No Matter What You Tell Yourself, There Is Nothing Wrong with You

Woman hiding face

“I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” ~Bronnie Ware from Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

I wish I could remember the exact moment I mis-learned that being myself wasn’t going to cut it.

It happened early. Maybe kindergarten. I didn’t do it consciously, but at some undetectable moment, I put my real self in a box and created someone else. This new me was so much better—always happy, very accommodating, super quick and witty, and an expert at everything.

This new me was almost impossible to maintain. She required constant observations, self-sacrifices, and living in fear of being found out. But I knew she was necessary. The real me was not an option.

Why? Because something was wrong with me. Even in elementary school, I had come to an unfortunate conclusion: Everyone is better than me. I can never let anyone see that.

There was evidence. I had the only divorced parents in a conservative suburb. I had stringy hair that never congealed into the halo formation I desired no matter how much spray I applied. (It was the eighties!) I didn’t own any brand names. And, worst of all, my father was gay.

My dad never told me he was gay. He just was gay one day when I was ten. The problem was, he left my mom for a man when I was three. That left seven years of deception in between.

I went to gay parades with him because he “had some gay friends.” I slept over at the house he shared with his “roommate.” So when my mom finally sat me down to tell me the truth, I was shocked. And betrayed. They’d both been putting on a show for seven years. Why?

My ten-year-old brain assumed they must have hidden it because it was supposed to be hidden. In a time before Ellen or even an inkling of gay marriage talk, I figured this was a secret so shameful that nobody should know about it.

I wasn’t against my father or against homosexuality. I was against being different. Flawed. Weird. I was surely the only girl in elementary school who had seen assless chaps at a street fair. I wish I had owned it and flaunted a rainbow flag backpack, but I couldn’t then. I was too obsessed with being ‘the same.’

I decided not to tell anyone. Not my friends. Not my teachers. No one.

But a story has all the power when the only place it's allowed to live is inside you.

Keeping up a constant lie is exhausting. The anxiety alone about being found out can overtake your body. It controls the way you speak, the way you breathe, what you choose to share with friends. The latter kept all my friends at an arm’s distance. I craved so badly to feel closer to them. Connected. But connection was too scary.

Six years after I found out about my father’s true self, he fell into one of his many deep depressions and took his own life.

I had just gotten my driver’s license. His phone was off the hook, and I drove against my mom’s rules to see him. His apartment was a den of depression and his 6’5” body thinner than I’d ever seen. I gave him a hug, and when I drove away, I had no idea it would be our very last hug.

At sixteen, there were few conclusions for me to make besides: See! Something is seriously wrong with me. My dad didn’t even want to stay to see me grow up.

Outwardly, I pretended it was no big deal. I cried alone in my room, in my car, places where nobody could see. I wanted to rewind it all. I wanted to change everything. I wanted to go to sleep for years and wake up a happy adult with it all figured out.

I jumped further into people pleasing. That guy needs a date to something? Let’s go. My teacher is handing out extra credit? I’ll do double. Smile. Smile. SMILE! I got my grade point average to 4.5 and was crowned homecoming queen. (Kids, take notes! You too can become homecoming queen if you simply accommodate every single person who is not you.)

I went to college far away to get away from myself, but my self followed. My fear. My pretense. My anxiety followed. And as I compared my family to an even broader spectrum of strangers, it got worse.

The only time I would talk about my personal life was when I was drunk and making jokes. Once a salesman told me to buy a present for my father. I laughed and said, “My father is in the ground!” Then I walked out of the store laughing as if it was the funniest thing I’d ever said.

Years after college, I met a girl in a writing class. She was the tiniest person I'd ever met and had a voice to match. It happened that our leases ended at the same time, and we had a frank conversation about becoming roommates.

“I am a loner,” I told her.

“Me too. We can close our doors and we'll know that it's not a good time. Let's do it.”

We moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, and one month after combining our silverware, this girl washed the dishes I'd left in the sink. I didn't get it. She wasn't my mom. She didn't have to. I could not grasp the concept of someone else actually wanting to do something for me without being forced or wanting something in return.

