For many years I never told my friends how much they meant to me. It was mostly because I was afraid. I did nor have any experience with it and it never really occurred to me that people do such things. I have always had a gift for expressing myself in other ways, through art, mix tapes, meals, and gifts. Actually saying the words was something I did not do. When people paid me compliments or said I was a big part of their life I shrugged it off and changed the subject.
Years later I see how afraid I was of that kind of intimacy, that real deal face-to-face kind of thing. I can make things for people all day long but when it came time to saying the words out of my mouth it’s like I was mute. Nothing came. I cannot recall how many painful and awkward conversations I had with people I dated where they would tell me how much they cared about me and I would just sit there and want to disappear. It was terrifying. I needed a buffer —a poster, a present, something between us. I did not want to be seen in that way and I get now how that was a by product of having such low self-esteem.
Being able to have these kinds of intimate conversations with people has taken a lot of work and practice. I remember years ago a therapist suggesting that when someone gave me a compliment I could try responding with “thank you.” That would allow me to acknowledge the person instead of blowing them off which is what I had done most of my life. It turns out those acknowledgements, over time, helped me see myself in a different way. If people around me liked something about me enough to say it, it must have meant I wasn’t as bad, unintelligent, ugly, fill-in-the-blank, as I thought I was. By allowing their words to come into my life instead of throwing up a battle shield I began the process of letting love and kindness into my world.
All of that “thank you” practice lead me to being able to tell people how I feel about them. And I am not perfect at it! Sometimes I can do it right away, sometimes I hang on to my feelings for months because I am afraid. Today I don’t beat myself up I just do the best I can and move forward. I am still great at making things for people I like but more and more I am into using verbal communication. I have found it a very powerful way to connect with others and am starting to enjoy all of the feelings that come along with being vulnerable in front of my friends.
If you haven’t done so recently take some time over the next week to tell the people you care about how much they mean to you. Maybe they supported you through trying times, maybe they challenged you when you really needed it, maybe they always make you laugh, whatever your reasons are, telling our loved ones they matter so much to us is a gift to them and to us. By showing up in this way you will inspire a chain of appreciation and kindness that is sure to have lasting effects.
Photo: Marielle Chua