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Refusing to be a Shrinky Dink

Thoughts on refusing to shrink ourselves for the comfort of others.

I feel very blessed to have grown up during the ’70s and ’80s. I am team Gen X to the core! The forgotten middle child of generations. The last of the latch-key kids! Growing up in that time frame meant we got to do some really cool shit. Fun things like riding around in cars with nary a seatbelt in sight. My grandfather would put my cousins and me in the back of his pickup truck and speed down a back country road to fly over what we affectionately named “Thrill Hill.” The hill would send us kids flying in the air and almost out of the truck if hit at the proper speed. But it didn’t, and we didn’t die.

There were no anchors for furniture or covers for electrical outlets. I didn’t even think I knew bike helmets existed. I recall hitting a parked car after riding down a hill on my street and flying over the handlebars. That might explain a lot, but I don’t think it caused brain damage.

The toys we played with were dangerous, too. We had these things called Clackers that were weighted acrylic balls that you whipped up and down to try and get them to bounce off of each other. (Or your sister’s head.) They heavily resembled bolas, you know, an Argentine WEAPON.

And don’t get me started on Lawn Darts.

My childhood was like a chapter from the Hunger Games. We were unsupervised and left to our own devices most of the time.

And that brings me to the oven. I bet you didn’t know that ovens were also toys for the Gen X crew. There were these things called Shrinky Dinks. They were pieces of plastic that you would color, then bake in the oven, and they would shrink to a smaller, more condensed version of the original. You know? A nice molten lava piece of plastic for your childhood entertainment.

I know.

How we survived is still shocking to me. But, back to the shrinky dinks.

Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why it was fun to take something that was eight inches and shrink it down to two. (Oh, God. That didn’t sound right at all.) Maybe it’s because I’ve always had bad eyesight or I like bigger things. (Is it me? Or am I seriously making this whole thing much worse?)

Where is the fun in shrinking? (Jesus, take the wheel.)

I can look back at my childhood and see another dangerous shrinking emerge. (Besides my love for bad puns.) I would shrink myself for the comfort of others. As a kid, I learned to read people’s energy, particularly the adults in my life. Their erratic behavior kept me on eggshells. I started to believe that I had some control over the situation erroneously. My home was not a safe space to be my authentic self, so I thought if I were what they needed, their bad behavior would cease, and I’d be able to gain the love and acceptance from them I so desperately craved.

And it worked for a time. But what I didn’t realize was the tremendous cost I was paying. I sacrificed my authenticity to get what I needed as a child. And unfortunately, it gave me the illusion that I had control where I had none, which is the core of my codependent tendencies.

As an adult, I learned that my behavior was not, and would never be, the reason for their choices. Their behavior remains theirs, and I had nothing to do with it. But that concept is difficult for a six-year-old to grasp. Hell, at times, it’s still difficult for me to get.

Recently, I found myself shrinking to one of the most dangerous levels of my life. The more criticism and invalidation I faced, the more I found myself trying to be what this other person needed to prevent losing them — sacrificing most of my needs, wants, and my very essence. (Sounds like a perfume, Eau du Donlyn!)

I started to apologize for being me and for having my needs in the first place. I started to twist myself into knots, trying not to be seen or heard.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, I know you want to slap me right now, but don’t worry- I slapped myself. The past five months have been the hardest of my life. It’s been a time of holding a mirror up to my face and looking at why I allowed that to happen. And why I didn’t believe that my authenticity matters. And why I didn’t think that I mattered.

Life offers us opportunities to learn the lessons we need precisely when needed, and I hope I’ve learned the lesson this time.

I had to realize that I mattered, too. I had to learn to love myself better than I had by no longer accepting behavior I didn’t deserve. I had to realize that other people don’t hold the keys to my happiness and that if you are being hurt, then it’s okay to let go. I had to learn to trust my discernment. And I needed to trust that my higher power has bigger plans for my life than even I can imagine. All that was required of me was the courage to stand up and say, this is me.

I don’t believe we are meant to live a life that isn’t precisely who we are. I grieve for the little girl who thought she must be a chameleon to get love. But I also grieve for the woman I became who would, somewhere in the back of her mind, still believe it.

Now, I’m just grateful. I’m grateful for all the goodness that came from the relationship. And I’m thankful for the bad things, too, because it’s helped me level up once again. I’m grateful for my amazing support system and for more clarity coming to me every day. But most of all, I’m thankful for the peace I feel by no longer shrinking who I am.

The good news is it means a lot more blogs! 😉

Peace, love, and moxie. ~ Atomic Betty

“I pity the fool who shrinks for the comfort of others.” Mr. T (Maybe)

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