She also insisted on driving me to the airport or paying for dinner or seeing if I needed anything from the store. She simply wanted the best for me. She was offering me the connection I’d craved, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

We would lie on the carpet at night and stare at the popcorn ceiling. I tried to be vague when she asked me about my life. I was used to short answers, accustomed to my motto: Get done with the talking fast so the group can move on to someone better. But she wouldn't let me off the hook.

She reached for me. She held my hand. I'd never experienced such intimacy with a friend. I recoiled at first, but she persisted. It's like she knew the terror inside my head—the terror to be close, to be discovered, to be guilty. She knew, and she was guiding me through.

And so I told her my truth. I let it out. And she told me hers. And we cried and we laughed and we didn’t stop until our lives made a pile on the living room floor. She didn’t hate me. She didn’t abandon me. She didn’t tell me I was weird or different or wrong. She just held me and said it was all okay.

At twenty-eight, she was my first real friend. At twenty-eight, I finally grieved openly for my father.

This first friend of mine began to unravel the mask I had spent years sewing. She pulled the first thread, and then I began to write, which untied me even more. I posted an essay about my father on my blog and was met with solidarity and hugs. And love.

Being real felt suffocating at first. I had to get used to awkward pauses when I’d say the word ‘suicide.’ I had to learn to relax and not be on constant alert during conversations in order to say the wittiest response first. I had to admit when I was wrong or didn’t know. I had to be willing to show others my imperfection.

I’m still working on it all. Every day. But since I came clean, my world is completely different. I drink less alcohol because I don’t need to hide from my own terror-filled brain. I have a set of friends with whom I can share every tiny detail about myself. I feel fulfilled. I feel honest. I sleep well.

And most of all, my story has lost its power. Once I began saying it out loud, I realized that every single person has felt shame at some point. No one thinks she or her family is perfect. But it takes sharing to find that out.

I felt such a relief from letting go of my secret that it became my mission to spread the word.

I started a show in Hollywood called Taboo Tales. I help people take their secrets and make them into emotional comedy pieces they tell on stage to a big crowd of strangers. It’s a mini version of what I’ve experienced over the last seven years. People get to tell their story, feel a relief from letting go, and then find immediate solidarity from the audience.

Brene Brown says, “When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.”

It is the absolute truth. I have seen it firsthand countless times on stage. And I experience brave new endings every day. I have an entirely new life after learning to become vulnerable. To tell it all. To own what’s made me who I am. To be proud of my cool, gay, leather-wearing dad!

Sure, I’m still working on figuring out who I am after faking it for so long. But I know for sure I’m doing my best. And I’m not following in my father’s footsteps. He let his shame simmer inside of him until it was too much. Not me. Vulnerability saved my life.

If you’d like to taste some vulnerability, you can start with a tool I use in my Taboo Tales workshops. Set a five-minute timer and write a list of all the things you would never share with anyone else. The timer makes you keep going, and you’ll be surprised at what comes up.

Take one of those things on your list—the scariest one— and write about it. You can burn everything later, but just getting the story out from inside where it festers is a necessary step. See where that takes you. Maybe read what you wrote to one person if you can.

If not, start with small truths. Post an honest picture on social media instead of something posed and perfect. Let someone see your messy house or car when you may have made an excuse in the past. Respond with anything other than ‘fine’ when someone asks you how you’re doing. And something I really value in my own life: tell the truth when it’s time to break plans.

“I’m really too depressed to hang out today” is actually what a good friend would want to hear instead of “I can’t make it.” Your honesty could open that friendship up to new and more intimate conversations.

Friends are really important in your path to vulnerability. Could you tell any of those items on your list to a friend or two? If you feel like they would all judge you, maybe you could use a new, cozier friend. They’re out there, I promise.

And one last tip: participate less in gossip. One thing that keeps us holding ourselves back is the fear of being judged. So I challenge you to not be a part of judging on the other side either. Once you begin letting go of your own judgments against others, the idea of being judged yourself becomes less scary.

Tips or no tips, the goal is to tell your story, whether it’s big and taboo or not. Start small and work up to letting it out in whatever ways you can. Hey, if you want to start below, let’s make this comment section a judgment-free space where everyone’s allowed to share whatever it is they can. That can happen on the Internet, right?

