only I was thin like the
girl sitting in front of me, or the one in the movies, then I would
be happy. If only I knew what I wanted to do with my life, then I
would be happy.
My small self
searched and searched for the answer outside. The next diet, the next
life goal, the next plan. She dyed her hair, dying to be liked and
approved of, and accepted by an outside world that kept wanting more,
and telling her that she needed more.
Do you know that
feeling? Looking for approval from some unnamed source?
I dieted, binged,
purged and kept a secret behind my smile. I was completely
disconnected from my body and lived in a world of ‘shoulds’
to the point where these thoughts had actually distorted what I saw
in the mirror.
I strived to look
like the stars on the front cover of Tiger Beat magazine, and if you
are my age you will remember that magazine at the check-out stand.
Back then there was only really one teen girl magazine.
All of this effort
and energy wanting to be someone I saw outside of myself brought me
farther from who I really was as a struggling teenager and solidified
a false self. All it got me was isolation, fear, and not one
ounce of the happiness it had promised me. In fact, it just gave me
more reasons to hide and cover up and tell the worried people around
me that I was ok. Their feelings became more important than my own.
Of course this was
all I knew at the time. I didn’t realize that I felt the real me
was defective and needed to be hidden. My false self gave me a
project: me. This was a diversion from all the feelings of guilt and
shame, self-doubt and confusion that I felt were unmanageable. I was
In truth, my false
self took control masterfully. She got in, cleaned things up and
focussed on what she could control, the scale, when the world seemed
out of control. I didn’t know what I would do after highschool, I
wasn’t sure what to focus on to gain clarity and confidence.
My parents didn’t
talk about feelings, let alone feel and show them. Naturally this was
from their own upbringing.
My mom came from
England and as an artist in a middle-class conservative household,
I’m sure she also learned early that is survive was to stifle her
expression and creativity. My father as an only child to older
parents became a mathematician who strictly stuck to numbers until my
mother passed away in 2010 at which time I think every feeling, every
anxiety he ever had exploded to the surface for the last 7 years of
As I look back I can
see how subconsciously I was struggling to be myself in a world that
told me that I wasn’t ok. I wasn’t enough just as I was and there
wasn’t really any evidence to contradict it. The natural step for
the small self is to sidestep herself, and abdicate her true self for
a world that rewarded appearance.
And so began the
massive self-improvement search that we call life. I moved through
university with an incredible amount of anxiety, but learned how to
help others without truly connecting with myself.
I ended up with a
huge tool box of skills for how to improve defected selves that need
to be fixed and live a happy life. I taught so many techniques and
programs and found relief in all of them myself- albeit temporary.
I was constantly
learning, moving, riding one challenge after another. But I was
unsettled and each stage wasn’t enough. My small self was
desperately escaping criticism by moving, excelling and being
The perfection that
I strived for was nothing compared to the pressure young girls
experience today through social media. In retrospect, what if I had
just sat, for a minute with my anxiety, and knew that anxiety was ok,
that it was natural and human and I didn’t have to fight against it
I became exhausted
from time to time with yet another program that lost it’s magic.
Until one day I finally a thought came to me that said “What if
there is nothing wrong with me”, “What if everything is in fact,
ok?” “What if I don’t actually need to improve anything?”
My practice of
mindfulness and yoga had brought me to a place where I could calm my
body and mind just long enough to see that this might be true.
I didn’t explore
this idea, work on it, or try to expand it. I just accepted it as a
I asked “Who knows
that?” “Who is watching that?”.
I see now that it
was my true self, my real self. Not the one I had made up in
Grade 11 as a mask I put on. Not the one that needed effort to
improve, to reach goals to be good and acceptable, the small self
that yearned to feel good enough.
The true self didn’t
need to be searched for. She was already here waiting to be allowed
and embraced. She didn’t need anything as she already knew she was
enough just as she is.
All the times I had
read ‘embrace your authentic self’, ‘you are enough’, ‘be
in the present moment’ now made sense. Before it just made me try
harder to get somewhere. All the self-help and improvement schemes
seemed like a game, because it was the small self trying to improve
herself. The true self already knew.
She saw all the ways
I hid parts of myself, made myself small and invisible physically and
emotionally, and abdicated to others.
As I look back from
where I am now, I can see 2 major misunderstandings that almost
They sound very
simple, but in practice are life changing. They can also be difficult
to unhook from. My mindfulness practice allowed me the space
to make these discoveries.
They are this:
your thoughts are true. In fact, if you pause and notice, many
are negative and repetitive themes repeating what ‘should’ be.
The false self ‘shoulds’, the true self knows. If you are
believing what ‘should’ be instead of what is right now, you are
not truly living.
are to be felt and then they can pass. Any healing involves
feeling. Like a pin going in, it hurts coming out! Feelings are
energy and sometimes they need to hang around for a while until they
are seen and felt. We feel them in our bodies.
In order to truly embrace our true self, we need to see where the
small self shows up in anxiety, avoidance and being out of integrity
How do we do this?
We can begin by seeing our cracks, our vulnerabilities and where we
tense and contract against life in our breath, body and thoughts.
These are the doorways to freedom from the small self.
Here are 3 places
to start with mindfulness:
belly breathing is great, but it can be helpful to see where in your
day you hold your breath or your breath becomes shallow. What might
be there? Try staying present to see what happens in the cracks.
relaxation is essential for health, but again.. where and when do
your muscles tighten and resist? Is it with certain people, places or
in certain roles? What would come up if you relaxed into those
Positive thoughts are great and necessary to feel good, but where do
you get worried thoughts? Where do you get worried and fearful?
Notice if you ruminate about what others think of you, achieving your
goals or any other area of your life. Fearful thoughts are from the
small self trying to keep you safe and unhurt. Remind yourself that
you are safe and there is no real danger.
It is ok to feel
anxious. It’s ok to have conflict. It is a part of life that we
don’t need to be rescued from or rescue our children from.
When we can hold
ourselves in a warm embrace of love and self-compassion, we hold our
cracks, our imperfections and our sadness as well. We can accept the
whole perfect package that we were born to be before the world told
us who to be.
fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are
powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most
Our cracks, the
places where we get anxious and hide, are filled with gold. Notice
the places you hide and move slowly, carefully and lovingly towards
them. The unbelievable truth is that you are far more powerful and
limitless than you will ever know.
Love and acceptance
are not out there. There’s nowhere to go. They are in you.
When we see and
embrace our cracks, we see the light.
Worth is what you
are. You are already enough.
are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this
Madeleine Eames, MSW, RYT can be found at mindfullivingnow.com
Madeleine is a therapist and yoga teacher dedicated to healing fear and living from truth. Watch her free videos on ‘The Truth About Anxiety’ here. Her online course From Fear to Freedom helps people accept and move through the anxiety that keeps them small. Stay tuned for “From Fear to Love: Reclaim the True Self” course coming out soon!
The Truth About Anxiety: https://mindfullivingnow.mykajabi.com/truth-about-anxiety
From Fear to Freedom: https://mindfullivingnow.mykajabi.com/from-fear-to-freedom