When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess. I wanted to live in a magical castle in a faraway place filled with unicorns and fairies and have a handsome prince rescue me, and we would fall in love and live happily ever after. As a girl growing up in the early 80s, I believed in the magic of fairy tales, but from the age of 5 my whole belief system - filled with childhood innocence and wonder - came crashing down around me.
A lot of us, at some point in our lives, have believed in magic and the idyllic romance of growing up and getting married to your soul mate, having beautiful children and living in a dream home with a white picket fence surrounding it. But in reality, the outcome is often much further from the dream of a perfect future. From my own experiences, and the stories I have heard from my friends and family, we often compromise our dreams or neglect them completely for the happiness or protection of other people.
When I was five years old, I was sexually abused by a family member. At the time, I was experiencing lots of change: the breakdown of my parents’ marriage, moving towns and recovering from meningitis. It was a really tough time and, unfortunately, being weak and vulnerable, I was a prime target. It lasted a few years. For fifteen years I kept the abuse a secret out of shame and disgust, but mainly because I did not want to hurt my mum and family. As I got older, I continued my life as if nothing had happened - I thought I was protecting my family because I loved them. In reality, I was only protecting my abuser. This idea of protecting people from the truth resulted in me losing confidence in myself, feeling inadequate and turning into a people pleaser. Putting others first made me a feel important and needed, but to consistently do this for the sake of love wasn't sustainable. I had forgotten how to love myself.
These days women feel like they have to prove themselves on social media, whether it be to partners, employers, friends, parents or to total strangers. There is a pressure to prove that we are living “the dream life.” On Facebook and Instagram we see highly edited and filtered pictures to stir a little bit of envy inside the viewers everyday. But if we scratch the surface, a lot of us are living in sepia tones similar to Dorothy's Kansas farm…
Aside from the pressure to portray our “perfect” life over social media, women are living altruistically; living selflessly on a day to day basis and putting the needs of others before themselves. We wear masks daily. On the outside our masks protect us and hides the façade, because internally we are not being true to ourselves. We are told from a young age to behave ourselves - “act like a lady” - and when we grow up we are expected to be successful career women, whilst being devoted mothers and wives. We have so many expectations from society to live up to that we often forget about our own desires and dreams. Naturally, we fall into the habit of putting other people first: feeling obligated, people pleasing and seeking approval. Eventually, the more a woman prioritises other people's needs over her own, the more it is expected. And the cycle continues infiltrating other areas of her life and emotional wellbeing. We feel this pressure from society even, if not more so, when we are In Love.
Women are generally more empathetic. When love is thrown into the mix of society's high standards and a woman's own personal ideals, it can create an internal struggle. We have all had a friend who has gone against advice and stayed in a bad relationship because she felt responsible for that person, and wracked with guilt at the thought of leaving them to deal with their own heartbreak. We have all had one friend who has ended up so worn down after verbal battles and toxic mind games, that they have stayed in the relationship longer because they were made to feel that’s what they deserved, or were too afraid to be single. I have had family members who have stayed in emotionally and physically abusive relationships for the sake of the children's happiness, because they did not want to cause the upset and stress of a divorce. For the sake of the children's happiness, they sacrificed their own. There are many mothers who would do this, because a mother’s love can transcend any love, but where do we draw the line? Women consistently putting others first on one hand implies love and care, but surely also says a lot about how we view ourselves and how we regard our own personal wellbeing and happiness as secondary.
Women often like to nurture and please those around us. Seemingly, it is done selflessly but occasionally it can be done out of control, because we can be afraid to face our own truth. The thought of taking the stance and saying, "No. I deserve better", can daunt us. It can be scary to face the repercussions, so we stay on the merry-go-round of people pleasing and making excuses because "we love them".
By going around in circles, we are neglecting ourselves and the right to be happy. All women deserve to be happy, whether career driven and single, married with ten children or living with ten cats. We need to learn to say no and prioritise ourselves. We need to learn to love ourselves unconditionally and remember that fairy tales can exist, simply if we want to choose to believe in them.
My favourite film as a child was the Wizard of Oz. I wanted to be like Dorothy, not only because she had amazing shoes, but because she followed her dream even though she didn't know what it was or where to find it. She was feeling trapped and in her heart she knew she deserved more and that there was more to life than a rundown farm in Kansas. The tornado was the moment of enlightenment and chaos that broke down the walls, blew away the old life from the foundations and put her on the track that she needed to be, in this case, the yellow brick road.
The friends she meets along the way possess aspects we should strive for within ourselves. With the Scarecrow looking for a brain, we need to realise that we deserve more. We need to understand our behaviour patterns when it comes to how far we go for love and how we can neglect our own needs for the sake of others. The Tin Man needed a heart. We need to practise self-love everyday. We are enough, we are deserving and we can love a person unconditionally, but we must also love ourselves. The cowardly Lion needed to find courage. Don't we all? We need to be strong and find the courage to break away from harmful patterns.
In the end, the Wizard of Oz was hidden all along, behind his curtain using special effects to exercise his power. We need to remove our masks, be our own true representation and honour ourselves first.
In July 2015, I told my family about my past. This was my tornado moment. I had no idea the devastation that it would leave in its trail and the journey it would take me on. In October 2016, I stood on the stand in court and in front of the judge, my family and my abuser, and I read out my victim impact statement. My mask finally removed, I spoke the truth. I honoured myself and accepted my past, and I realised I was taking a stand for myself in love. It was both liberating and equally terrifying. But I did it. On 25th October 2016, I gave the little girl inside me her voice back and my abuser was sent to prison. I've realised that sometimes hiding the truth from others only causes more suffering, and that we all have the courage inside us to break free of the mould that was created for us.
Putting other people's happiness and protection before yourself is damaging. Reclaim your power, know your worth and value your true potential. Women should not have to compromise themselves emotionally, mentally, or spiritually for anyone.
If you feel you are currently living in black and white but have dreams, beliefs and ideals that are in technicolour, like the land of Oz, look for the tornado moment to break yourself free. We should not be living for the expectation of others. There is no reason why you should not dream with the passion and belief you had as a child. It does not make you selfish. You have the right to leave a ruby red imprint of love in the heart of those around you, by loving yourself first.