Woman hiding face image via Shutterstock

About Laurenne Sala

Laurenne Sala leads writing therapy workshops and speaks about vulnerability. You can find her at or through her show at Her first picture book is out in March: You can also see juicy anonymous secrets on Instagram at @TabooTales. She thinks parrots are gay pigeons.

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  • Thanks for sharing your story with us. It gives me something to relate to in my own life.

  • AlixMireille

    Thank you for this. It reads differently than a lot of articles, and it hit hard when I did a quick, mental version of the list of things I wouldn’t share with anyone. So many things, so I decided to see what was first to come to mind. It was clear, defined and devastating: my first thought was, “I hate myself.” Oh, I care about myself, try to reinforce self-love, work to show my authentic self, and all the rest. I don’t want to harm myself or anything like that. I’ve never even thought about whether I hated myself (putting aside that ever-present inner critic). But that thought didn’t spring from nothing. So now what?

  • The Proactive Professional

    I really needed this today. Thank you.

  • Susan Ginsberg O’Sullivan

    When we own our story we live our lives more authentically.

  • Mira

    Thank you. What happened to your roomate your first friend? Are you guys still in each other lives?

  • tqH2pz

    I hate myself too.

  • YES! It’s now been nine years since we met, and we are still very close. Thanks for reminding me. I gotta send her this article!

  • AMEN!

  • Maria

    Great article. Thank you!

  • Thank YOU for reading it and being here.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for such a great article! And it came at perfect timing.

  • Thank you both for being real. Ugh, I have had that thought MANY many times as well. And it’s double frustrating when we are the types who try so hard to practice self-love and positivity.
    Here’s the deal: Society is set up specifically so we hate ourselves. We are meant to think we’re not fashionable enough so that we can buy more clothes. We are meant to think our bodies are horrible so that we can buy more diet stuff. We are meant to think we’re generally despicable so that we can buy alcohol and food and things to make us feel better.
    But deep down, when we’re not listening to society, what is the damn truth?

    If you write down the reasons for your self hate, what are they? For example, I have hated myself for being too anxious. Or for saying stupid things at the wrong times. Or for having a double chin in lots of pictures. And when I look at those reasons, I can see that I am being super hard on myself and that I wouldn’t hate anyone else for those reasons at all.

    So then I try to forgive myself for being so mean to myself. And I try to do something nurturing for myself to counteract the hate. And I try to distill every mean thought down into the very truth. The truth is my anxiety stems from a fear of living up to others’ expectations and that is something that is absolutely impossible anyway. The truth is I’m doing my best at all times and that’s enough.
    It takes CONSTANT work for me to not hate myself. It’s definitely gotten easier over the years. It’s worth it! We can’t let society win!!

    Does that help at all? What is the truth behind your mean thoughts?

  • tqH2pz

    So much of your article resonated with me. Not the facts of it, but the emotional tale of it.

    I am a people pleaser who feels that every relationship is one error away from complete collapse. I spent so many years not being myself in my marriage that there is no marriage anymore. I have a fairly new friend with whom I can be myself. This friendship has been a tremendous growth experience for me, but still, the feeling of impending doom never goes away. I know the roots of it, and see the damage it’s caused, but still, it’s so damn hard to let it go. And so I need to be perfect, which means I need to not be myself.

    I hate myself for all sorts of physical reasons, but also for being too needy. For needing people to like me to feel good about myself, which causes me to shun true intimacy and to not be myself, to the point where I don’t know who I am or what I want.

    If I show myself to other people, they won’t like me, so I hide myself from them and even from myself.

  • I soooooooo hear you! Man, do I hear you. That impending doom. And the need for validation. Ugh, it’s the absolute worst. It’s the source of all my anxiety. But I promise it gets better!!

    Having been in total unawareness for so long, I know that this path we’re on is the better side even though it’s still painful. It sounds like you’re aware of what you’re doing, you’re working at it, and that impending doom is going to get smaller and smaller the more and more you’re able to trust who you are.
    Just from these honest words you’re sharing, I absolutely like you and want to hang out with you. And there’s a whole world of aware people who want to know these total truths about you too.
    Is there a CODA around you? Codependents Anonymous helps!

