Updated: Mar 13
The trouble with not fitting in is bigger than you think.
My misfit hero
I was raised on a steady diet of movies about social outcasts, weirdos, and folks who just didn't seem to fit the mold. They were the heroes of the stories I watched, and I couldn't get enough of them. These people were truly being themselves in the most wonderful ways, and for whatever reason, that was enough for them to be tormented, bullied, and cast out of "the group". Usually they had a friend or a small, tight group of friends to lean on and get amazing pep talks from, like, "let it go, they're not worth it". It was still quite evident to me that they were very much alone. Over and over I would watch as they just kept going, refusing to change for anyone else to feel comfortable or to make someone else happy. In many cases there wasn't even a way to change who they were, even if they had wanted to. Eventually they would receive their just reward at the end of the movie, simply for being themselves. Most of the time, this 2-hour long experience landed them a heroes seat even if they were still in grade school or high school. This story of the misfit hero was retold again and again, and I lived for it. I could relate and I wanted to know that misfits won in the end.
Some of them do. They really, really do. Much of the time, the winning happens much later. Honestly, some of the time it doesn't happen at all. We are starting to see more of those stories. Those misfits never stop being heroes for me, they just weren't able to finish their stories. Even if the world never sees the beauty, courage, and strength in being yourself in a world that wants your conformity or your exile, or if the people who don't fit into society's boxes never see themselves as having succeeded in life... I do. It is a brave act to be yourself.
The cost of being yourself
Brandon Teena. George Floyd. Matthew Sheppard. Chanelle Picket. Elija McClain.
I don't need to explain how dangerous it can be to simply be who you are. Behind this very short list are hundreds of thousands of people who died because of who they were. Not in a war. In the cities and towns of America. The list gets added to everyday. What's wrong with this picture? Where do we begin? Transphobia, racism, homophobia, sexism. Hatred, fear, and being raised with a certain set of beliefs creates an unsafe world for so many people. These are the extreme costs, but what about the other ones? The more subtle costs?
The trouble with disconnection...
According to Medical News Today, "victims of bullying have 'poorer health, lower income, lower quality of life' as adults". Research shows by the age of 50, people who had been bullied as children were more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems, have poorer physical and psychological health, have worse cognitive functioning, be unemployed, not be in a relationship, and not have a good social support network. This means that nearly 4 decades after the bullying, the effects are evident in someone's daily life. Many studies continue to show repeated bullying can cause a myriad of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
In a fascinating study, levels of a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured. The researchers were testing the hypothesis that bullying is a form of "toxic stress" that affects children's physiological responses. High levels of CRP are found during the inflammatory response in our bodies. Earlier research showed elevated levels of CRP for children abused by an adult. The body seems to react to toxic stress in the same way it would work to fight off an infection.
There were 3 groups in the study, victims, bullies, and bully-victims (victims who are also bullies) that were compared with a 4th group of children not exposed to bullying. In comparison to the children not exposed to bullying, all of the other groups had higher levels of CRP (as children). As adults, those bullied repeatedly as children had the highest levels of CRP. Interestingly, the bullies as adults had the lowest levels of CRP, even when compared with those who were not exposed to bullying as children.
According to a University of Southern California study done in May 2019, the effects of racism have a similar toxic effect in the body. This chronic stressor, racism, triggered the inflammatory response in the African Americans who were part of the study, at the cellular level. Previous studies had been done by the study's co-author, Steve Cole, finding the same inflammatory responses were heightened among people in socially-marginalized, isolated groups. "We've seen this before in chronic loneliness, poverty, PTSD, and other types of adversity, but until now, nobody had looked at the effects of discrimination."
As without, so within
If the threat experienced is an often enough occurrence, our bodies will hold this chronic trauma, not being able to process it. A constant state of fight or flight. Often, what will happen in our belief systems is an internalized version of the abuse we've experienced. Hate from the outside, turns into self-hate. Homophobia, racism, transphobia, and sexism, turn into internalized versions of these. We treat ourselves as the threat or problem because we've been treated as outsiders and rejected by those around us.
Our bodies follow our mind and emotions. Thinking of ourselves as less than, no matter what we accomplish or who tells us we're amazing, because of our already formed limiting beliefs. We walk through the world feeling the pain of rejection, and in some cases, feel like nothing, a nobody, worthless. We may find it hard to stand up for ourselves, and may even feel immense shame because of it, find it challenging to connect with others easily, and may have a myriad of physical and mental maladies to overcome as a result.
Othering makes individuals or groups of people wrongly believe that they don't fit. When you really think about it, how could we not fit into our own lives, our communities, and our world, just as we are? The mere idea of variety in the natural world, to our palette, and in our day-to-day routines is exciting. We are not meant to be the same as the person sitting next to us. In fact, we would find it quite boring if this were the case.
Why then are we taught to think creating a world of sameness is something to strive for? Why the boxes that so few of us actually fit into? Safety. Our minds crave categories, boxes, separation, and analysis as a way of understanding the world. Our society is a passing down of rules and regulations meant to keep us safe. The key is to understand what fears are built into these structures. When we can release those on a collective level or realize they no longer apply, we can make new rules, new boxes, or break down the old ones to understand the need for fewer of them.
In truth, if we compared ourselves to each other, we are all different. As it should be. If only we could move to a more healed emotional space, releasing our limiting beliefs based in fear, so that future generations could be raised to embrace and celebrate our differences as beautiful additions to the community, rather than something to fix or change to become someone else's idea of right and good... just think of what we could become. We are all at our core, mis-fits in this culture of sameness. When we spend our time and energy othering one another, we cause intrinsic harm, rather than creating spaces of healing and growth for each other.
Our natural state of healing
We need one another. We are one human race. One global community. When we are attacked by our own, our bodies exhibit signs of fighting off an infection, a threat. The threat is real. Our bodies know at a cellular level that we are meant to live in harmony, that our nature is connection. Belonging is a healing force. Being in community, true community with others, and being loved and accepted for who you are, literally brings safety to your mind, body, and energy system. That is our natural state... to love and be loved by a global community. It seems like the easiest thing in the world.
Small shifts, huge impact
Tapping with people who have experienced the toxic stress of bullying and othering in big and small ways, I can tell you that the difference between the imbedded sense of disconnection from the group and the self, and the release into connection is sometimes just a shift in belief away, but the healing is deep and profound.
If you are struggling with internalized (fill in the blank) and would like help releasing it, you can book a session with me here. If you are working to break the mental cycle of othering individuals or groups of people, I welcome the opportunity to work with you in shifting your limiting beliefs. The healthier we all are, the better we can be to one another and to ourselves.
My beloved misfit heroes
When I look back at the movies I watched, I think about the struggle, the montaged scenes of training, learning, and growth, but mostly, the scenes that show them winning. Laughing. Loving. Being loved. Healthy and whole and vibrant in all their glory. These are my beloved misfit heroes.
It is an honor to work with these heroes off the screen. They are everywhere and they are one of the reasons I know that life is worth living. We are not alone. We are never alone. It is my privilege to help those I work with remember that in their minds, bodies, and energy systems. This is an essential remembering.