Breaking Character

I do this thing sometimes when confronted with a person or situation that hurts me and makes me uncomfortable, where I put on a completely different face than what I feel inside which allows me to say and do the socially correct things. I started when I was a young girl to help me deal with people in my parents ministry that I had a bad feeling about. You  know, those people who are big and loud and claim some wild connection with God therefore they have rights to every thought and private memory you have? I would switch off my emotions and pretend that I was a famous, benevolent person and they were simply hoards of desperate, abrasive paparazzi. Smile and wave.

I did it to maintain a polite demeanor around the families we socialized with, simply because they home-schooled or home-churched or had a garden like we did. There was this one woman who took it upon herself to physically discipline one of my brothers, and the rage that filled me was a volcanic force I had never felt before. But anything a ten year old could do to express such anger would have been disrespectful and impolite. So I ran across the field and pretended that I was an orphan, singing on a corner for pennies. The injustices of the world battered me and sought to eliminate me, but I was resilient and strong! This little orphan girl could beat anything with her song.

When I began acting I realized that I had been stepping into character all these years. At first I wondered how a little tiny girl knows how to do that, but as I looked into it a little deeper I understood that it had been a reflexive action. We're raised to have manners, to be polite. Don't put your elbows on the table, don't talk back, don't scream in public, don't put your skirt over your head. Somewhere along the way though it becomes less about simple manners and more about maintaining a socially correct image. We're trained to ignore our instincts about people, because disliking or not trusting them for no apparent reason is impolite. Being excessively happy about something disrupts the general calm that we strive for, so for heaven's sake don't express so much excitement!

As I got older it became evident to me that my flashes of emotion had less to do with simply being a child, and more to do with the passionate nature of my character. This presented a problem. How was I supposed to fit in to the mild, un-opinionated, ladylike mold I seemed to see around me? How could I disguise my anger at the hypocrisy I saw in adults and leaders around me? Or the fact that some things were so beautiful, they physically hurt me? Or that music could transport me to such a euphoric place, I couldn't interact with people around me?  I stepped into the character of the young woman that society would be pleased with. I carried it on for years, ignoring the nights that I would wake up in a cold panic wondering who the hell I was, and why I felt this jagged tearing inside me.

My first step in dropping the character came when I broke off my first relationship. It came as an epiphany: The girl underneath this sweet, submissive guise was far too passionate, colorful, and opinionated to flourish, let alone survive, in that family. I was being slowly, determinedly suffocated and if I didn't get out then, I would never really be alive.
In the last several months I've been opening the door for my family and I to really feel things. When people hurt us (not just 'us' personally but you, anyone), the socially correct response is to justify them - to make excuses for their behavior. We gamely try to withhold blame, acutely aware of how impolite it would be to acknowledge that they were at fault. The problem is that pain is hard enough to work through. It's already such a big burden, and taking on all the responsibility for being hurt is nearly deadly.

I hold an extremely biased viewpoint on several circumstances in my past. But it's time to be biased. It's all a part of breaking character now.

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