  • Lisa

    My closets are a disorganized mess, filled with articles I want to read, undid played, nick-backs, kids art projects I want to do with my child before he grows up, up and away and who knows what else. All this and I wish to be a public servant, running for political office. Would YOU vote for someone who cannot even keep the closets organized?

  • Lisa

    …oh, and I see I’m not a thorough editor! In my comment, I meant to type that my closet has “undisplayed artwork and nick-nacks” NOT “undid plays, nick-backs!” Yikes!

  • Jennifer H

    This came at a good time. Last night was the first time in my life I admitted to my boyfriend that I have problems telling people how I truly feel. Why? Because I am afraid of loss. Then I balled my eyes out for an hour! I still struggle with telling others how I feel. Especially IN PERSON. Which is why my boyfriend got upset with me last night (because I did it through messenger). Baby steps…

  • Jeff Eshbaugh

    Great article. It resonated with me on many levels. I was always such a people pleaser that I never knew who I was. Then my life fell apart a few years ago. But I survived and started valuing my own opinion. Not all at once! A little at a time. And I resumed all the geeky hobbies that I used to love but gave up because I was afraid of what others would think. And now I am making friends with the same interests. I still catch myself in people pleasing mode but less often. Thanks!

  • Joh Webster

    you are the cats pajamas and the world is a MUCH better place with you on it.

  • Jackie

    Great article! I can really relate.

  • Patricia Puleo

    thanks for sharing such an intimate story and part of your life. I am so glad you found a good friend, and I’m sure many more followed. What you say is the way I’ve felt for a very long time. I am 68 years old and have experienced quite a bit of loss and suffering. Of course. I am presently at the end of a 6 month 200 hour yoga teaching training course. It was so insightful and inspired me to step out of my contrived persona even more. I have to teach a 90 minute Final Class next week as the practical part of the certification. With all the wonderful vibes and encouragement, inside I still feel that somehow I will fail. I have put in more than the required efforts and just need to get out of my own way. Somehow the self esteem is still lacking. I know I can do it, but the breathe gets jagged and I feel the anxiety rising when I think of doing it. Anything suggestions to get past this. Intellectually I know that I am capable and ready to do it. Emotionally, not so much.

  • YES! Cheers to geeky hobbies. And thanks for bringing up the point that it’s all gradual. I don’t think there will every be a point where we are 100% free of people pleasing. If it’s in our nature, it’s who we are. And I actually like that it’s there underneath. It means we’re kind and we’re aware of others needs. The opposite of that is a sociopath! So, i’ll take a little people pleasing as long as it’s peppered in with some standing up for myself and being okay with who I am.

  • Cathy Chester

    I am in a dark place right now with family shenanigans. I want to write or talk about this vulnerability to stop the inner chatter and feel free. Don’t know how to start. Your article gave me hope. Thank you.

  • Meg

    My parents are Always fighting and my dad is Always verbally abusing my mom. But he is at a very high position in the society. Plus whenever I say anything”real” about him outside my mom scolds me back. I’m so frustrated that it is affecting my health. But I can never tell anyone about this. How to distance myself from their drama…

  • Aisha George

    Thank you for this article, I really needed it. All my life I have felt like I was just put together all wrong, ashamed of who my parents are, my childhood, the bad decisions I made that lead to even worse consequences etc. I am 37, single,childless, jobless & friendless. I am terrified of allowing people to connect with me on a deeper level, so much I sometimes feel paralysed by it. I am still trying to figure out who I am and this shames me because I feel like I’m supposed to have my life figured out by now. I tell myself that I am selective and careful about who I share my inner life with but the truth is I am just scared and ashamed and don’t feel good enough to let people know the real me since I don’t even know who the real me is. I have played so many different characters to fit in with what I think will make me acceptable,likeable and help me fit in somewhere that I honestly do not believe who I am is ok. The funny thing is I actually think I have a lot to offer if I can move past my need to “fit in and be normal”

  • Lost in darkness

    My life has returned down a dark path I didn’t expect to go down again. Feeling broken and betrayed yet ashamed to say it’s happening again to friends who know what happened before. I need out of my head. Thank you. It’s time to share with a true friend.

