“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” ~Bernard M. Baruch
As a young boy, maybe in fourth or fifth grade, I came to the realization that I was an outsider.
I didn’t like playing video games after school, I played basketball while the other boys played soccer, and most of all, I didn’t like the unpleasant and sometimes bullying tone that had formed amongst my good friends.
One good friend in particular—let’s call him Theo—I considered to be my best friend.
For years, we celebrated birthdays, played together, laughed together, and held each other’s hands walking from school to the after-school club. I was proud to say that he was my best friend, and I was his, but lately I had sensed a change in Theo’s behavior towards me.
One day, walking the usual half-a-mile-long walk to the afterschool club, our other friend Sebastian tagged along. Sebastian and Theo lived in the same neighborhood, their parents knew each other well, and they even played on the same soccer team.
Trudging down the narrow sidewalk, I let the two of them walk side by side in front of me as they laughed and pushed each other jokingly as young boys that age do, and suddenly I was hit by a wave of sadness. It felt like they had completely forgotten about my presence.
I felt invisible.
I decided to gradually sag behind to see if they would notice that I was no longer walking behind them.
My assumption had been confirmed. I was invisible, and to make matters worse, I realized in that moment that my best friend was no longer my best friend.
I detached from the usual route and walked to a small treehouse near the after-school club that we built earlier in the year. The tree house was unoccupied because of a fine rain that quietly fell from the gray clouds that day.
I threw my bag on the ground and climbed the tree effortlessly. Here, I sat on a branch in silence, watching innocent tears trickle down my cheeks and splash onto the ground. I felt overwhelmed with the realization that I was somehow different.
Something inside me, very close to the core of who I am, was no longer accepted or appreciated by my closest friends. But why? I was always kind and caring. Patient and tolerant. Compassionate. And now I was lonely—an outsider; an old soul caught in a crowd of young boys.
So… what do children do when they realize they don’t fit in? They adapt. They become whoever they need to become to “survive.”
This is a simple defense mechanism that all human beings possess that is deeply rooted in the subconscious mind to protect themselves from additional hurt.
As a teenager, I recall the daily challenge of fitting in. I altered the way I talked, the clothes I wore, and my opinions and personal values. Depending on who I was talking to, I would change my words to meet their expectations and kept my true self in hiding from myself and the world around me.
A big part of me feared that if I showed my true, gentle nature, I would be called a wimp, get bullied, or ostracized; it was a profound fear that pushed me to blend in anywhere as best as I could—even if it meant I had to lie, be rude, or a little violent.
I got so used to putting on different masks that they became my identity, and my true, loving self was concealed behind a hurt child.
What is interesting is that all of this took place on a subconscious level. I wasn’t overtly telling myself to alter my actions just to fit in. In fact, I didn’t even realize that this was happening until years later.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I, like a flash from the past, remembered this image of a young boy sitting in a tree, and I have been thinking about its significance ever since.
That boy went through something that all people go through sooner or later…
It’s called heartbreak.
Heartbreak is an inevitable part of the human experience. It might just be the most important part because heartbreak teaches us how to deal with pain.
Pain is natural, but pain that we hold on to becomes suffering, and suffering is a choice because we always have the ability to work through the pain.
As adults, we hold the power and responsibility to examine the pain we experienced as children. We are presented with a choice: To work through the pain or hide behind it? To suppress our internalized fears or express them?
To heal and reconnect with our true selves again—our “inner child”—we must look inward and courageously face the pain of the past, however uncomfortable this may be.
Because we cannot heal if we do not admit that we are bleeding.
For me, things changed when I made one transformational decision: I started being brutally honest with myself.
Suddenly, I started noticing when I altered my behavior simply to meet the expectations of others. I noticed when I twisted a truth to make myself look better. I noticed my overarching fear of exclusion. And then I finally accepted the uncomfortable truth that I was so afraid of what others thought of me, always people-pleasing and seeking acceptance.
When I didn’t find that acceptance, fear would set in, and enter: defense mechanism.
The best thing you can do when you feel fear is to question it. Analyze it, and ask: “Why does this harmless thing trigger me so deeply?”
I also noticed how draining not being my true self was. I would leave conversations energetically drained or avoid certain people because I knew I would have to “put on a show.” Acting is tiring, and I was tired of being tired.
I got the idea to make a list of all the things that I do during a full day, and I crossed off the things that I knew wasn’t in alignment with the person I wanted to become. I also asked myself which activities bring me peace, passion, and positive energy.
Journaling, meditation, and yoga became a part of my daily routine, and so did practices like honesty, integrity, and compassion. I found myself in the depths of a spiritual awakening, and the finding of my true self was resurfacing. It felt empowering and inspiring!
On my growth journey, I discovered many new things about myself that I had never acknowledged before. I learned about my love for music, books, reading, and writing, and my growing passion for sharing my knowledge with the world around me to make a difference—even if it’s just a small one.
And finally, I reached the paradoxical truth: The moment I stopped trying to fit in was the moment I stopped feeling like an outsider.