  • Philippe Isler

    What a great story! Being yourself is the whole point to being here! Everyone of us benefits from “coming out” in our own way, and to echo Joh, it makes the world a better place… and I find Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is a great foundation to being authentic.

  • Yes! I would totally vote for someone with unorganized closets because I want a human to represent me in political office!!

  • yes! Share with a true friend. Or a therapist. I support you! And a true friend will too.

  • Aisha George

    Thank you for sharing the title of this book with us, I just started reading it and I already find it helpful.

  • Philippe Isler

    Wonderful! If we all could live by the simple teachings of this tiny little book we’d all be a lot happier!

  • Thanks for sharing this! I so hear you. I still am terrified at times of people seeing the real me. But I know how much better it feels when they do, so I push through that fear. One thing I know for sure is that it takes people forever to figure out who they are and some people never find out at all! So, no need to judge yourself for that! One thing you said that really resonated with me was the playing different characters. I totally get that. This is so random, but it’s something that helped me: Whenever I am feeling so crazed in my head, I go somewhere where I don’t know anyone. It can just be a few towns over for a few nights wherever there is a deal– And I spend the time interacting with people and paying attention to what I’m doing to make sure I’m doing it exactly as I want– not playing any characters. It helps!

    And OF COURSE you have a lot to offer. You read Tiny Buddha! You’re self aware. You’re honest. You’re caring. People would be so honored to have the real you as a friend.

  • Kristi Cooper

    You are a channel of goodness Laurenne.

  • Regina Cruz

    i enjoyed every piece of your story, thank you for sharing!

  • Aisha George

    Thank you Laurenne, I really appreciate your feedback!

  • Patricia! I totally know your feeling. I also did a 200 hour yoga course, and I remember being soooo nervous. One thing I have noticed is that people do love you when you’re honest, so just admitting you’re nervous to the crowd right off the bat helps.
    But that voice that tells you you’re not good enough is NOT logical. I have that voice so much too, and reasoning with it usually doesn’t work— even if I prove to it that failing means nothing about my self-worth!
    The only thing that helps me in those situations is getting quiet and connecting with my true inner self or surrounding myself with people who love me. It’s so hard to not be able to fix things with our smarts! But this kind of stuff is just too deep to reason with.
    You’re going to do GREAT! You’re not supposed to be perfect the first time you do something! Good luck!

  • I know it SEEMS like there is nobody you can tell. But if it’s eating away at you, you gotta let it out! Maybe there is a therapist who will keep everything confidential. OR… if there’s nothing else, just tell a piece of paper. Write about it. Get your feelings out. You deserve to feel better.

  • yes! Baby steps. Actually, you sharing that was a BIG step. You’re doing great. Tell your man to be patient with you!

  • Talya Price

    I truly feel like I am missing out on life. I do feel that there is something wrong with me. I am always asking myself, why don’t I have a partner? Why am I still teaching English? Why have I not booked any gigs yet? Why do I keep getting rejected? Why dont I have any friends? Why am I constantly struggling with money. keeping money, earning money? Why am I still in bloody Poland? Why am I not in Canada? Why is life giving me shit all the time? Why don’t I have a place to call home? Why am I always alone? Why do I find comfort in booze and sleep?

    I truly believe that there is something wrong with me.

  • Tracey Mathis Jr.

    Good read, really enjoyed your story 🙂

  • Teej1970

    I love this article, but how do you be real and vulnerable if you have no one to be real and vulnerable with?

  • MaryAnn

    I think the advice you give about trying to quiet our own self-hate by asking if we would hate someone else for the same reasons is brilliant! A great way to combat our internal critics! Thanks Laureene!

  • Marilyn

    I’m learning to be real and vulnerable with me. I know it may sound strange, but the more I practice the better I feel about myself and I’m guessing it’s gonna spill over into new and old relationships.

  • Jennifer H

    Marilyn, thank you for those kind words. I am happy sharing my story gave you encouragement 🙂 and I am sure you will find your light in your own time and in your own way :). I appreciate you linking Rene Browns thoughts on grief. I love listening to her! Many blessings to you!


  • Alexis Capra

    As I was reading your article, it sounded so familiar that I kept reading. My dad left when I was in 6th grade. I didn’t hear from him much and nothing seem good enough for any praise from him. I use to think when I was very young that if I was a rock star or a doctor, then he would see me. This lead to people pleasing. I was so happy to find someone that I forgot myself and became totally immersed in their lives even believing that that was what I wanted. Motorcycling across country, horseback riding (which I do love), moving to the country, becoming an accomplished cook, hosting a party well. WHAT???? I had to stop it all, so I haven’t dated for years because I can’t trust myself to be myself because they may not like me. Writing this and reading your article has helped. Maybe I’ll give it a shot this year.

  • Bridget

    You did just start, Cathy. *hugs*

  • Alone

    I am so far down the road of being judged, ridiculed, exiled, condemned, unwanted, despised, unloved, betrayed, unwelcome, ostracized…. I no longer hold the capacity for the vulnerability I had once enjoyed after a number of personal development workshops. The clouds have rolled in such that there are no clouds anywhere else. It is getting too dark to see. All the friends I once knew are gone. Every day, in every corner, I come across adversaries; no friends, no family, just adversaries. I recently tried to remember at what age it started. After some thought, I realized its happened for as long as I can remember being alive.
    I often see examples of people proffering the connection we all want. Then, we have to step outside. ie. the ride is over; the music has stopped; the game has come to an end. We are back in the real world and we have no love for you…

  • The first step is always the hardest! That one is now behind you. Remember that you can always tear it up or burn it after you write it. Step two will be waiting when you are ready! Sending love and light.

  • Laurenne, thank you for your courage to heal your heartaches and for your courage to share your story. This is such a powerful reminder that we are never truly alone for every person, every family, and every collective group of people has its own “story.” The details might look a little different on us than on others, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong. Being vulnerable and sharing the details of our story is what makes everything so right for it helps us all to realize that for all the differences that exist between us, there are so many elements that are the same.

    Headed over to check out Taboo Tales! What a gift you’ve given this universe! <3

  • Xaas

    An exquisite article, had some relieve, I have been thinking about that concept of owning your story, I first came to my mind a hen I read Marya Hornbacher book, madness a bipolar life, you see, I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder after 10 years of seeing psychystrics, it gave me a push to talk to an advisor, and we have been talking for 2 weeks daily and I could not say what I needed to say, but just when I read the articles of lily Velez, I guess I could not handle it any more, I have suffered form child sexual abuse, and the story have been hunting me all my life, I finally mentioned it to some one, I shared my story, and that made me feel good, made me wanna do stuff. Read about it, am still in the healing process, I wish I could say some day am healed. It feels like hell, but it feels right too. Anyway, I just wanted to share my story and say thank you!

  • Anoniem

    I don’t know Laurenne, I am one of those people who wear my heart on my sleeve, I tell EVERYONE my story, if you want to hear it or not. I don’t know why I do it, if seek attention or if it will wear off the more I talk about it. I just know that every time I share it or “own” it, I feel more empty. People do not take well to others with issues. The general feeling I get, is “live with it”, “get over it”, we all have our story, what makes yours more special? If you want to fit In and become something in this life, it is better to keep it together and slap on that mask. It is how this life works. Just look at you, how successful you were when you did that. High grades, respect, popularity, at least you had that. You can draw from that feeling of success when you feel down. People look up to others who, despite their trails, keep it together and make a success of life. My experience is that they generally do not care about anyone else’s dirty laundry. Talking about it did not work for me. I will now keep to myself, maybe that will work better..

  • Msmovingon

    I want to let go.

    I finally broke up with my ex of four and a half years. I uttered he eordd in depseration but he’s the one that kept it up when I begged him back. It had become too toxic for us and I’m only now starting to move on after he’s dating someone new.

    I told him he couldn’t drink alcohol and made a point to be pissy or avoiding him when he did

    I asked him to convert and pushed him to do more and more even though I wasn’t doing those things themselves and now that I think of it I didn’t need him to

    I was jealous of almost every girl in his life. Some more than others

    I defined myself through the relationship. I don’t know who I am and who to be. I just know that person wasn’t the person I want to be.

    It’s too late to save that relationship, but I can learn for the future. I just need to let myself go and discover where I fall.

    Thank you for having this space where I can share my thoughts. I don’t want them to define me as I don’t want to live with regret.